In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, AMC
In the UK: Acquired by BT Vision. Available in Autumn
We are, I’m sure, all knowledgeable, media-literate gentlemen and ladies of the world who have at least seen The Player so know what a pitch-meeting is. In case you don’t here it is:
Now, I’m wondering exactly what the pitch was to AMC that made its commissioners think, “Yes, let’s do it!” I’ve tried all sorts of permutations:
“I’d like to remake the Danish series Bankerot, which is about two friends who decide to set up a restaurant together.”
No bite. So then the pitch progresses.
“The mafia is involved. One of the friends, the chef, has been in prison. He owes them money. The restaurant is how he’s going to pay them off.”
Stoney faces. After all, would you be commissioning at this point? It’s already at nearly double the 25 word count, too.
Time for a plot dump. “The chef friend was coked up and burnt down the restaurant they were working for, which is why he’s in jail. The other guy is a sommelier. His wife has died. His son has become selectively mute. He lost his job and so has become a travelling wine rep and hates it. He’s living in a disused factory in the Bronx. He doesn’t speak to his rich dad any more because his dad’s an epic racist and his wife and son are black. But then he has to borrow money from him to set up the restaurant.”
I’m still not seeing anyone commissioning it, are you?
So I’m therefore guessing, since we do actually have a show called Feed The Beast on our screens as a result of said pitch meeting, is that what happened was it either ended with or entirely consisted of: “I’m Clyde Phillips. I was the showrunner of Dexter when it was good. David Schwimmer from Friends will play the sommelier and I’ve got John Dorman from The Wire to play the dad.”
That would work, wouldn’t it?
Feed the Beast tells the story of Tommy (David Schwimmer) and Dion (Jim Sturgess) who are like brothers. Dion can’t stay out of trouble. Tommy can’t move past it. For two friends on the brink of losing everything, a dusty pipe dream of opening up an upscale restaurant in their hometown of the Bronx is all they have left to turn their lives around. Together, they take on the insanity of the New York restaurant world, and navigate its underbelly of petty criminals, corrupt officials and violent mobsters.
Is it any good?
I’m assuming a lot has been lost in translation from Denmark, because the show seems resolutely to exist without coming up with a persuasive reason for you to care that it exists.
Its main flaw is that it’s pretty distant from any kind of reality that you and I know, existing instead inside some grey parallel Earth with its own set of not desperately interesting rules. So we have Schwimmer and co-star Jim Sturgess trying to set up a fancy restaurant in the Bronx. Which sounds implausible but not totally implausible. Yet they don’t go straight for the pop-up restaurant but go for a full-on, thousands-of-dollars conversion.
Still not totally implausible, but it’s supposed to be a Greek restaurant. Okay. Sturgess’s character is probably Greek, since his surname is Patras and he has an uncle Stavros. He doesn’t sound it. He clearly doesn’t speak it. Indeed, a reference to a Santorini Assyrtiko wine and Stavros once saying ‘Ελα (‘come in’) is probably the closest the show comes to anything properly Greek, since the restaurant is going to serve ‘haute Hellenic’ food, which here equates to ‘something with an octopus in it’. I doubt anyone knows their briam from their stifado. It doesn’t help that the restaurant is going to be called Thirio, which means ‘beast’ in Greek (θηρίο). That’s prounounced ‘theerEEo’ but everyone resolutely pronounces it ‘thEHrio’, even when it’s written in front of them in huge shiny letters.
Meanwhile, we have a mafioso styling himself as ‘the tooth fairy’ since he removes people’s teeth to punish them. Sure, I can imagine a Bronx mafioso voluntarily calling himself a fairy, can’t you?
Then there’s the woman Schwimmer meets at his ‘grief group’, who mysteriously seems incredibly interested in him – mysterious in the sense that she’s played by Lorenza Izzo (26) and Schwimmer is 49, an alcoholic and almost clinically depressed.
At each and every point in the script of both the first two episodes, a strange choice seems to have been made that doesn’t quite ring true. It makes for an odd combination of miserable greyness with a sort of quirky optimism, like everything’s not quite as bad as it could be, just a bit bad. They even make this point visually, by having a yellow, sunny filter on the lens everytime Izzo turns up, a grey, cloudy filter every time the camera turns on Schwimmer.
It’s not that there’s much that’s bad with the cast, Schwimmer showing a surprising deal of range and Izzo, at least, lighting up the screen when she’s on. The dialogue is occasionally wry and Schwimmer and Stugess act and talk like they’ve been friends for years. You almost want to root for both of them, even if you can see all manner of horrors being set up in these initial episodes for them to bump into later on in the series.
It’s just that it’s very unclear why you’d want to watch and what the show is even really about. I mean Feed The Beast – what does it even mean? It’s a reference to cooking, obviously; it could be talking about the dark side of both Schwimmer and Sturgess’ characters; it could even mean paying off debts to the mafia. But what does it mean and why should you care? What is the series actually there for? Do you really just want to watch How To Make It In America again, except with depressed and coke-addicted restaurateurs?
I’m pretty sure I don’t. But then I wasn’t in that pitch meeting. Maybe that would have made it clearer.