Beauty And The Beast

Beauty And The Beast debuts tonight on The CW at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Todd VanDerWerff: Beauty And The Beast’s pilot is the worst episode of television I will ever force myself to watch four times. The first time was my usual half watch, having it on while I did other stuff to see if it grabbed my attention. (It didn’t.) The second time, I couldn’t stop myself from surfing the Internet or folding laundry or anything to keep from having to watch it. The third time, I fell asleep for a good 10 minutes in the middle. Finally, the fourth time, I was able to watch the whole thing critically and give it a fair shake. It took everything in my power to do so. It’s taking everything in my power to write this review. I keep wanting to go wash dishes or check the scores or something. Anything but this.

A remake of the 1980s fantasy series, Beauty And The Beast misses everything that made the original so good, from its mournful fairy tale tone to its elaborate world-building. Along the way, it makes almost every egregious mistake a pilot could ever make, from a backstory that has Sept. 11 tossed into the middle of it for no apparent reason to a scene that’s meant to be ultra-dramatic but instead ends up unintentionally hilarious. Not a one of this fall’s new comedies contains a scene as funny as the one that arrives late in this episode of the “Beast” getting angry and showing “Beauty” his raw power by throwing something heavy, then acting like an angry kitty. It’s almost worth watching the episode to see this moment, but maybe you should just look for it on YouTube, so you don’t have to watch this thing and…

God, maybe I should go read election polling reports, even though they’ll surely make me briefly hate myself for getting distracted by pointless horse race…

Sorry, where was I?

Right, Beauty And The Beast.

Anyway. Kristin Kreuk plays Catherine Chandler, a New York City detective who’s trying to overcome the loss of her mother nine years ago, in a mysterious shooting that happened outside the bar where Catherine was working at the time—so she could be there to see her mother gunned down, the better to fuel her character motivation. (The bar is also filled with people who seem to only speak in exposition.) She was saved that night by a mysterious “beast,” who pretty much looked like a guy with glowy eyes, except he could do crazy stuff like run really fast and hit people really hard. (So sexy!) Now that she’s a detective, she’s mostly put that night behind her—particularly since everybody who heard her “beast-man” story didn’t buy that explanation—but it, obviously, haunts her, like clutching the dying body of your mother to your chest, a look of horror in your eyes, then having to run from gunmen intent on killing you who are summarily dispatched by a beast-man would.

It’s while Catherine and her partner, Tess (Nina Lisandrello, who plays every scene as if being a great detective involves lots of head-cocking), are investigating the murder of a fashion magazine editor—because this is The CW—that she comes across the fingerprints of a dead man named Vincent at the crime scene. Her investigation leads her to the titular “Beast,” played by Jay Ryan as that guy at your Halloween party in 2008 who really thought he had Christian Bale’s Batman voice down. Vincent was the product of an army experiment that gave him animal DNA and made him both ultra-capable and prone to adrenaline-based rage issues. (“They couldn’t stop us. We couldn’t stop us!” he intones, both Ryan’s performance and the script hoping it will have all the gravitas of Oskar Schindler saying he didn’t do enough.) Catherine works to uncover the conspiracy behind both Vincent’s origin and her mother’s death, all the while also trying to crack the case of the editor’s death, even as Vincent continues to try to help women who are the victims of crimes. (He’s apparently really shitty at this, considering how many murder scenes traces of his DNA have popped up at.) There are dark forces trying to kill them both, a British guy who likes Catherine and is obsessed with the word spectrometer, and an undeniable attraction between this beauty and this beast that, nonetheless, manages to avoid communicating itself to the audience in any way whatsoever. The problem…

Maybe my wife would like some breakfast. An omelet sounds good. Or maybe some pan…

Right. Powering through.

The problem with the show’s portrayal of Vincent is that he’s, at once, a weird endorsement of abusive relationships and not especially beastly at all. Because this is The CW and it can’t afford the elaborate makeup job Ron Perlman wore in the original, nor can it afford to have one of its “hot guys” obscured by said makeup job, the only makeup obscuring Ryan’s vaguely scruffy visage is a minor scar across his cheek that’s meant to indicate that he also has deep psychological scars. The pilot spends roughly 20 minutes trying to hide his beastliness in the shadows, and when he finally steps out into the light, it’s, once again, hilarious to see just how unbeastly he is. Far worse is the implication that Vincent has been stalking Catherine for years and years, and she’s supposed to be grateful for this and find it somewhat attractive. There’s a long tradition of stories about women who are able tame the beast inside a savage man. (See also: The fairy tale that gives this show its title.) But the recent spate of them primarily aimed at teenage girls is troubling to say the least, and unlike, say, Stefan and Damon on The Vampire Diaries, Vincent has no apparent good qualities outside of his obsessive stalker tendencies. The show tries to imply that he cares so much, but neither Ryan nor the script are up to the challenge.

On the other hand, all of this might be okay if the show had even the slightest sense of energy or dramatic pacing. The pilot is so. Slow. Every line is drawn out unnaturally, and everybody speaks as if the pilot is playing at half-speed for some reason. The storytelling isn’t particularly complex, so every beat is stretched out to its utmost, and there are whole exchanges that play out roughly like this…

Vincent: It helps me remember who I was.

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

Catherine: A doctor?

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

Vincent: No.

[Pause.]

[Pause.]

Vincent: A human.

[Insert howls and guffaws and catcalls of, “Yeah, a guy without a scar! How hideous you are!”]

This utter lack of energy makes the pilot completely soporific. Usually with a show this bad, there’s a certain entertainment value in watching the first episode, just to see how utterly the show manages to avoid anything like competence. Instead, the pilot for Beauty And The Beast is excruciating, because it never provides a good reason to keep watching. There’s no reason to continue hanging out with these astonishing bores, who don’t seem capable of anything but long, plaintive stares while pop music plays on the soundtrack, which is to say nothing of Catherine’s utterly mind-numbing narration, meant to smooth over transitions in the story but constantly making Kreuk, who’s generally solid in other series (at least in terms of being the vaguely interesting hot girl) sound like she’s giving the world’s worst Marilyn Monroe impression. If it weren’t for Ryan, Kreuk’s turn here would be one of the worst star turns in recent memory, a constant barrage of low-energy line readings, weird facial expressions, and a general sense that she’d rather be doing anything else.

At some point, that attitude washes over the whole show. Nobody involved seems too into what they’re doing, and the whole thing washes by, yet somehow does so in the least pleasant way possible. It’s hard to watch this and not find the mood catching. If there’s a project you’ve been avoiding all this time, if there’s something you need to do, or if you just need to spend time with someone you find really unpleasant, well, start up Beauty And The Beast tonight. I guarantee you’ll have that IKEA furniture assembled, those leaves raked, or that annoying relative visited by the end of the first hour.

Now I have some plastic silverware I need to jam directly into my eye. Been meaning to do that for a while!

Erik Adams: I only have the vaguest recollection of the Linda Hamilton-Ron Perlman Beauty And The Beast, but I can recall thinking it was such a strange idea for a television show—and this at a time when my engagement with “grown-up” TV extended exclusively to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Max Headroom. That lack of strangeness is what truly deflates this Beauty And The Beast. You can lay the blame at the feet of cultural factors—having made inroads to the mainstream via Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and the like, supernatural romance is less of an oddity on TV in 2012—but the ’80s Beauty And The Beast was ending its run on CBS around the time NBC was prepping its short-lived primetime revival of Dark Shadows. So it’s not so much that we’ve become accustomed to seeing shows like Beauty And The Beast in primetime, but that Beauty And The Beast itself is too accustomed to its fantastical trappings. Two hours of television programming where a protagonist is thrown into worlds previously unknown to her no longer counts as fantasy—it’s Thursday night on The CW. And this first episode of Beauty And The Beast proceeds as if utterly bored with scientifically explained phantasmagoria; to paraphrase Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch, the pilot doesn’t “respect the magic.” When Catherine finally pieces together Vincent’s true identity, the script and direction don’t provide Kreuk with much chance to express a reaction beyond a vague sense of “toldja so.” They way Catherine pushes so hard toward the next step of her investigation, it can be presumed that the NYPD of Beauty And The Beast regularly partners with superhuman rage monsters. The exclamation point at the end of Vincent’s “Go!” freakout in the junkyard may as well be a Flintstones-esque “It’s a living!”

Of course, the actual follow-up to that scene is another limp 10 minutes of case-of-the-week work and conspiracy building, the big, shadowy machinations of the government being swapped in for the “World Below” as the explanation for Vincent’s clandestine lifestyle. And while that facet of Beauty And The Beast could make Catherine and Vincent into The CW’s very own Mulder and Scully, it also adds to the pile of characteristics that mark this pilot as nothing out of the ordinary. That it misfires so spectacularly on every other level—Kreuk and Ryan’s lack of chemistry, the lackadaisical murder investigation, the clichéd dialogue, the flat characterization—marks it as a failure. If it combined those elements with the cracked vision of its inspiration, the new Beauty And The Beast could be an object of future camp appreciation. Instead, the series aims for the middle, but ends up burying itself deeper than Ron Perlman’s old subterranean digs.

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