In a stunning change of pace, I’ve decided to review something I’ve actually viewed. I must be growing as a person.
Patrick Swayze’s new show The Beast aired on A&E on Thursday night. True to its network, it was both art AND entertainment. It was an artistic showcase of cliche, ridiculousness and wonder. Come with me on my journey, but know that I am most assuredly biased.
It begins with Swayze in a dark room with unnecessary light tricks, followed by a cut to my office building (!) among various MTV-esque cuts to various Chicago buildings and landmarks. Spoiler alert, this sums up the entire pilot episode – stand-alone scene that may or may not have anything to do with the plot, followed by shots of Chicago, lather rinse repeat.
Next we find our hero and his partner in undercover FBI-dom (eventually we find out that their names are Charles Barker and Ellis Dove, respectively) being undercovery surrounded by sides of beef. Cliche number one has been achieved. Showing his commitment to the cover, Barker shoots Dove. As we’ve seen them on the posters and we know that they’re cops AND he’s alive when they leave, we assume he’s wearing a vest. Do the writers trust that we know he’s wearing a vest? Hell no. “I shot you in the vest,” our hero explains to his rookie/audience, following in the TV drama standard of never believing your audience is remotely intelligent.
Post-op, they head to a bar and while small-town bar-esque music plays, Swayze breaks up a bar fight.
Fucking yes. I take it all back; this show knows its audience.
There’s other stuff in this scene, mainly that the rookie has to pretend he’s a rehab counselor to a drunken man. One would think this would be important. I can’t yet say for certain that it wasn’t, but it pretty much wasn’t.
New scene! Barker and Dove (it should be noted that I misheard his name until the very end and thought his first name was Alistov and thought that was a badass name) speak to a woman near the lake. She is possibly drugged out and has no eyebrows. Barker points a gun on her while Dove does the classic grab-mouth-pull-hand-down-over-chin-while-looking-around-scared look. Cliches number eleventy-six and seven. PS – it appears cold out. I don’t care about character choice; in the future, please give your star with pancreatic cancer a goddamn scarf.
New scene! Other new scene! Other new scene! Our heroes steal a rocket launcher. The chief tells the rookie that Barker “looks at you and sees himself 20 years ago” (I’ve seen Swayze 20 years ago, and he did not have a faux-hawk). Rookie stalks his neighbor, and she’s okay with this. A guy kills himself and Barker his somehow connected to his wife. I’ve lost the ability to keep track of what’s happening. During all of this is needless camera trickery and weird lighting – the mark of the pilot episode. We get cliche number blahdiblah in a right-framed shot of the rookie through the passenger window.
More scenes! This show has more scenes than How I Met Your Mother. Rookie goes to a trailer somewhere not in Chicago and does some kind of drug with a conspiracy theorist (we later learn that it is meth, but I have no skills at picking out which drug a character is smoking in a TV show. It all looks like weed to me, and they didn’t do the helpful task of making this character especially cracky/methy. He just seemed like every stoner conspiracist idiot I’ve ever met. Then they play Russian Roulette. I promise, this is paid off way more idiotically than you can possibly imagine by the end.
Gah, another one. Rookie goes to meet his stalkee at some bar across from Flash Taco in Wicker Park. Someone else help me out with figuring out if it’s a real bar; I don’t recognize it. SCENE! Swayze steals rookie away from his date and teaches us that you can say “shit” on A&E. They have a new cover as brothers, with Rookie as the adopted one. This leads to a great deal of adopted child bashing. Offended.
The undercover brothers go to the luxe apartment of someone called Caesar, whom Barker accuses of stealing from the till. Fucking YES part two. Then he blows up a car with a rocket launcher.
Once more with feeling – HE BLOWS UP A CAR WITH A GODDAMN ROCKET LAUNCHER. This is the greatest television show I’ve ever seen. I suddenly decide while watching that the only way this could be better is if we find out that Barker is actually Sam Wheat fighting crime as a ghost. It would have been more believable than the actual ending.
So this is where I get confused and will require multiple rewatchings. They sell the rocket launcher to Caesar. THEN, they sell it to a vaguely Slavic/Russo-Finnish man. Maybe I missed it, what with the glee over the explosion, but it didn’t seem that they were in any way related. Anyway, the launcher is sold, the FBI comes in, Rookie chases the foreigny bad guy down the Wells Street bridge where Barker shoots him.
Then, shit gets weird.
Rookie gets on the el. As he sits there, head in hands, the train is boarded by every peripheral character we’ve seen (aside from the guy who shot himself and his wife, who we find out is Barker’s sister). Eyebrowless woman, methy conspiracy theorist, Caesar, foreign guy’s assistant, all of ’em. Turns out everything we saw in this episode was a VERY convoluted way of freaking out the rookie and telling him that Barker is bad news, that he’s going rogue. Rookie tells them that he’s the bestest cop ever and then the show ends.
Not to be biased, but the shots of Chicago do my heart good. But not just because it’s my beloved city. I like the way they shoot Chicago in an ordinary way. It’s not the love letter to New York or LA or Miami other shows have a tendency to do. It’s shown gray, cold and a bit dirty at times. In a way it’s similar to the way the city was shot in The Dark Knight. It makes its presence clear, but it’s not the star. I like that. Also, a pretty rad “Hey, It’s That Guy!” moment – their chief is played by the guy who was Peggy Sue’s beatnik paramour in Peggy Sue Got Married/Daryl Hannah’s husband in Steel Magnolias. It for some reason is not on his IMDb. Someone fix it, it’s bugging me.
See “The bad”; all possibly unintentional Road House references.
This whole episode I kept thinking how healthy Swayze looked. Grizzled, a bit thinner than we’re used to, but still tough with a spark of that Dalton energy we all love. Then I remembered that this show was shot roughly around the time we all first found out about his situation. The “this season on The Beast” montage at the end, featuring images of a much more recent Swayze, was pretty devastating.
I give this show a 6.5/10. It was fun, goofy, ridiculous, and contained more Swayze per minute than any other show I watch. I will continue watching in the vain hopes of figuring out what the fuck I just watched.
Courtney Enlow is a writer living in Chicago and working as a corporate shill to pay the bills. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.