It’s a tale as old as time: “Beauty and the Guy-Who-Has-a-Face-Scar-but-Is-Still-a-Straight-up-Model.” The CW’s new show, Beauty And The Beast, which premiered last night, shakes up the classic story with a slightly new formula, made up of equal parts staring at Kristin Kreuk’s perfect face, The Bourne Identity,” and a whole lot of detective procedural.
We begin in 2003, where TV 101 dictates that the loving mother of our heroine, Catherine Chandler (Kristin Kreuk), must die in order to establish some kind of inciting incident. Catherine is working at a bar and agrees to close up. Her car won’t start and so she calls her mom to help her jump it. Both women are alone in the parking lot when two mysterious men show up and shoot her mother without saying anything. Catherine flees to the woods and is miraculously saved from death by a vicious creature (dare I say, a beast?) who attacks the two men (oh, the sound effects) and then disappears.
Fast-forward to the present day, where Catherine is now Detective Chandler. Her sharp handling and subsequent dismissal of her loser boyfriend show that she’s a lot tougher now, but also that she’s not good at picking the right guy. (We call that foreshadowing.)
The rest of the episode feels like two very different shows, one procedural, one romance, which both speed by so quickly trying to get through the plot—so much plot—that you can’t really grab on to either.
Our beast is Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan), a supposedly dead—but obvs not really dead—ex-doctor, ex-military, and current-private do-gooder living with a roommate in a creepy warehouse. Catherine goes looking for Vincent after his DNA is found at the crime scene of murdered young editor—which raises some flags, given that he was supposed to have died in Afghanistan.
There are two things I expect out of my beast. One, that he be incredibly primal, but also passionate in a way that is both a little dangerous, but mostly exciting, to the beauty. In these post-Twilight days that might sound clichéd, but it’s an essential part of the story. Two—now bear with me on this one, because I know you’ve read this before—I expect that he look like a, well, beast.
As much as Belle and Rumpelstiltskin were a little hard to get behind on Once Upon A Time (until you saw that chipped cup and cried like a baby), at least they followed the rules: He has a fierce urge for power and he’s atrocious. Disney’s Beast had something animalistic about him, too. And in the 1987 television show—on which this show is loosely based—the beast is, as IMDb hilariously refers to him, “a sensitive and cultured lion-man.”
Here on the CW, we have the passion, but not the hideousness. When Catherine goes to search the warehouse she thinks Vincent is hiding in, he is revealed to be … beautiful. Wait, what?
He also seems to have been following Catherine ever since her mother’s murder. Detective Chandler gets a little freaked out when she sees an article Vincent has kept about her mother’s death, which reads: “Murder Victim’s Daughter Claims ‘Beast’ Saved Her.” She asks him why he was at the editor’s murder scene, and he says he didn’t kill her: He was trying to save her. He also reveals that he could smell that she had been poisoned. (In case you care, the editor was murdered by her assistant. There, that’s out of the way.)
Catherine’s partner arrives at the warehouse before she can ask too many questions, and she decides to keep Vincent a secret. Back at the office, Catherine follows up on some “cross-species DNA” found at the editor’s murder scene that matches DNA found at her mother’s crime scene back in 2003. She meets a Special Agent McCleary on a subway platform to talk about the DNA, and he quickly pulls a knife on her. Why? Who can say? Detective Chandler fights back incredibly well. I liked the juxtaposition of this scene with the earlier scene in which young Catherine helplessly watches her mother die. She can hold her own now. The beast ends up dramatically rescuing her from Agent McStabby.
Back at the warehouse, Vincent tells Catherine he was part of an experiment in Afghanistan where soldiers were injected with something—they were told vitamins—that altered their DNA and made them aggressive fighting machines. When the program proved too volatile, all the participants were murdered, but Vincent got away.
The couple plays the back-and-forth game of “Stay away I’m trouble”-slash-“But you’re a good guy” throughout the rest of the episode. One of my main problems with this game is that I can’t tell if Catherine is attracted to Vincent because he saved her and genuinely wants to be a good guy (which, obviously, is what the show wants you to believe) or because he’s just so attractive. When she looks longingly at him, it’s hard to tell what Catherine is admiring.
Even though “it’s what’s inside that counts” is a saying I cling to like Disney’s Belle clings to her library ladder, I thought I would be able to overlook this story doing away with the ugly-beast idea. But I can’t. The only time he looks truly scary is when he’s extremely agitated (so, checks for “primal” and “passionate”) and turns beastly. Ninety-five percent of the time, he’s an amazingly attractive guy. It doesn’t quite work.
What does work is the beautiful Kristin Kreuk, who portrays her tough and wounded detective with just the right amount of strength.
We’re left with some unanswered questions: 1.) What did Catherine’s mother have to do with this secret program the beast was a part of, and why were her murderers tracking her (as the beast revealed)? 2.) How did he actually escape and what has he been doing—besides saving women? 3.) How did Catherine get away with not telling anyone she was almost murdered on a subway platform? 4.) Didn’t her first loser boyfriend look a lot like Tom Welling?
As much plot as this show tried to pack in, I still think it was fairly well written. I’m also a sucker for a romance (they have to save each other, guys!), so I might give it another try. Did you tune in? What did you all think?