As Disney put it, Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time.
Since its incarnation as a French fairy tale in 1740, the romantic story of a lovely maiden and a disfigured monster has seen several screen, theatrical and literary adaptations, the most popular of which came in the form of the 1991 Disney film and the 1987 television show staring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman.
So perhaps fans of the unusual love story weren’t surprised when the CW announced that it was doing its own interpretation of the classic tale. The network unveiled the new show, titled Beauty and the Beast, on Oct. 11 to generally negative critical reviews.
CW’s adaptation sets a fairy-tale narrative against an urban Manhattan landscape, where Detective Catherine Chandler (Kristin Kreuk) struggles to uncover the mystery behind her mother’s death. As a teenager, Catherine witnessed the death of her mother at the hands of two mysterious gunmen just moments before being rescued by a “mysterious beast.” Ten years later, as she works on a particularly unusual case, she stumbles across a clue that leads her to superhuman Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan), her savior and the result of a military science project gone wrong.
At its core, the CW’s Beauty and the Beast blends multiple genres, but only succeeds in a few of them. There’s the not-so-subtle forbidden romance between Catherine and Vincent, the myriad of Catherine’s detective cases found in the typical crime show and the science fiction/action-thriller nature of Vincent’s mysterious military background. With so many narrative styles crammed into an hour-long show, Beauty and the Beast appears confused and unsure of itself.
This seems especially true considering pop culture’s recent obsession with fantasy. At first glance, it appeared that, with Beauty and the Beast, the CW was attempting to capitalize on the large fairy-tale market brought about by the likes of successful programs such as Once Upon A Time and Grimm. But instead of bringing a new approach to familiar tales in the style of Once Upon A Time — whose innovative story hinges on the connection between the modern and the enchanted world — the CW merely regurgitated a tired concept. Adaptations such as the 2011 film Beastly and the 1987 Beauty and the Beast already featured the fairy-tale narrative against an urban backdrop, and though the CW marketed the show as a remake of the 1987 program, it would have been nice to see a fresher take on the timeless story.
But there’s another problem with the CW’s latest television program: Beauty and the Beast is essentially Twilight — minus the sparkling vampires.
Personal opinions on the Twilight saga aside, viewers of the CW’s Beauty and the Beast will notice striking parallels between Vincent and author Stephanie Meyer’s Edward Cullen. From subtle details like the upturned collar on Vincent’s trademark peacoat to the fierce golden blaze in his eyes on CW advertisements, Vincent reeks of Robert Pattinson’s Edward.
The similarities to Twilight don’t end with physical connections between Vincent and Edward, however. Scenes between Catherine and Vincent seem almost directly pulled from a chapter of Twilight or Eclipse. Much like the way Edward constantly frets about the state of his soul, Vincent spends several episodes trying to convince himself that he is not a monster and is capable of being around Catherine without killing her. Given Vincent’s medical background — he worked as a doctor before joining the military after his brothers were killed in 9/11 — his interest in saving the citizens of Manhattan seem highly plausible. Still, the show’s ever-present focus on themes of guilt and duty seem a little too timely, especially given the release of the final chapter of the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn Part 2, later this month. Here, it seems the CW is attempting to capitalize on the Twilight market as well.
But a series of poor stylistic choices also extend to the more original elements of the show: Namely, the CW doesn’t seem to understand the darker, more profound nature of the fairy tale. As the original story and later adaptations suggest, Beauty learns to love the Beast by looking past his hideousness. But by casting the attractive, well-built Ryan in the role of Vincent, the CW misses the main theme of its source of inspiration.
A tiny scar on Ryan’s right cheek serves as the only physical deformity of the character, and though Vincent transforms Hulk-style into a raging beast, shaky, blurred cinematography and intentionally accelerated editing prevent the viewer from getting a good glimpse of Vincent in his monstrous state. Perhaps ignoring the ugly nature of the Beast’s character would work if Vincent’s personality served as his hideousness, but — just as Twilight fans never believed Edward would hurt Bella — viewers don’t quite believe that Vincent is capable of the violent acts the government accuses him of. In short, the new show features two beauties rather than a beauty and a beast.
Still, the show contains a few highlights.
Kreuk, whom fans might recognize from her role as Lana Lang in Smallville, will hold your attention with her onscreen charisma and striking facial features. Despite comments from critics that suggest Kreuk’s petite stature renders her incapable of holding her own against Beauty and the Beast’s baddies (all government agents trained to kill) the actress emanates a quiet but perceptible strength. Even in the poorly choreographed fight scenes, it’s clear Catherine’s channeled rage from her mother’s unjust death, and perhaps even some martial arts training of her own, compensate for her smaller physical size.
Beauty and the Beast also features compelling, though not overly-complex, criminal mysteries. Though it’s clear that the show has settled into a rigid format — a crime is committed within the first 15 minutes of the episode, before Vincent and Catherine spend the remaining 45 attempting to figure out “whodunit” — the crimes featured so far aren’t terribly predictable. They also often involve a host of minor characters, just enough to throw off the viewer’s intuition if they thought they’d figured out the mystery ahead of time.
If watching Vincent and Catherine fall in love gets boring, the amusing detective story makes an episode, if not the entire season, worth watching.
What’s most disappointing about Beauty and the Beast, however, is that the show fails to take advantage of an audience ready for another solid fairy-tale adaptation. Given the prevalence of the beauty and the beast story in cultural staples such as The Phantom of the Opera, the CW could have easily taken a popular story and translated it to the small screen. Instead, the network fails to make the most of the tale’s complex nature and ultimately delivers something shallow and ghastly.
CW’s Beauty and the Beast airs Thursdays at 9 p.m.