Narcopolis is new film in the time travel genre, involving a dystopian world where drugs are legal and there’s a conspiracy involving a new super-drug and the mega-corp that makes it. (Read my review here.) I had a Skype conversation with the producer, writer, and director Justin Trefgarne, where we talked about his background (including […]
Episode 101: Pilot
THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD!
[Photos: Ben Mark Holzberg/The CW]
Before I review the pilot for Beauty and the Beast, I feel compelled to give you some information about me. It’ll help with context, so just humor me. Based on commercials aired with the show, I appear to be a member of the target demographic. I color my hair, I worry about my weight, I eat yogurt, and I often struggle with how to get home-made food on the table given my family’s crazy schedule. Other germane info: I read Twilight, and I liked it. I’ve read all the Sookie Stackhouse books and adore True Blood. I have recently started watching The Vampire Diaries on Netflix, and I don’t like it…I LOVE it. So yeah, I’m that girl. I’m also exceptionally well-read, so don’t judge me. In any case, I should love CW’s new Beauty and the Beast.
Unfortunately, I don’t.
On the surface, the show seems like it could work. Tortured hero? Check. Gorgeous heroine with a heart of gold? Check. Friends who provide comic relief? Again, check. Dangerous common enemies? You get the idea. So why doesn’t it work? Let’s explore.
The episode begins with Catherine Chandler, last to leave the bar where she works. Her car battery is dead because she left the vanity mirror open. Mom comes to the rescue, but two mysterious men pull into the parking lot while the two women are working on the car battery. The men open fire on Catherine’s mother, and Cat runs into the nearby woods with the men in pursuit. She hits her head, and through her blurred vision, sees a beast-like man save her. The beast disappears, and Catherine spends the several years wondering if what she thought she saw was due to concussion or trauma.
The scene shifts to New York City in present-day. Cat briefly meets with her not-very-cute jerk boyfriend, only to find out that he had actually dumped her over text message, just so we’re all clear that her love life isn’t up to snuff. Later, Cat’s partner Tess Vargas commiserates with her, and suggests a “man cleanse.” Tess is plain-spoken, ribald even, and throws into sharp relief what had been bothering me: I don’t like Catherine’s character because she’s not interesting. She’s nice. She’s pleasant. But, she’s also monotone and flat. I’m not looking for emotional liability; I just want some dimension.
The two detectives arrive at a hotel to investigate the death of a woman named Ashley Webster. Fingerprints collected at the scene match Vincent Keller, a specialist MD killed in Afghanistan. How would the prints of a dead man be at the scene of what may turn out to be murder? It would probably be a more interesting question if the audience didn’t already know the answer.
Cat finds Vincent Keller through Keller’s former roommate, J.T. She confronts Vincent on his participation in the Webster death. He insists that he tried to help the woman, that she had been poisoned, and that he could smell the poison. Big clue, Cat, that something is amiss here. Why, also, does Vincent have a clipping of a newspaper article about the tragedy involving Cat and her mother? Why is he as flat and one-dimensional as Cat? And why does Vincent need everyone to think he’s dead? At this point, the only interesting question is the last one.
Cat gets in touch with an investigator about her mother’s murder, and agrees to meet him on a subway platform to discuss details of her mother’s case. Coincidentally, the subway platform clears of all witnesses just as she is attacked by the very investigator she had agreed to meet, and his minions. Naturally, a “shadowy figure” shows up to rescue her. Cat, being sleuthy, realizes that Vincent is her savior. Vincent doctors up Cat’s bumps and bruises and shares his story: in the military, he participated in a “vitamin and antibiotics” experiment called Operation Muirfield, that would enhance soldiers’ abilities in combat. Here’s the shocker: the experiment changed his DNA, and adrenaline now turns him into a cranky, hulky roid monster. She touches his face, he tells her to leave. She returns later to warn him about FBI involvement in the subway case. He gets mad and beasty, and throws some stuff around until she runs away. Yep, fairy tale romance in the works right here.
Then, because Cat can’t take a hint, she puts on some fancy party clothes, and goes back to Vincent’s once more. Her explanation is that she needs to know what happened to her mother, that she feels she’s the reason for her mom’s death, because of the vanity mirror. Now that she’s extra pretty, he’s nice to her, and tells her that the Muirfield bad guys were already tracking her mom, though he doesn’t know any more.
In the final scene, the writers try to draw parallels between this show and The Vampire Diaries (TVD). Cat writes in her diary to her mother, something the main character Elena of TVD does in the first several episodes of that show. Cat shares that it feels like everyone has moved on, a sentiment which Elena has expressed. Cat notes that she was saved by Beast, but he didn’t get there in time to save Cat’s mother; Elena’s boyfriend Stefan saved Elena but not her parents from drowning, and he watched Elena from afar for long after that, just like Vincent did with Catherine. Given that CW is trying to recreate the very successful TVD with a new premise and new cast, let’s outline why it’s unlikely to work:
1) TVD has a great cast. Every character is interesting, even if it’s because he or she is annoying (I’m looking at you, Anna and Vicky). So far in B&B, Evan the medical examiner and Tess have personality, but when the cast is essentially your two leads and three or four supporting actors, every single participant needs to be strong.
2) There’s no love triangle. Right or wrong, that’s a lot of the appeal of Twilight and TVD. Sue me.
3) The unveiling of critical details about who Vincent is and his involvement with Cat occurs way too quickly. Draw it out longer. Linger a little. By contrast, we all knew Stefan was a vampire for several episodes before Elena did. The pacing is just better when you allow things to unfold.
4) The actor Jay Ryan (Vincent) is no Paul Wesley or Ian Somerhalder. Mr. Ryan is mildy attractive, but he doesn’t bring the same smouldering or cocky intensity that give the Salvatore brothers such appeal.
5) The makeup and special effects aren’t as good as TVD. Publicity shots of Vincent as Beast don’t look the same as Beast in the TV show. Can they not figure out what the character needs to look like?
6) Great music. I have had several, “Ooooh, I like that cover,” or “Hmm, I wonder who does that song” moments watching TVD. With B&B, I only had an, “Oh God, what is that!?” moment with the show’s theme music. I would have expected something a little moodier; this is some kind of synthy pop thing that would have been sub-optimal even in the 80s.
7) Humor. Ian Somerhalder’s comedic timing is 30% of why the show works (I’m pretty sure you can guess what the other 70% is). Tess has moments of funny, but by and large, this is a dreary show.
8) The murder mystery back story in the B&B episode was not that interesting. We’ve all seen a lot of Law & Order and CSI. If you’re going to do a detective show, make the detection interesting by making us care about the murder victims.
9) Logical nits:
- Vincent participated in a medical experiment in the military, and he wasn’t the least bit curious about what they were doing to him? He’s a freaking doctor!
- Catherine won’t leave Vincent alone when he tells her to. Want to share some information with him? Call J.T. and ask him to give Vincent a message. If a man were to do that to a woman, it’d be called stalking.
- When Vincent gets mad at Catherine and the beast comes out to play, it’s not clear why he’s so mad at her this time, as opposed to the time before or the time after, except that it’s convenient for the plot.
- When Catherine gets all gussied up, Vincent is nice to her again because she’s so pretty. And that erases all the danger he claimed there was with the two of them around each other? Oh sure, you’re saying, “Wait, that happened in Twilight and TVD! Those guys said it was too dangerous to be together, but they decided to work it out!” Yeah, but that was after the characters had already spent a lot of time together and developed serious relationships. So there.
I will be the first to admit that sometimes, shows need time to find their tone and pacing, and to develop their characters. Sometimes, the viewer simply needs to be more open. For my part, I’ll stick with it, keep an open mind, and share if and when I think the show starts to come around. As things stand, they have a fair bit of work ahead of them.