For three glorious seasons in the late ’80s, the CBS crime drama Beauty and the Beast told viewers the story of man-beast Vincent (Ron Perlman) and young assistant district attorney Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton). Together, the pair navigated New York City and a secret, subterranean world of misfits and social outcasts. They formed an intimate bond that was broken only by Catherine’s murder at the beginning of the third season.
Despite its relatively brief run, Beauty and the Beast has consistently been voted one of the most popular cult shows of all time.
Working with original series creator Ron Koslow, The CW has launched a re-imaging of the cult favorite with Jay Ryan and Kristin Kreuk in the title roles. Early promos for the show hinted at a grittier, uglier version of the original series. Unfortunately, the darkest moments in the premiere episode were purely cinematographic. The new Beauty and the Beast is quite campy without intending to be so, an affliction from which many The CW shows suffer.
Kristin Kreuk’s Catherine Chandler is shown as an aspiring law student at the top of the episode. Jump to several years after witnessing the brutal murder of her mother. Now Chandler is a detective with the NYPD’s special crimes unit. A simplistic, causal relationship between the murder of her mother and her change in career path is disappointingly evident throughout the show. Though it’s one of crime fiction’s favorite tropes, contemporary viewers deserve better than such simple back-stories for lead characters.
In the new series, the Beast — who saved Catherine from her mother’s murderers — is the victim of a military biological engineering experiment gone wrong. While the show’s writers deserve kudos for their interest in exploring what makes a man into a beast, the storyline smacks of X-Men a lá Wolverine and countless sci-fi military dramas. Though the relationship between Catherine and Vincent is central to the series, much of the action between the two was just too forced. Run-of-the-mill dialogue dampened any chances Kruek and Ryan had to light an on-screen spark.
Had the writers stripped down the stereotypical representation of female detectives as simultaneously cunning and silly, the premiere might have fared better. Early in the episode, Chandler speeds into a bustling New York neighborhood with her lights and sirens blaring — so that she can meet up with a would-be date who has already left her for another woman. Audience members are likely to tire of such gimmicks, especially if series writers don’t pay more attention to the crimes that Chandler will be investigating each week. For now, it looks like the original CBS series will have the monopoly on viewers’ hearts.