Thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast”

So, I watched the entire 3 — or, rather, 2.5 — season run of the original TV show “Beauty and the Beast”, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. What slightly surprised me after watching it was that I think I watched pretty much the entire run. I certainly remember scenes from the last season, even up until the last episode. This surprises me, at least in part, because after watching this run I was not all that thrilled with the show. But it explains why I remember it positively.

Anyway, the basic premise of the show is that Catherine Chandler — Hamilton’s character — is attacked by mistake by some thugs, and she is saved by an explicitly bestial Vincent, who lives in a community down in the underground of New York. She is covered in bandages and so doesn’t get to see him, but they eventually fall in love, and she remains in love with him even after she sees what he looks like. This event transforms her life — she leaves her upscale lawyer job to be an investigator for the DA’s office — and the two of them maintain their romance despite the fact that he lives below and she lives above, and there is no way he could be accepted in society if he came above.

This show really, really needed some kind of arc. This is ironic, since one of my complaints about the remake was that it had a too convoluted story arc, and preferred the simplicity of the original. The issue here, though, is that without any kind of arc there’s no real change, and with no real change there’s no real story or anything to follow. It’s all the same, and all meaningless.

The show really wanted to focus on the romance, which is fine (if not really my sort of thing). But because there was no romance arc to follow there wasn’t really anything to follow with it. They loved each other. That’s pretty much it. There was a potential clash with them having to live in two separate worlds, but the focus on this was quickly dropped, and probably for good reason: as they developed the underground world more and focused in on the evil of the world above compared with the good of the world below, and added more “amenities” — concerts, holidays, and so on — it opened up the question of why Catherine didn’t just move below with him. While her father was still alive, she might have had an excuse — that they never mentioned — of not wanting to leave him again after she had already gone missing, but once he died there wasn’t much of a reason for her not to do that. This was actually lampshaded in one episode when a young woman from above is taken in, gets a crush on Vincent, and asks that rather pointed question about Catherine, but there was never really a satisfying answer. But since after the first season the two of them weren’t very concerned about it, it left the romance in a bit of a satisfied limbo, until they wanted to try to introduce a rival or something to cause some drama (Elliot Burch being a big one early). But, again, they were so happy with each other and so in love and so connected that even without us stepping outside the show itself — noting that if they broke up there wouldn’t be much of a show anymore — we were convinced that the threat was not really serious.

If Catherine’s reluctance to go below was due to a character arc where she was trying to make her world better, that would have worked as well. However, from the first she’s very interested in helping others, and there’s really no evolution in her view as things go along. She neither has to let go of her more privileged upbringing to see how things work for most people, nor does she go through despair at how bad the world above is but come to the conclusion that she can and must make it better. There are times when things like this are mentioned, but they aren’t followed through on and so don’t really matter overall.

Vincent himself doesn’t really get a character arc. Towards the end of Season 2, they try to establish an idea of him fighting with his bestial nature … except that they have never really established any real conflict there — he was always more gentle than anyone else in the show — and so it really seems to come out of nowhere, and is far too dramatic to simply appear at the end of the second season. As noted above, other than the potential for heartbreak with a romance that simply cannot work, there’s no real progression with that part for him either.

The first season was all about the romance, and so was probably okay if you like that sort of thing. The second season kept the romance as the main theme, but tried to focus more on emotional stories. But since they kept the idea of “Status Quo is God”, those episodes never changed anything, which blunted their impact and made them seem hollow. As an example, one early episode in Season 2 had the people down below catch the bubonic plague, but all that happens is that the sister of one boy who was introduced in the previous season dies, making a huge emotional scene … but then we never see the boy again either (and had rarely seen the two since their introduction). So it’s a huge event that doesn’t change anything about any of the characters or any of the settings. And this is consistent throughout the second season.

As noted, at the end of Season 2 and into Season 3 they try to introduce an arc. First, it is Vincent’s bestial nature, and then it’s the search for Vincent’s son. The issue here is that this all comes far too late. It required them to invent problems and even a new villain to pull this off, and so it all comes out of left field. Instead of the new villain, it would have worked better if they had used Paracelus — who was trying to drive Vincent to embrace his bestial side — instead, as he would have had a clear reason to want to keep Vincent’s son and raise him and was already established.

The other issue here is that in doing so they, for whatever reason, killed Catherine off, and so ended the romance. The intros in Season 3 then changed from the focus on their romance to a focus on Vincent trying to oppose the evil forces in the world above. The problem is that this runs into what I felt the problem was with “John Woo’s Once a Thief”. There, the pilot was standard action, while the show itself was often delightfully surreal. People who might have liked the surreal nature of the show would likely ignore it because it was a standard action show, while people who liked the action show would be turned off by the surreal elements. Here, people who wanted to see Vincent fight evil would have been ignoring the show since its early seasons were all about the romance, but those who were there for the romance would be turned off by the romance getting pretty much completely tossed out. A show like that can’t survive for long … and “Beauty and the Beast” didn’t.

It seems like they didn’t expect the third season to only be twelve episodes. They introduce a new character in Diana Bennett, but she doesn’t even meet Vincent until the seventh episode. Yes, the first two episodes were a two-parter, but you’d still expect that they would have had them meet up in the third or fourth episode if she was going to be a major character in a twelve episode season. Even if they were going to have a full season, it still takes a bit too long to get her directly connected to the main cast. She’s off on her own, but that’s not what we came to the show for. They also seemed to be hinting at having her pick up the romance plot, which is problematic because a) it takes too long to introduce her so there is no time to do it in twelve episodes and b) if the audience liked Catherine then replacing her with Diana was going to grate. At least that was one thing that not rushing would help with, as it wouldn’t seem like them killing off Catherine and then immediately pairing Vincent up again … but, again, fans of the romance would already likely be souring on the show and the people who prefer the show with less romance would not view it favourably.

It also doesn’t help that Diana can be a very annoying character at times. She’s built around the hyper-intelligent detective idea, but you really shouldn’t do that if you can’t actually build mysteries to solve. She doesn’t really solve any mysteries on her own, and so only seems to solve the ones related to Vincent. She does this with what are supposed to be brilliant deductions that instead come across as her having read the script. She also often has to hide that she knows things and doesn’t seem able to come up with good excuses. One example of this is when there was a serial killer who was really someone out for revenge on some of the people from the world below who ends up killing himself at the end, with Diana finding him. The case at the DA’s office gets dropped and when one of the investigators protests that he will kill again Diana says he won’t, but can’t provide a reason for that knowledge. This despite the fact that she already had an answer: he hadn’t killed in three weeks and he had been like clockwork before that. Thus, since he was so regular, she could call back to her original comment on him that he was that ordered and say that if he hadn’t killed or even made an attempt in that long, then he was either finished … or dead.

The good thing about the character is that they gave her a voice, and so she could avoid some of the issues with dialogue that Linda Hamilton faced. The show was very melodramatic, and the dialogue reflected that. Ron Perlman did a great job with it, as he was able to make the often cheesy dialogue seem genuine and so believable. Roy Dotrice, as Vincent’s father figure, also managed to make it work most of the time. Linda Hamilton, however, struggled with it. It always seemed fake and forced from her. I noted while watching the show that I couldn’t think of an actress, then or now, that could pull it off, so I’ll forgive her for that, but there were also times when she would be talking normally and it didn’t work, so her acting really doesn’t hold up in this show. Especially when contrasted with Dotrice and Perlman. Diana, at least, got her own voice that worked, at least most of the time.

This show goes into the box, because I can’t imagine watching it any time soon. There might be worth in watching it if you really like romance, but the shifts from romance-focus to emotional-story-focus to adventure-focus will probably be grating even for those who like romances. The only thing that makes it watchable is Perlman’s performance, aided by Dotrice’s. That being said, I didn’t even finish the remake, so it has it over that, at least.

I’m taking a break from new shows/rewatching shows that I watched when I was younger for my normal summertime watching of “The World at War”. After that, I’m planning on picking up one of “Knight Rider”, “Airwolf”, “Hunter” or “Gilligan’s Island”. I’m leaning towards either “Knight Rider” or “Gilligan’s Island”, because for the former I had started watching it a couple of times and was enjoying it before getting distracted, and for the latter it might be nice to just watch a simple comedy for a while. But with me things can change in a short time, so I’ll end up deciding then.

One Response to “Thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast””

  1. First Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars” (End Season 1) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] thought that I would have liked before watching them again like “Remington Steele” and “Beauty and the Beast” worked out very badly for me, and did so quite quickly. So I wasn’t sure if I had simply […]

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