I've never been much of a fan when it comes to Patrick Swayze's work, I never really forgave him for Dirty Dancing and Ghost, films I've had inflicted on me more times than I care to count by various women, not even Point Break was enough to make up for those two. So I initially heard about 'The Beast' I wasn't that fussed or excited. But the show's name cropped up enough times that it officially landed 'on my radar' and became a show I wanted to pay attention to and maybe try. Well the pilot aired last night and I've just finished watching it.
This is going to be split in two, I'm going to put a general review up in the first part of this post and then talk a few spoiler specifics behind a cut later on.
The Beast stars Patrick Swayze as Charles Barker, an FBI agent with questionable methods and Travis Fimmel as Ellis Dove, his junior partner. Charles hand picked Dove and spends most of his time barking orders at the younger agent with little or no explanation as to the whys.
The show opens explosively enough and remains reasonably gripping if not brilliant. The real draw is without a doubt Swayze himself who is... well the phrase performance of a lifetime would probably apply here if it didn't sound so cliched and a little morbid considering Patrick's unfortunate battle with cancer. But it does seem he's funnelled at least some of this into his role. He genuinely looks worn and tired, like an experienced veteran agent and he's brought an edge into his performance that he's never had before (not even in Road House). Swayze is without a doubt the number one reason to watch the show, he's fantastic.
But, there are problems and I'd be lying if I didn't at least acknowledge them, some of the scenes are highly confusing. Especially the one involving Larry Gillard Jr, it's difficult to follow what's happening and why (Larry is brilliant in it mind you). Likewise the show feels a little gratuitous on occasion and an incident involving an SUV, Swayze and a RPG leaves you asking more questions than the cool was actually worth.
Likewise Ellis Dove is not a very interesting character, he's another 'bewildered kitten' character and this is unfortunate because he's the narrative tool here. We're following him around most of the time and Barker only occasionally. The glimpses into Barker's life and his questionable actions are far more interesting than Dove's attempts to get it on with the girl in the same building.
Alan Sepinwall has described the show as "...a dumber version of "The Shield."" But honestly it felt like a more intelligent version of '24' for a lot of the time. I was mentally drawing parallels between Barker and Bauer for a while and wondering if this would be worth watching beyond the first episode.
Then the final few minutes kicked in and the show came into focus, it stopped being trashy television action drama and began to feel like there was potential placed underneath this initial, halting start. The rest I'm going to have to put behind a spoiler, but I can stop here and at least say I think the show has enough potential that if you enjoyed '24', 'The Shield' or films like 'Training Day', 'The Recruit' and so forth -- shows with dubious characters and amoral decisions -- then you should at least give a few episodes of 'The Beast' a try.
Read on for the spoiler section which is located in the full post here...
Final warning here now, I will be giving spoilers here.
As I wrote above, the episode was entertaining but I wasn't sure what the point was until the final six minutes. This is when Dove got on board the train after a hellish day and was confronted with pretty much all of the faces he'd met during the day. Nick (Larry Gillard), Caesar (Sticky Fingerz) and more. For a moment I was pretty confused and wondered if Dove was supposed to be dreaming or freaking out from the pipe he'd smoked earlier in the episode. But then the woman flashed her FBI badge and began to speak.
Apparently the entire operation was set up by FBI internal affairs as a way to assess Dove, they have their suspicions about Barker and some proof that he's corrupt. They want Dove to help them out, but he refuses. Then he decides to head into the evidence locker to check the money from the launcher deal was all handed in, it was. But a highly sensitive drive filled with the names of various government agents was gone.
This is where the show actually became interesting and also where Alan's comparison with The Shield began to really make sense. One thing I've often wished about The Shield was that the events of the pilot episode had in fact happened halfway through the first season. I've also wondered what The Shield would be like if it was a show about investigation into corrupt cops rather than just about corrupt cops. (Not that I would ask for The Shield to be any different apart from my pilot episode wish).
The Beast seems to be directly inspired by The Shield and somewhat in the vein of Damages as well. You have an initial first episode to set the characters and introduce us to some slightly underhand acts from Barker, you then flip the plot on it's head at the end and turn things around. I was genuinely engaged during the last few moments of the show. Still, a few things still don't make any sense at this point, especially the role of Larry's character Nick who is apparently an undercover FBI agent (and serious method actor) and the purpose his scene served in the pilot. Time and more episodes might clear things up here.
If the show can make Dove more interesting and dial down some of it's slightly more gratuitous moments, plus deepen the cast beyond the initial few characters, there is a really good show waiting to turn up here. Just like The Shield took a little while to find it's feet and didn't really take off properly until the second season and just like The Wire required nearly a full season before it clicked. The Beast has the same seed of potential in it and fueled by Swayze's brilliance this could become amazing. Or it could fall into the mire 24 landed itself in. I hope it's the former as this show could join the ranks of 'Amazing shows begining with the word "The"'.
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