Based on the ads I saw before tonight’s premiere of The Beast, I assumed Patrick Swayze’s undercover cop show was going to be a big departure from the man’s usual dirty dancing and point breaking roles. This looked like a Shield-style noir about a lawman with lax morals, an antihero, a downbeat son of a bitch to go with all the other downbeat sons of bitches on cable. But The Beast isn’t that at all. This is a Swayze cop show through and through, with a lead character who resembles a world-wearier James Dalton from Road House. (He even breaks up a fight in a blues bar!)
Some might consider the inherent Swayzeness of the pilot episode a draw back—a number of critics hated it—but I was relieved. I much prefer seeing Swayze speaking moronic nonsense like “You measure, you think, you react” with a straight face, or breaking up a tense confrontation by blowing up a car with a rocket launcher, than trying to be convincing in more realistic and less Swayze-like situations. I went into The Beast thinking that Swayze was miscast. I left with a goofy grin on my face. “This is a stupid show. I’m bored,” my wife said at one point. “Yes,” I replied, “but I kind of like it.” The Beast promises to be a somewhat disreputable guilty pleasure, one that may or may not be aware of its own ridiculousness. Which means that The Beast fits Patrick Swayze as well as Jennifer Grey once did.
Swayze, as everyone knows, is currently battling pancreatic cancer, which also made me think that The Beast would be a lot darker than it actually is. By accepting the role of crooked Charles Barker he seemed to practically scream “I’m playing against type!” But, luckily, Barker is basically the same coolest motherfucker in the room type Swayze always plays. He’s a hotshot cop who can come up with a convincing back story for an Alabaman arms dealer right on the spot, and he’s showing suave rookie cop Ellis Dove (played by Travis Fimmel) the ropes. To be honest, I’d have to watch the pilot again to describe the plot, which is needlessly convoluted and plain dumb. (The reveal scene when the agents confront Dove over Barker’s possible dirty dealings was a moronic plot twist, and not in a good way.) But the plot isn’t important. What’s important is that his recent illness hasn’t dimmed Swayze’s unshakeable confidence in his ability to sell silliness as gospel, and that and pretty much that alone makes The Beast worth watching.
Swayze takes a lot of guff for being cheeseball, but I don’t think he gets enough credit for how self-aware he is. Granted, I don’t think Swayze is completely self-aware. Part of Swayze’s charm is how sincere he sounds when speaking total bullshit. But I don’t think he’s utterly clueless, either. He’s really a throwback to the classic Hollywood leading man, who was smart enough to spot the clichés but wouldn’t put air quotes around them. I honestly can’t say for sure whether The Beast is any good. All I know is that it’s damn entertaining.
—You might think that starting off your series with a quote from Marie Louise De La Ramee—“Take hope from the heart of man, and you make him a beast of prey”—will automatically make people take your show seriously, but it actually has the opposite effect.
—There was an Onion on the table in the rookie's apartment!
—Happy to see Kevin J. O’Connor from There Will Be Blood in a supporting role. I think O’Connor is a shoo-in for the lead part in I Saw A Darkness: The Will Oldham Story.