Two nights ago, right before bed, I got caught up on watching Once Upon a Time and found myself surprised by one of the, “if you like this show, maybe you’ll like one of these” recommendations.
Beauty and the Beast? The font didn’t make it look like the 1980s show, but… a quick Wikipedia disambiguation search confirmed my suspicion that someone had rebooted the classic TV series. (It wasn’t until later that I realized I probably could have just clicked through the recommendation to find this out, but hey. I’m a nerd. Google FTW.)
I went to sleep, but not before posting this.
When I got up in the morning, one of the first things I did was start watching the show. That ended up being just about all I did with my day. Because for all the ways this reboot differs from the original, it still retains the core premise and feel of the original love story.
I am something of a fan of the original TV series. I have to admit, though, that I tried to re-watch it a few months ago and stopped after a couple of episodes. It turned out to be even more sappy than I remembered. I also couldn’t stop laughing at the killer shoulder pads the female lead wore. However, I grew up watching the reruns (it came out when I was three, an army brat living in Germany) and have fond memories of it as a good love story.
The basic premise for both the original series and the reboot is simple. A man named Vincent saves the life of a woman named Catherine Chandler, revealing in the process that he is not quite human. He lives outside society, hiding from people who would not take kindly to him. Catherine falls in love with him because she sees past the monstrous surface to the big heart underneath. She proceeds to live her life half in shadow, trying to balance the normal side of her life with keeping Vincent’s existence a secret. It’s a semi-tragic struggle in which the two lovers are constantly caught between being drawn together and pulled apart.
OG Beauty & the Beast
The original 1987 series is a bit dated now, as you can probably guess from my laughter about the shoulder pads, though it didn’t feel particularly cheesy when it was created. Catherine was a lawyer — a difficult profession for a woman to be in at the time. (She needed those shoulder pads, gosh darnit! How else was she to get any respect from her male peers?) After Vincent saved her from death in a park, she opted to leave her father’s fancy law firm and become a district attorney. This helped set the show up to be half crime drama, half romance.
Vincent kinda looked like a Thundercat. His makeup was well done. It wasn’t as extreme as you might expect a half-man-half-monster to look like in TV today. However, when compared to humanoid makeup in Star Trek: The Next Generation, which first started airing in the same year, I think it fit well into that TV era. Besides, would they have wanted him to look ugly? The female lead was madly in love with him, after all. And she wasn’t the only person who accepted him for who he was. He lived beneath New York, the only not-quite-human member of a literally-underground utopian society whose existence was completely unknown to “the world above.”
The new series uses the basic premise outlined above as a framework, but otherwise reflects changes in society, TV/film conventions, and viewer expectations. Catherine Chandler is not a lawyer in this series. Lawyers don’t go out and investigate crimes, after all — that’s what cops do. So now she’s Detective Chandler.
She started out studying to be a lawyer. However, after witnessing her mother’s murder and being saved herself by the intervention of a mysterious beast, she decided to change career tracks. A murder she’s working on nine years later involves the fingerprints of a supposedly dead man named Vincent Keller. Following those prints is how she ends up meeting the male lead.
There is no underground utopia this time around. Vincent is also not an anthropomorph. He’s still in hiding, though, letting the world think he died while deployed in Afghanistan. He was the subject of government experimentation when he was in the military. When the DNA-changing stuff he and his fellows had been pumped with started turning them all into uncontrollable monsters, the government decided to exterminate them all. Vincent managed to survive, and with only his childhood best friend for company and support has been staying out of sight for a decade. He still has some Hulk-style problems if he gets too worked up, but for the most part he is in control when he transforms.
In spite of these and other differences, the overall feel of the show is very like that of the original. They’ve turned it from fantasy to science-fiction. However, the troubled love story between Catherine and Vincent is still the main focus. I’m sure it helps that the creator of the original show is heavily involved with this effort, having writing credits for every episode so far according to IMDB.
The show got an abysmal 34 on Metacritic, thanks to a slew of terrible reviews. However, it has been popular with viewers, winning a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama. It’s been promised a second season.
The reasons for the critics’ dislike of the series were varied. Some reviewers who hadn’t seen the original show thought it was a mangling of the original fairy tale. Others decided the actors for the new Catherine and Vincent don’t hold a candle to the performances of Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton in the 1987 series. Some people just seemed to expected the show to have more depth to it.
To be fair, some of their comments have merit. And a good chunk of the reviews call the show mediocre rather than bad. But if you look at the dates for those reviews, they were all made based on the pilot alone.
Metacritic only aggregates initial review scores, creating a snapshot of how critics perceived the show (movie, video game, whatever) on initial review. The recent Sim City fiasco illustrated a flaw in this system, where initial review scores gave the game a great Metacritic rating even though the game proved unplayable and some reviewers ended up lowering their review scores. I feel that the reverse is true for Beauty and the Beast — a good show that required a bit of time to gather momentum got punished because critics didn’t like the pilot.
How the Differences Work
Catherine Chandler’s position as a police detective allows for the show to have elements of a police drama along the lines of CSI. However, there is only as much focus on that as there needs to be to support the love story. Anyone looking for hardcore procedural crime drama should not look to Beauty and the Beast for fulfillment.
What really makes her job an interesting element of the story is that in order to protect Vincent, Catherine finds herself faced with choices like tampering with evidence vs. news getting out Vincent isn’t dead after all. She starts down a slippery slope into corruption while the people around her wonder why she’s acting so strangely.
Having Vincent be the result of a classified government experiment gone wrong feels a bit cliché. In terms of the current TV climate, though, and the more realistic/sci-fi feel they are going for (as compared to the original show), it makes a lot of sense to use it. It allows for secrets and twists and intrigue and action scenes. It also allows for a longer story arc to tie the episodic adventures together.
All the things on the side just exist to support the love story, though. Every regular crime Catherine investigates has some anvilicious connection to how her relationship with Vincent is going. The constant threat of discovery and death by secret agents motivates both Catherine’s unlawful doings at the police station to protect Vincent and Vincent’s following her around to protect her from assailants.
So no, the story isn’t that deep. Yes, the whole thing is kinda cliché. Maybe it would be nicer if there was better chemistry between the two main characters. It is kinda predictable. For what it’s intended to be, though, those flaws are fine. This show isn’t aiming to be the best thing ever, and it doesn’t come close. But I find it satisfactory as entertaining love story TV shows go and as a modern-day reboot of the 1980s series.
If you don’t like love stories, or prefer stories with intellectual depth, don’t watch this. For fans of the old series, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. If you enjoyed the love story between Buffy and Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you’ll probably enjoy this (though you won’t find anything like Joss Whedon’s one-liners). All in all, this show is not for everyone, but it’s not bad and certainly didn’t deserve its incredibly low Metacritic rating.
Six years later edit (April 20, 2019): I recently picked this up again and got through a couple more seasons. I still agree with everything I say here, though they should have ended the show sooner. It runs out of new ideas. I didn’t watch the entire thing.