Sometime this summer I made a post about the new show “Beauty and the Beast.” It hadn’t started yet, but I had heard some things about it and it did not seem like it would be a very good show.
Well, I’ve given it two episodes and I can say with full confidence, it is not a good show… at all. In fact, I would go as far to say that it offends me and that it glorifies emotional abuse. Let me explain why.
The Folktale of Beauty and the Beast
In the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast, there was a prince of some sort. Some versions say he was selfish and arrogant and cursed for those qualities. Others say he was cursed for being too pious or for refusing an evil witch’s advances. In some versions, at the start of Belle’s stay in the castle the Beast is horribly cruel and scary, which suggests that part of the moral of the story is do not be cruel or people will see you that way on the outside or that love conquers all and can melt even the coldest heart. However, according to Wikipedia, the original story suggests no such morals and neither does my favorite retelling: Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast by Robin McKinley (a book I read over and over again when I was younger). Therefore, for the purposes of this post, I am going to focus on the more prominent moral, which is about seeing beyond exteriors to the beauty that lays inside someone’s heart. Apart from requiring Beauty to stay with in in the castle, the Beast was actually incredibly kind to her, which is why she eventually fell in love with him; although, in most retellings Beauty started off incredibly kind-hearted to begin with. So, Beauty falls in love with the Beast, agrees to marry him and the curse is broken. At which point he turns back into a handsome human being, thereby negating part of the moral of the story. Unless you interpret that to mean that once you fall in love with someone that person becomes attractive to you and you no longer see that person as ugly on the outside.
Bottom line: Beauty and the Beast is about true beauty lying with a person’s character and not their appearance. Don’t make judgments about a person’s worth based on their looks, especially in matters of love. And love is transformative.
Beauty and the Beast: the Original Television Series
Full disclosure: this is one of my favorite television shows of all time. Seriously. I think it may have even been what sparked my interest in poetry. (Well this and Anne of Green Gables.) And with good reason. Ron Perlman is an excellent actor, George R. R. Martin is an excellent writer and the setting/sets/direction were awesome.
So, what was this television show about? There were a group of outcasts living beneath the streets of New York. They were there either because they were shunned by society in some way or had gotten fed up with the fast-paced, self-centered manner of life in mainstream society. The community was innovate and incredibly supportive of one another. They had even begun developing their own culture – evidenced in some of the festivals they celebrated. It was truly a magical world and could inspire all kind of feelings about the goodness of the human heart and the possibilities for our society if only we looked to what really mattered. Truly, the moral of the original story was evident in this retelling on various scales – society and individual.
And then there’s Vincent. Ah, Vincent. It feels really weird saying this, but they made him incredibly attractive. He was so romantic, with the poetry and that deep, calm voice. The way he was connected to Catherine and the purity of their love. Truly, one of the most romantic television shows of all time. The way he would meet her on her balcony and they would read to one another. I realize I’m starting to sound a little bit like a high-school version of myself, but this show was on television in the years just before I started high school, so it had an incredibly profound effect on my and my expectations of love.
To continue, Vincent was literally a Beast. There was no curse. He was never going to transform back into a handsome prince. He was just born that way, probably from some f-ed up experiment by Paracelcus. Nevertheless, he was literally a Beast, but one with a kind and beautiful heart. And therein lies the crux of this story. Catherine’s first interactions with Vincent are while she cannot see him, so she gets to know his heart first, before she sees his face. So, she falls in love with his heart. Yeah, there’s a moment when she hims for the first time that she is frightened, but she does overcome that and from that point forward she never sees him as a beast again.
There is some violence in Vincent’s nature. It probably derived from the fact that he was literally a beast. However, it only manifested when someone he loved was being threatened or in danger, which, in a way, made it noble. AND, when he kills those men to protect Catherine in the first or second episode, there is a moral quandary that gets explored. Death does not happened and life moves on; the characters deal with its repercussions.
Bottom line: Vincent and Catherine’s story is ultimately a love story. Really more of a Romeo and Juliet because they cannot fully be together rather than a Beauty and the Beast. Everything that happens in the show revolves around love: Vincent’s love for Catherine, Catherine’s love for Vincent, Father’s love for Vincent, Vincent’s love for the other underworlders, etc. The stories that get told are about the human experience. The setting is magical and evocative. There is poetry and culture. There is real emotion.
Beauty and the Beast: the New Television Series
*sigh* Why did they call this show Beauty and the Beast? Seriously. The ONLY thing that makes it similar to the original television are the names: Vincent and Catherine. (Well, I also noticed that Catherine’s boss, whom I do not believe we have actually met yet is named Joe; nevertheless, just the names.) It is not even a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The Hulk, maybe, but not Beauty and the Beast.
There may be spoilers below, so consider this your warning.
So, what IS this show about? Well, like Grimm and Elementary, it is a procedural playing dress-up. There is a cop, Catherine Chandler, who’s mother was killed at the start of the story and she is seeking justice/revenge. (Sound familiar? Castle, Arrow, Revenge, Supernatural…) Not the most original storyline to start with and possibly a continuation of the 80’s sitcom without a mom syndrome (see interesting Cracked article here): Different Strokes, Punky Brewster, My Two Dads, Gimme a Break, Silver Spoons, Full House, Blossom, Who’s the Boss?…
Catherine Chandler becomes a cop because of what happens with her mother. It turns out the “beast” that saved her is also a victim of the same people who killed her mother. They are reunited through a case. Catherine is saved by Vincent who TURNS INTO a beast to kill the guys who would have killed Catherine. What is Catherine’s reaction? Oh, hey, thanks for killing those guys for me and by the way, you’re the beast I saw 9 years ago that nobody believed I saw, aren’t you?
There is an immediate connection between the two characters for no apparent reason other than the fact that he saved her life nine years ago. There’s no magic. There’s no Father, or underworlders. No society which protects and loves Vincent, just a nerd named J.D. Now that I think about it, who the hell is J.D.? How does he know Vincent?
Requiring the audience to accept certain facts of the plot without explanation or reason continues: Vincent got away somehow and made it back to New York to live in a warehouse with a nerd friend of his. He was a doctor nine years ago, even though he looks like he was only 23 nine years ago. In the first episode, Catherine hides her knowledge of Vincent from her peers because she remembers him from nine years ago, even though it is obvious that he is somehow involved, which either makes her a bad cop or incredibly naive. She seems completely unphased and not at all scared that he turns into the Hulk (without the green) when he gets emotional. She covers up Vincent’s murders by claiming them as her own and claims self-defense – after which the coroner tells Internal Affairs that it was self-defense and the whole thing gets dropped – no investigation, no counseling, just back to business as usual.
The plot is wooden and has been told time and again. It is just a procedural with a “supernatural” element thrown in: he is the victim of a government experiment. The stories that get told are about the crime of the week and whatever new information Catherine uncovers about her mother’s murder. That’s all. They attempt to create a connection between Catherine and Vincent, but it is wholly unbelievable and there are just many requests for me to suspend my disbelief for it to work for me.
However, what really bothers me about this show is that they have warped and corrupted the story I love so much. This is not the tale of love conquering all or of seeing beauty beneath the surface. Really, it is about a woman falling in love with a violent, abusive man. The moral they are pushing is that Catherine can see beauty in the heart of a man who cannot control his violent emotions and that it is okay for her to accept him that way because it isn’t his fault. Even if he does not physically hurt her, he yells at her and is scary around her. In the real world, we call that emotional abuse. Our society has a problem seeing and accepting emotional abuse. But this is why I find the new Beauty and the Beast offensive. They try to portray Kristin Kreuk (who is arguably one of the most beautiful woman on television today) as a kick-ass female, but they take all her power away when she lets Vincent (I cringe every time she says his name, because he could not be more different from Vincent) act violent around. I don’t care if it is an experiment and they’ve created him that way – This is not the story of Beauty and the Beast and to call it so creates a moral around accepting violence as part of love. It’s message is dangerous and I find it highly offensive.
Perhaps I am over-reacting, but I came to the show with an open mind. I was going to give it a chance, just like I gave Animal Practice a chance, which turned out to be not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Beauty and the Beast was worse than I thought because of how they are making Catherine fall in love with Vincent, even though his defining characteristic is that he is violent and cannot control his temper.