The new A&E series, The Beast [Thursdays, 10/9C], is built around a familiar premise – the veteran cop/FBI/CIA agent being teamed up with a green partner. The main difference between most movies and TV series that use this premise is that this one has Patrick Swayze and some very effective writing.
Swayze is the unorthodox [and possibly corrupt] veteran FBI agent, Charles Barker, who is partnered with the wet-behind-the-ears Ellis Dove [Travis Fimmel – who’s learned to act since The WB’s Tarzan]. Dove was handpicked by the cantankerous Barker to become his new partner, though you’d never know it from the way he treats him. The show opens with the two working undercover – and Barker shoots him! When they’re not actively pursuing a case, Barker has Dove fetch coffee, deal with obnoxious drunks and generally act as a gopher. By hitting the kid in his pride, Barker is pushing him to work on his undercover skills.
Then there’s the Internal Affairs thing. In the premiere, Ellis is approached by a handful of IA people who try to recruit him to prove Barker’s corruption – of the four, only “Ray” [Larry Gilliard Jr.] reappears in the second episode, and then to give Dove a DVD that allegedly implicates Barker in something illegal. Throw in something that disappears from the evidence room, and a woman who lives in Dove’s apartment building [Rose, played by Lindsay Pulsipher], and you’ve got most of the ingredients for a formula show.
Fortunately, series creators Vincent Angell and William L. Rothko aren’t interested in the standard tropes of the genre. Instead, they set up a selection of standard characters and play with their motivations and situations. The result is a smarter, darker show than you’d expect on basic cable – and an entertainment that would be more engrossing than most even without Swayze. With him, though, the show has serious heft.
Michael Dinner directs the first two episodes with an eye toward mixing noir-ish lighting with slightly bleached colors to give the show an individual look. He has a knack for lighting his characters so that we get a sense of who they are even before they say anything. Dinner does a good job of exploiting the chemistry between Swayze and Fimmel – not to mention Fimmel and Pulsipher – in a way that doesn’t seem forced. When you put it all together, it’s safe to say that The Beast is the best hour-long series that A&E has had since Nero Wolfe.
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Final Grade: B+