CW’s “Beauty and the Beast” a fun update to a cult classic

Reviewed by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Remember the first time you saw Ron Perlman?  2004’s Hellboy?  Nope. Maybe his prolific 1990s animated voice work? Guess again. What about Linda Hamilton, the original Terminatrix?  Both genre giants first made their splash in one of the 1980s’ strangest TV phenomena, a short-lived paranormal romance about a New York City district attorney and the mysterious creature who saved her life.  Beauty and the Beast was part fairy tale, part crime drama, and it launched the careers of a couple major stars–which, of course, makes it prime fodder for a remake!

The CW’s new series Beauty and the Beast premiered last Thursday night with a promising pilot starring Kristin Kreuk (Chuck, Smallville) as NYC homicide detective Catherine Chandler and Jay Ryan as Vincent Keller, “the Beast.” In the original series, Vincent (Perlman) was literally a beast–a man with the visage of a lion, whose strange appearance is never explained, and who inhabits an elaborate Hogwarts-like world beneath New York City, along with other outcasts.  Ryan’s Vincent is a doctor (somewhat scarred but still very human) and a veteran, a victim of a military experiment gone horribly, Incredible-Hulkly wrong, and the lone survivor of the military’s efforts to clean up their mess.  He faked his own death and now haunts the streets of New York, using his inhuman strength and medical training to help victims of violent crime.  But it’s a tricky existence; the military experiments turned Vincent not into the super-soldier the army hoped, but a “monster” whose violent attacks are triggered by strong emotion.  As Vincent tells Catherine, “They couldn’t control us.  We couldn’t control us.”  By day, he hides himself in a warehouse with his roommate J.T. (Austin Basis), a biochemistry professor looking for an antidote to Vincent’s condition.

Kreuk’s Catherine Chandler is a homicide detective hot on the trail of whoever killed the editor of a fashion magazine.  When her investigation discovers Keller’s genetically altered DNA on the victim’s body (from his efforts to give her CPR before the police arrived), it triggers Catherine’s memory of her mother’s murder several years before, and the “beast” the younger Catherine insisted had saved her from her mother’s killers.  It also triggers a dogged search for Vincent Keller, and she tracks him down at his warehouse, where, inevitably, sparks fly.

This new Beauty and the Beast delivered a solid pilot with an appealing cast and some smart updates.  The original series has a devoted fan base, and the CW was wise to move their version in a different, less fantastical direction, allowing it to stand completely on its own.  Kreuk is always fun, and gets to literally kick butt as Det. Chandler, and Australian TV star Ryan nails the tortured, growly-voiced man-or-monster character.  We really don’t need yet another police drama (particularly of the Eccentric Male Expert Aided by Young Female Cop mold), but thanks to its classic TV heritage and paranormal/sci-fi edge, this promises to be more than that.  The pilot was loaded with hints at mysterious backstory filled with dark conspiracy (who murdered Cat’s mom?  Was it the same people involved in Vincent’s experiment?  And if so, why?) as well as seeds laid for future conflict.  I initially tuned in for Kreuk (who I loved in Chuck), and for the promised remake of one of my childhood favorites… and I will be staying tuned to see how the series develops.  It has a proven premise, solid writing, brewing mystery, and two appealing stars… looks like a match made in fairy tale remake TV heaven.

Beauty and the Beast airs Thursday nights at 8/7 on the CW.  Check your local listings (you can set your DVR while you’re watching Arrow).

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