Judge Christopher Kulik encourages you to TASTE THE BEAST!
Suspect everyone. Trust no one.
The arrival of The Beast on DVD is bittersweet at best. Chances are you've already heard the show was not picked up for a second season, presumably because of star Patrick Swayze's pancreatic cancer. Recent reports (and photographs) of the ailing actor are difficult to endure, considering how much he's fought the illness and made it public. If The Beast is indeed Swayze's swan song, it's a hell of a way to cap a 30-year-old career in film and television.
Facts of the Case
Charles Barker (Swayze, Ghost) is a tough FBI agent who's been so desensitized by his work he's almost incapable of showing emotion. Now alone in his mid-50s, he feels he can get away with anything, so long as the job gets done. Barker's new rookie partner, Ellis Dove (Travis Fimmell, Ivory), is in his 20s, and naturally feels invincible. Barker intends to show Dove the ropes; according to Barker, once "the beast gets inside you, it won't stop eating."
Dove thinks he was hand-picked by Barker to be his new partner. In actuality, he was also picked by a special unit of the FBI, who thinks Barker is becoming a virtual rogue with his own agenda. Enter Raymond (Larry Gilliard, Jr., The Wire), who is determined to make Dove cooperate with the Bureau in this investigation. Dove, however, is convinced Barker is straight and commits to covering his back as they sniff out and put away organized crime syndicates in the Windy City.
Sony gives us all 13 episodes of The Beast's first season on three discs.
I don't think I have to say that The Beast is worth watching for Swayze alone. Considering his hot-and-cold resume, this is without a doubt the finest work the actor has ever done. Swayze is riveting in practically every single episode, so much so that we can't keep our eyes off him. We constantly wonder what he's thinking. We are taken aback at some of his outlandish techniques to nail his targets, yet we also savor them. We buy into his fearless nature, ultimately rooting for him, even if we know past demons may cloud his future. Without Swayze, The Beast would have been simply been another run-of-the-mill study of macho authorities cleaning up filthy city scum.
True, the antagonists are pretty standard. Barker and Dove go undercover to infiltrate drug rings, sex traffickers, illegal arms dealers, government assassins, etc. While I've never seen a single episode of CSI, I'm sure these elements have been used endlessly, making their sheer usage tiring. One episode ("Capone") opens with Barker in the slammer, while Dove is pretending to be a Chicago cop. We're hooked because we don't know a single thing about the case they're working on and we are anxious to take the clues as they come. Still, The Beast does seem to lean on formula most of the time, from briefing to case closed. Luckily, Swayze is enough to keep us invested.
It's just too bad Fimmel isn't as magnetic as his co-star. The former model from Australia seems to think sneering is a cool way of carrying scenes. I understand he's supposed to be a young bad-ass, but all too often he seems sarcastic about his job for reasons made unclear. He's more than willing to side with Barker no matter how much pressure his superiors put on him simply because the rebellion feels good. The scenes between Dove and the agent (Larry Gilliard, Jr., The Wire) in charge of the inside investigation are compromised by Fimmel's "don't **** with me" attitude, rendering them contrived and silly. It also doesn't help when a haphazard romantic liaison Dove has with a blonde law student is forced into the complicated mix.
Still, The Beast entertains in spite of its shortcomings. The awesome stunt work and excellent use of Chicago locations both can't be ignored. The stories are familiar but also tight and well-paced. The work contributed by many guest stars (including Lou Diamond Phillips, George Dzundza, John Heard, and Victoria Tennant) is another reward. There are also fascinating psychological layers (as the title implies) sprinkled throughout. Much of the credit goes to the show's creators and various crew members; some of the best episodes are directed veterans Michael Dinner and John Badham, among others.
Sony has released a top-notch DVD set as well. All 13 episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Black levels are gorgeously deep, and the colors are sharp but appropriately subdued. Fantastic flesh tones and a complete absence of grain add to up razor-sharp visual quality. The 5.1 Surround tracks may not blow you away, but the gun battles, fights, and foreboding score provide enough audible juice to satisfy. Spanish and Portuguese tracks are also provided, along with subtitles in both all aforementioned languages including French. Bonus features are curious, but also more than palatable. Each episode is accompanied by a behind-the-scenes featurette containing various interviews with the crew and the two leads. Different aspects of the show are discussed and not much more, but they're still worth jumping into.
I'm not sure if Sony's aware they are releasing The Beast: The Complete First Season a day before Patrick Swayze turns 57. Regardless, it's impossible to not think about the star's illness while watching the show, even though Swayze manages to not let the affliction affect his performance. The fact that we don't have a second season in the works tells us Swayze's career may be over, and it's a shame. The guy has always been underrated in my book (not just as an actor, but also as a dancer and singer), and The Beast exemplifies this ten-fold.
The court finds The Beast not guilty, and extends its sympathies to
Swayze and his family.
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