Categorised | US TV reviews

Review: Beauty and the Beast 1x1 (The CW/E4)

Posted on October 12, 2012 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Beauty and the Beast

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4
In Canada: Thursday 9:00pm ET/6:00pm PT

You know, if I hadn't just tried to watch Nashville, I would have described this as the most painful new drama on TV this season. But I have, and since Nashville was like having bleach poured into both ears while having my eyeballs scrubbed with an electric sander, I'm going to be relatively charitable to Beauty and the Beast, even though it almost certainly doesn't deserve it.

For those with long memories like me, Beauty and the Beast isn't just a Disney movie*. It's also a 1980s CBS TV series starring Terminator's Linda Hamilton as Catherine (aka The Beauty) and Sons of Anarchy's Ron Perlman as Vincent (aka The Beast). Thorny gender politics to one side for a moment, what was interesting about the series was that it asked the question: can you truly love someone who's just downright ugly? Okay, Vincent looked like a fluffy lion crossed with Jon Bon Jovi - and they'd have been better off leaving Ron Pearlman au naturel if they'd wanted to really go for the beast angle - but bestiality isn't exactly the flavour of the day now any more than it was then:

Beauty and the Beast on CBS

25 years on, CBS is remaking its old show at The CW's behest. Not such an eccentric idea - in fact, ABC was considering making a live action version of the Disney movie this year, too, but eventually decided not to.

But a quarter of a century later, ethics and aesthetics have moved on. Twilight has come and is just about to go. Manscaping has arrived, moisturiser is everywhere and any man who hasn't had a protein shake in the last two days isn't a real man. So the question is, can a show in which a woman falls in love with a man who isn't hunky, smooth and glittering but because he has a nice personality, possibly get off the ground?

The CW asked the computer, the computer said 'No', and lo and behold, for the modern day Beauty and The Beast, we have something a bit more Twilight - a man who turns into a bit of an animal when the adrenaline flows but otherwise is king of the pretty boys beyond a bit of a scar on his cheek. 

Beast? More like an 8, maybe a 9.

Here's a trailer:

Plot
Catherine “Cat” Chandler (Kristin Kreuk, "Smallville,” “Chuck”) is a smart, no-nonsense homicide detective, who is haunted by her own tragic past. When she was a teenager, Cat witnessed the murder of her mother at the hands of two gunmen. Cat would have been killed too, but someone - or something - saved her. No one has ever believed her, but she knows it wasn’t an animal that attacked the assassins…though it was strange and terrifying, it was human.

Years have passed, and although she thinks about her mother every day, Cat is now strong and confident, a capable police detective working with her equally talented partner, Tess Vargas (Nina Lisandrello, “Nurse Jackie”). The two women make a good team, and have become close friends while working on countless homicide cases under the supervision of their tough-but-fair boss, Joe Bishop (Brian White, “The Shield,” “The Cabin in the Woods”). Cat has also become close to another co-worker, the medical examiner Evan Marks (Max Brown, “The Tudors,” “MI-5”), and they’ve developed a fun, flirtatious relationship that could easily turn into something deeper - if Cat would let that happen. However, much to the concern of her younger sister, Heather (Nicole Gale Anderson, "Make It or Break It"), Cat’s romantic inclinations tend toward bad boys.

While investigating a new case Cat and Tess discover fingerprints that lead to a handsome doctor named Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan, “Terra Nova”), who was reportedly killed by enemy fire while serving in Afghanistan in 2002. Digging deeper, Cat learns that Vincent is actually still alive. For mysterious reasons that have forced him to live outside of traditional society, Vincent has been in hiding for the past 10 years. With the help of his childhood friend J.T. Forbes (Austin Basis, “Life Unexpected”), Vincent has been able to guard his terrible secret - when he is enraged, he becomes a terrifying beast, unable to control his super-strength and heightened senses. Cat is stunned when Vincent admits he was the “animal” who saved her the night of her mother’s murder. Vincent doesn’t admit the whole truth - he is emotionally tied to Cat and has been watching over her for years.

Cat agrees to protect Vincent’s identity in return for any insight he may have into her mother’s murder. Thus begins a complex relationship between Cat and Vincent, who understand that their connection is extremely dangerous for both of them. Cat’s secret obsession with Vincent puts a strain on her relationship with everyone around her, and Tess is especially troubled by the feeling that Cat is keeping something from her.

Perhaps the most surprising element of their relationship is that Vincent soon becomes a secret but important part of Cat’s detective work. During the years he spent hiding in the shadows, watching over Cat and other innocents, Vincent learned a lot about the darkest parts of the city and the people who live there. His sharpened instincts, incredible strength and human compassion become invaluable to Cat as she works to bring criminals to justice.

As she slowly comes to terms with Vincent’s monstrous alter-ego, Cat senses she can trust him in ways she hasn’t been able to trust any man before and, despite the obstacles between them, she realizes that she’s safer with him than anywhere else.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Take 5 Productions/Whizbang Films with executive producers Sherri Cooper (“Brothers and Sisters”) & Jennifer Levin (“Without A Trace,” “Felicity”), Brian Peterson (“Smallville”) & Kelly Souders (“Smallville”), Gary Fleder (“Life Unexpected,” “October Road”), Bill Haber (“Rizzoli & Isles,” “Thurgood”), Paul J. Witt (“A Better Life”) & Tony Thomas (“A Better Life”), Ron Koslow (“Moonlight”), Frank Siracusa (“The Yard”) and John Weber ("Borgias").

Is it any good?
Merely throwing to one side the entire sub-textual point of the original story isn't Beauty and the Beast's biggest failing. CBS's original show was all about a child, born 'deformed', who grows up underground in a quasi-family, headed by 'Father'. He's taught despite his ferocious true nature to be good and kind. He reads books and has becomes a wise soul.

What a dork, hey? Albeit a very Edward-in-Twilight dork.

Now, instead of a community-come-family and someone who's always had to live in the shadows, we have that old trope of the secret government experiment that's turned former pretty boy soldier and doctor Vincent into a super-strong killing machine with animal senses. Add to that the equally familiar government conspiracy angle - the government wants to wipe out anyone who knows about its experiments - and you'll realise how ridiculously unoriginal and uninspiring the show is already.

It gets worse though. Catherine is no longer a lawyer but a detective with the NYPD. Fair enough: heroines need to be tougher these days and if the gender politics of the concept, Beauty and the Beast, weren't already dodgy enough, having the woman valued solely for her looks saved every week by the man whose ugliness she has to overlook is thankfully unacceptable in this day and age.

Except they've got Kristin Kreuk to play Catherine. Yes, Kristin Kreuk who played drippy Lana Lang in The CW's Smallville. Ignore the fact she was Chun Li in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li - it's easy, just try it - she exudes the same hard-as-nails-toughness that Glinda, the Good Witch of the North does in The Wizard of Oz. She certainly looks like she eats nothing but fairy dust. 

It doesn't help that in an attempt to demonstrate her supposed toughness, the pilot's director gives us possibly the most inept, music-video inspired fight sequence that I've seen since, well, the 1980s. It's laugh-out-loud bad, all jump-cuts, repeat shots and CGI blood that do nothing to cover up the fact that Kreuk has the flexibility and hitting power of an old age pensioner.

The original's family has gone, too, replaced by Austin Basis from another old The CW show, Life Unexpected, where he played a nerdy teacher. Here, he's playing a nerdy professor, Vincent's room-mate and the only man Vincent trusts. He also does advanced genetic experiments in his front room, trying to reverse the DNA splicing the government has done. Plausible? Does it sound it?

And that just leaves us with the format, which is now a police procedural, except Vincent will use his super-powers to help Kreuk solve really boring, tedious crimes, which she'd otherwise apparently just solve using computers. But no! In another Twilight-esque move, Vincent can't let her get too close because he loses control when the adrenaline starts pumping and he might hurt her. Yet, still, despite all those VAWG warning classes, she should have been going to, she's drawn to him because he saved her life - and she senses he could be really hot again one day, no doubt.

So a dreadful set-up, dreadfully shot, a dreadful sub-text and with a bunch of leads that have the sex appeal of an Excel spreadsheet. Kreuk is yet again in a show where the superpowered, more interesting boyfriend has to keep her at arms length to avoid her getting hurt. There is nothing at all interesting, original or exciting in any sense to the new Beauty and the Beast.

As a result - horrible suggestion this - but if you want something good or at least better, go for the original, which in this case is either the 1980s show, or, erm, Twilight. There's a sobering thought.

I'm predicting ratings death for this, but you'll recall that I predicted the same for the very sub-standard The Vampire Diaries unless

"…somehow, the very presence of broody boy vampires in a TV show proves to be so irresistible to the entire legion of America's teenage girl/tweenie population that it bypasses their normal quality thresholds and they watch The Vampire Diaries anyway"

And look what happened there.

My suspicion is that no matter how bad this is, broody buff boy + non-threatening, slightly sensitive brunette heroine = teenage girl ratings dynamite. Prove me wrong, girls. Prove you have a taste threshold. 

UPDATE: The first episode opened with 3.2m viewers. That's almost acceptably low.

* If you have a very long memory, you'll remember it's a book, of course. Damn you, the literate

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  • "Which, reportedly, is that it became very good. During season 1. When it was airing."

    Right. Which happened mid-season. Did everyone know this was going to happen? "Hey, I hear Vampire Diaries is going to get good in 10 episodes' time, although obviously no one's seen that yet. Let's keep watching until then." Word of mouth drew in the people who hadn't been watching. The majority

    "And implying that the people that watch it are tweenies. "

    The majority are girls and young women: http://www.ksitetv.com/vampire...

    The adult Nielsen share for Vampire Diaries is 1.5, female share 2.5. That means male share was around 0.5 - there are five times as many female viewers than male viewers, who are almost negligible (17% of the audience).

    You do appreciate that historically The CW massively skews in both audience and explicitly in the targeting of its programming - except in a couple of equally deliberate instances - towards teenage girls and young women, right?

    'At its upfront presentation this week, the CW redefined its target audience as exclusively 18- to 34-year-old women.' (http://online.wsj.com/public/a...

    "And also making a sexist judgement in the process, putting the onus on "girls" to display good taste in avoiding B&tB. Where is that comment with other shows?"

    If girls/young women are the ones watching a show entirely targeted at them, that's based on stories and TV shows that are mainly watched and read by girls/women, on a network entirely targeted at them – and boys aren't – there's not really much point suggesting that boys shouldn't watch, since they already aren't.

    If you want to find any reviews I've done on shows targeted exclusively at young men, on networks almost exclusively targeted at young men, go right ahead. I think Blade was the only one, since that was on Spike, and I told guys in particular not to watch it.

    "Oh but of course, boys don't watch tv except for animated shows so in essence, every drama with very rare exceptions has a larger female audience so only the girls ever matter. So that's why it's up to the girls to sink this one and their fault if it actually succeeds. Right."

    Erm, what?

  • bob

    "…somehow, the very presence of broody boy vampires in a TV show proves to be so irresistible to the entire legion of America's teenage girl/tweenie population that it bypasses their normal quality thresholds and they watch The Vampire Diaries anyway"

    - or what actually happened. Which, reportedly, is that it became very good. During season 1. When it was airing.

    It just seems weird that you are ignoring what other people say. And implying that the people that watch it are tweenies. And also making a sexist judgement in the process, putting the onus on "girls" to display good taste in avoiding B&tB. Where is that comment with other shows? Where is the comment urging girls to display good taste and watch something? Same things addressed to boys? Oh but of course, boys don't watch tv except for animated shows so in essence, every drama with very rare exceptions has a larger female audience so only the girls ever matter. So that's why it's up to the girls to sink this one and their fault if it actually succeeds. Right.

  • Nowadays. Roll back to season one when it was airing and you'd get a very different picture.

  • bob

    I don't watch Vampire Diaries but plenty of my friends do and I feel that I need to defend them- plenty of adults watch the show too and it tends to get tv critics buzzing too.

  • I heard the same thing. But it took a lot of devoted teenage girls sitting through a lot of dross for a lot of weeks to get it to that point. Who knows? Maybe the same thing will happen with Beauty and the Beast.

  • It's either going to be the next Vampire Diaries or the next Secret Circle. Next week will probably be the decider

  • tobyob

    I think the main reason it got better ratings than most expected was because it had no competition that night - everybody else was broadcasting the VP debate. I think you may be right about the targeted audience for this keeping it alive, but we'll see.
    At any rate, I got some fodder for the Inner Toob blog, so I'm happy.....

  • Electric Dragon

    I have seen it said that The Vampire Diaries starts getting a whole lot better round about the middle of the first season.

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