Here’s the thing, I know a lot of people are going to really want to like The CW’s Beauty and the Beast, and be furious with me for cutting it down like this. But I have way too much respect for you guys to try and steer you toward a show this dicey. I would love to tell you that this show is the second coming, and hey, it’s not like the show can’t improve if given a chance, but this premiere is just not that great. However, to discover why, we have to back track a little…
Beauty and the Beast is a remake of the 1980s romance/detective thriller starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, and isn’t all that much like that old detective/fantasy series, really, although it has the same peculiar devotion to soap opera theatrics. Is it the worst show I’ve ever seen? Absolutely not. And I actually don’t think it’s impossible for this show to dig itself out of the considerable rut it’s made for itself. But the show encapsulates most of what’s wrong with The CW network, as it’s mostly style over substance.
Catherine Chandler (Kristin Kreuk) is a detective in the NYPD who quit her bartending job nine years earlier to get into law enforcement after her mother was murdered outside the bar while helping jump start her car battery. The killers gave chase through the woods and were about to kill Cat too when a mysterious shadow came out of nowhere and rescued her by slaughtering the would-be killers (well, I guess they aren’t “would-be” killers if they successfully killed her mother, but I digress). Her investigation of the murder of a magazine executive (this show is a procedural, by the way, because I guess the original show technically was too, and also because, whatever, why the hell not?) leads her straight into the lair of our beast, a man named Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan), who’s a hunk even by the highest standards of CW network attractiveness. Right away, the reveal of Vincent kind of throws the entire premise of the show into question, since the central conceit of Beauty and the Beast is that it’s the story of a woman learning to love a man in spite of his outward appearance and rage-filled nature. Here, we just get the rage.
And rage, he does. Turns out it’s less Beauty and the Beast and more Jekyll and Hyde, as Vincent hulks out rather unpredictably. I’ll give them this: his “beast form” actually doesn’t look half bad at all. There’s a sense that the entire bone structure in his face has changed, and the relatively subdued scar on the right side of his face in his human state suddenly grows twisted and gnarly upon his transformation. The problem is that budgetary constraints mean we hardly ever get to see this “Beast” form, and when we do, it’s cloaked in shadow half the time. Normally, I would give a show the benefit of the doubt and assume that this was a creative choice, to illustrate the secretive nature of Vincent and his past, but the episode more or less gives us his entire backstory straight away.
His rage is apparently the result of a military experiment gone terribly awry. When Vincent loses his brother in the World Trade Center attacks, he enlists in the military. Upon being deployed, he’s enrolled in a program that seeks to alter the physical chemistry of its subjects. Vincent’s altered state means it’s exceedingly difficult for him to reintegrate into society, and he’s spent the better part of his time back in the loft apartment of his friend and colleague, with whom he’s researching a potential antidote. We also learn that Vincent was a doctor before joining the military, which Catherine deduces when Vincent reveals that he attempted to give the murder victim CPR.
As we come to learn, Vincent has been secretly watching (see also: stalking) Cat. As it happens, he is the one who rescued Cat on the fateful night of her mother’s murder nine years ago. Vincent claims to know nothing about why the men did what they did, but he later confesses that Cat need not feel guilty over causing her mother’s death, since the men were apparently after her mother anyway.
This potential romance is troubling in that it occasionally shows signs of indulging in the worst narrative excesses of the Twilight school of female character development: Catherine can see that Vincent is really a kind, generous soul, even though he’s given to frequent bouts of rage and brooding. And whereas Twilight (well, the movies, at least) undercut its narrative with a heavy layer of camp, this series seems to be playing it straight, and I can’t imagine why that is, when the show could actually be fun if it just gave a sly wink and a nod, and kept an air of ironic enthusiasm about itself. It could help the romance substantially if the show oozed the sex and frills-infused value of a show like True Blood, since Kreuk and Ryan do have something very close to chemistry onscreen together. But instead of a lighter, more knowing tone, we get mock-serious moments like Cat being shadowed by a team of agents who attack her in the subway, leading to choreography that attempts to present an exhilarating, manic fight, but stumbles due to the coupling of shaky-cam filming and abrupt cuts in the editing, which causes the fight to come across as a jumbled, yet still over-choreographed mess. Frankly, an action-heavy genre show like NBC’s Revolution has the same shaky-cam problem, but its action scenes are vastly more compelling, owing to a more visceral, kinetic nature in how they’re edited and choreographed, giving the impression of a real fight (in fact, the best moment of the fight in the Beauty and the Beast premiere is when Cat finishes off one of her attackers with a straight right cross to the jaw, which splatters blood onto the camera. It actually felt, in that moment, like something that was realer than presented). Here, the fight is too balletic and practiced.
I just can’t recommend Beauty and the Beast, even as trainwreck television. Maybe if the show swings completely in one direction or the other (either get darker, or get more campy), then maybe its prospects could turn around. But as it is, the show is too messy to get excited about right now. Ultimately, the real question is whether the show will even get the chance to improve. The CW is a more ratings-conscious network than most, so Beauty and the Beast is really going to have to rely upon its Vampire Diaries lead-in to pull in big enough numbers that the network decides to keep it around. But trust me, if the show makes a quality turn-around, I’ll be the first person to let you know, because, as much as it seems to be to the contrary, I’m not actually rooting for this show to fail. I’d love for every show I’m tasked with reviewing to be great. But as of right now, I just can’t recommend this.