Friday, October 12, 2012

Beauty and the Beast: Pilot (1.1)

Beauty and the Beast is probably this fall's easiest show to make fun of. As a reboot of a curious Linda Hamilton/Ron Perlman romantic fantasy series from the 1980's, it's creatively bankrupt. The titular 'beast' is about as hideous as your average Calvin Klein model, the heavy Disney-ish prosthetics of the earlier series replaced by an eww! grosssss!!11!! scar on his face. Kristin Kreuk, already pretty vacant as an actor, is about as convincing as a tough New York cop as Dame Judi Dench playing Shaft. There's little that works well here, from the incidental murder mystery to the mutually hackneyed 'dark pasts' of the show's protagonists... but it would be crazy to say that this isn't a strangely compelling pilot. If everything is awful, does it become sort of... good?

The series premiere mostly cribs from that horrible new trend in young-adult fantasy storytelling, in which slightly shallow young women drop everything in their lives to cater to an angry, emotionally volatile young man -- because he's just sooooo dreamy. We've seen this thing over and over again in recent years, and it's just as troubling and irresponsible here as in, say, the Twilight franchise. Jay Ryan's 'beast' is a lab experiment gone terribly awry, a former doctor who keeps to the shadows protecting the innocent, but has become prone to violent rages and loud grrs. Kristin Kreuk's detective 'beauty' was saved by the beast years prior, and they once again cross paths while both investigating the murder of a fashion editor.

The spousal abuse metaphors and 'prolonged stalking' undercurrent is unsurprisingly glossed over, Beastly and Detective Smallville making goo-goo eyes at each other as they navigate through an annoying conspiracy subplot which will presumably work as the narrative spine for the rest of the season. As an officer of the law, Kreuk's character doesn't so much investigate and theorize, instead merely stumble across obvious clues dangled right in front of her, from a pregnancy test box to a jittery array of potential murderers. It's all lazy-as-hell -- but sort of charming, in a low-grade, CW-level kind of way.

Again, it's hard to totally explain why this was so watchable. The visuals are uninteresting and Vancouver-ish, 9/11 is reduced to a hokey plot device, Ryan is charmless and Kreuk feels miscast; but Beauty and the Beast seems confident enough in its B-movie pedigree to work. This isn't a show trying to be high art, or anything other than exploitative romantic melodrama, and in an era where so many new shows majorly over-complicate their basic premises until they're crowded and unattractive, here's a series that almost prides itself on being ridiculous and lazy -- and that's kind of okay. There's no need to watch this thing every week, but it feels like a nice time-filler, something to throw on when you've watched everything else on your DVR. That's probably a strained compliment, but a compliment nonetheless. C

Sherri Cooper, Jennifer Levin Director Gary Fleder

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