Don’t be our guest.
I’m a big fan of the 1980s Beauty and the Beast TV series—that’s the one with Vincent the lion-man who lived among a secret society hidden in tunnels beneath New York. Sure, it was cheesy, but it was the good kind of cheesy, fun and likable. So it was with much trepidation I went into the CW’s 2012 reboot. Is this new series a beauty, or is it (you won’t see this one coming)…a beast?
Catherine “Cat” Chandler (Kristen Kreuk, Smallville) is an NYPD detective, still haunted by her mother’s death years earlier. Cat believes to this day that a mysterious animal saved her from the man who killed her mom. One of her cases leads Cat to Vincent (Jay Ryan, Terra Nova), who is the “beast” from that night. Vincent is a former U.S. soldier who signed up for genetic experiments that left him with superhuman powers and an uncontrollable, animalistic rage whenever his adrenaline kicks in. Vincent is in hiding from Muirfield, the secret conspiracy that experimented on him. Now, Vincent and Cat become allies in both solving her cases and in investigating Muirfield’s shady dealings. Romance blossoms between them, but can they ever truly be together?
First of all, forget everything you know about the ’80s show. Aside from the names “Catherine,” “Vincent,” and, I guess, “New York,” this show has nothing in common with the original. There are no underground dwellers, no Father, and no Paracelsus, and nobody calls anybody “Radcliffe.” This Beauty and Beast could just as easily be compared to Belle and her prince, Allison Blaire and Hank McCoy, and Freya and Agnar. (Raise your hand if you get all those references!)
This being a CW series, it has all that viewers have to expect from the typically youth-oriented network. Everyone is young, stylish, and ridiculously good-looking. There’s a lot of soap opera-ish relationship drama, not just for the two mains but also the various supporting characters, and episodes usually end with an inoffensive pop ballad playing. It’s expected that a show like this would have a heightened reality, but this is a reality in which everything is near-perfect—the clothes, hair, apartments, everything.
With everyone and everything so good-looking, that means the titular beast isn’t all that monstrous, but is instead just as much of a hottie as everybody else. It’s the same problem that the producers of the movie Beastly ran into. They want a beast that still has sex appeal, only to be not much of a beast at all. A few episodes in, we get a better look at Vincent when he loses control, and we can see that they’ve added some prosthetics to the actor to make him a little bit more monstrous. Really, though, Vincent is a “beast” only in how he loses control and is always tempted to give in to his violent side.
It’s with Cat’s side of the story that familiarity sets in. Early episodes follow a procedural format, where a murder is committed, and Cat and Vincent work together to find the suspect. The cases are bland, and feel like filler until we get to the more interesting stuff later, as plotlines turn away from a murder-of-the-week format and delve deeper into the conspiracy plotline. Along the way, we meet Alex (Bridget Regan, Legend of the Seeker), Vincent’s ex, and a shadowy, troublemaking figure named Lowan (Sendhil Ramamurthy, Heroes), among others.
After watching the first of these five discs, I was dreading watching the rest, due to the familiarity of it all. The action scenes were too reminiscent of all the recent superhero blockbuster films. The murder cases were too reminiscent of other cop shows. The relationship drama was too reminiscent of other romance-heavy CW shows. However, things started perking up the more I watched. The creators set up a dynamic where Cat is able to calm Vincent down when he goes into one of his superhuman rages, soothing the savage beast as it were. It was in these moments that the show was at its most interesting, and that I got a real sense of an emotional connection between Cat and Vincent.
That emotional connection is what drove the rest of the season, as Cat and Vincent grow closer, then apart, and then become a couple. The season’s last few episodes has the two of them exploring the option of whether they could live a normal life as a normal couple, all while the Muirfield conspiracy hunts Vincent down. I wouldn’t call it blockbuster, must-watch television, but it improves as it goes along, so that the season finale is a whole different show than what we got in the pilot.
With a show as glitzy and glossy as this, it’s no surprise that the audio and video on the DVDs are high quality, with bright and vivid colors and rich, immersive sound. There is a commentary on the pilot episode, three behind-the-scenes featurettes, a gag reel, and deleted scenes for almost every episode.
The name Beauty and the Beast has a lot of baggage attached to it, so much that this new show can never quite rise above it and become the superhero-detective-action-romance-thriller it wants to be. The show has some good moments, but those good parts don’t quite come together for a complete experience.