This post contains spoilers.
Fairy tales have been a hot button in prime time television for the last couple of years. Although the roots of fairy tales have been harvested for entertainment since time immemorial, re-imaginings of those stories we’ve heard as kids have pervaded the networks with shows like NBC’s Grimm and ABC’s Once Upon a Time. These shows are often pitched as “fairy tales with a twist” or the “untold story behind the fairy tales you know and love.”
Guess which one’s which?
Or you know, the ones you were emotionally scarred by. Bluebeard, anyone?
For the most part, these re-imaginings work because viewers tune in to see how much they deviate from the original—and seeing that creative difference is what makes these shows compelling. So when a show like the CW’s Beauty and the Beast breaks onto the scene, certain expectations were already in place before it even joined the fold.
Like most of my peers, I grew up watching the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. I also subjected my parents to the torture of rewinding the original VHS release so many times that they can recite the entire script verbatim. I can too—and let me tell you, it can either be the best or worst party trick ever. So when I saw teasers and drove by billboards featuring the CW’s Beauty and the Beast, one of the first things that popped into my mind was how not like the Disney version this show was going to be.
Nope. There will be none of this.
And that’s great. Obviously, the show is targeted towards a much older audience and will thus disavow things like kitschy show tunes and talking furniture. Although after seeing the pilot, who knows? Maybe it would have benefited from adding the latter.
In actuality, the show is a remake of the 1987 Beauty and the Beast series that originally aired on CBS. It had a cult following and rightly so because it was pretty awesome. It also makes me regret being a wee toddler at the time because hey, Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman were in it. And on top of playing really great characters they were also pretty great at being badasses.
So remember when I mentioned how one of my first thoughts was how little this show resembled the Disney version? Well it apparently resembles very little of its television predecessor too, and that’s where I think the disappointment lies in the pilot. Warning: spoilers ahoy.
The pilot begins by introducing Catherine “Cat” Chandler, an Ivy League law student tending a small town bar in order to stave off that Ivy League tuition. Shortly after leaving work, her car breaks down so she calls her mother to help jumpstart it. About five minutes later, men in black coats arrive on the scene. Is it Triple A finally coming to the rescue? No, it is actually two unidentified agents who inexplicably and brutally gun down Cat’s mother. Our heroine flees to the nearby woods in terror where she is saved at the last minute from some snarling dark-clad stranger.
Who could it be?!
Flash forward to almost a decade later where Cat is now a NYPD homicide detective and has somehow managed to not age a day despite the difficulties of her job and her jaded love life. While investigating the murder of a fashion editor, she comes across the prints of a purportedly dead soldier-slash-former doctor that went by the name of Vincent Keller. Her search eventually leads her to a totally not suspicious looking warehouse that is inhabited by a totally not suspicious chemistry student named JT Forbes, who is totally not harboring a handsome yet emotionally tortured vigilante in his upstairs loft.
Halfway through the episode, all of the story’s cards are laid out on the table: Cat discovers that Vincent was the stranger who saved her nine years ago and Vincent reveals that he was part of a secret government program intent on building super soldiers. Because programs like these usually turn out so well, his military superiors were completely baffled when their obedient test subjects suddenly turned into rampaging man-beasts prone to violence. Apparently, it’s the rush of adrenaline that does them in. So instead of firing the scientists who somehow thought it would be a good idea to expose these guys to the constant stress of combat, the government decided to do the merciful thing and eradicate every living trace of their experiments.
Except you know, they missed one.
And that’s how New York City came to have Vincent Keller: a part-time superhero who toils away in his laboratory-slash-bachelor pad, complete with amenities like a flat screen TV and an XBOX.
I hear that Bruce Wayne’s got five of those in his Bat Cave. You know, for when all his friends come over.
In a nutshell, our Beast character is actually a much prettier version of the Hulk rather than a cursed and otherwordly creature of mysterious origin.
And that’s what really gets me.
What makes the Beast such a memorable character is his transformation: both inward and outward. That’s why hundreds of years and many generations later, we’re still telling stories about him. But Vincent Keller does not look like monster. Aside from the occasional growl, he doesn’t act like a monster either. And yea sure, he can get aggressive sometimes. But he usually manages that well and saves it all for the bad guys. But overall, it doesn’t feel like he truly has a curse. The show doesn’t really try to gain our sympathy for his character so much as it tries to ram that sympathy down our throats.
Do you feel sorry for him yet?
Therefore, the stakes feel utterly contrived. What will Vincent benefit from his relationship with Cat? Does he become a better person? Does he become more “human”? Well considering that he’s saved six people (that we know of) during the nine-year gap, I think it’s safe to say that he hasn’t lost either his goodness or humanity. Unless there’s a future storyline somewhere where Vincent confesses that he once fed on the blood of orphans, it’s not like we’re dealing with a character like Angel who spent his days trying to repent for his past.
The heavy exposition was also a bump in the road for me because it whittled down any opportunity for chemistry or tension. We know that Beauty will eventually fall in love with Beast. But Cat and Vincent already seem to be on the fast track since Cat all but openly declared her trust for him at the very end of the episode. It really didn’t take much for her to get over the whole “super-strength” plus “super-anger-management” thing. Really. It didn’t.
As far as premiers go, this one’s pretty lackluster. Although I will say that it has the potential to become something noteworthy if more time is spent developing the nuances of the characters and their relationships. You know, instead of the cookie-cutter storylines we’ve seen dozens of times elsewhere.