I always try and give a TV series I don't like a second chance. When reviewing the first season of CBS' cult hit, Beauty and the Beast (please click here to read that review), I believe I said it belonged in the litter box. I was not a fan of this silly, basically dishonest fantasy/crime series. Watching Beauty and the Beast: The Second Season, I must say that I enjoyed the series just a tad more than the first season, but trust me: that's not saying much. I know fans of the series - and they are rabid, let me tell you - don't want to hear a single bad word said about the series (I have the emails to prove it), so hopefully, this small bone thrown out to them (or should it be, more appropriately for Vincent, a small plastic ball with a bell in it?) will assuage their displeasure. It's still a supremely smug, self-satisfied show, but some of the action was kind of okay this go-around, and I suppose I do want to find out what happened to Catherine at the season's cliffhanger.
As you may know, Beauty and the Beast tells the story of Catherine (Linda Hamilton), a New York D.A. who forges an unlikely love affair (or whatever you may want to call it; the series dances around this sticky question) with mutant Vincent (Ron Perlman), a half-lion, half-man creature who is the guardian of the world Below, a vast series of tunnels below the city where outcasts live in safety from the cruel, uncaring world Above. Vincent, an incredibly noble, poetic soul, is tortured by his "impossible" love for Catherine, while Catherine revels in her symbiotic association with Vincent (they share ESP powers, apparently, because Vincent can "sense" her when she's in danger), while also suffering because they live in separate worlds.
Never a ratings hit (the series never even cracked the Nielsen Top Thirty), and always on the verge of getting canceled, the troubled production still managed to acquire a small, but fanatically loyal following, who, through an unending series of letter-writing campaigns, kept the show on for almost three years (the third season started late). Trying to figure out the appeal of Beauty and the Beast is tricky for me, mostly because I find the show interminable in its pretentious humorlessness; I've never seen a show take itself so seriously. Female viewers, obviously the overwhelming majority of the audience, rhapsodize about the romance elements of the series, but even that is calculated and manipulated to the point of exhaustion. You can only tease audiences so much, and eventually, they'll bolt. And despite the initial interest in the series, it's apparent by the ratings that most people saw the show as a one-note situation that, visited once or twice, was sufficient; a return trip wasn't necessary.
This season, the concept of Vincent being separated from Catherine - after all, if they can be together, what's the point of the show? - is taken to the limits of the script writers' imagination (a fact alluded to by Perlman, in one of the episode introductions he filmed for this DVD, where he states it was extremely difficult to keep the concept fresh). Episodes like A Fair and Perfect Knight and A Kingdom By the Sea, see the screenwriters keeping Catherine and Vincent apart (the latter episode has Catherine in California) in an obvious attempt to further along the separation process - the only story hook that drove the series along in the first place. Most casual viewers tuning in perhaps felt that there was no way Catherine and Vincent (since he's a...lion) were ever going to get together, so what was the point of this endless tease?
And certainly that "romantic" atmosphere was easy to maintain, as long as the two "lovers" or whatever they were, were kept apart. Can you imagine the possibilities if the producers had the two living together, either with Vincent residing Above, or Catherine permanently staying Below? Sure, it's easy to have a couple of kids stay in love when nobody stays over; Vincent and Catherine are like adolescents, sneaking out of their secure abodes to stray over to forbidden worlds, meeting in secret and in darkness for a bit of hand-holding and mooning over each other. But have them live together for six months like a normal couple, and say goodbye to the honeymoon. The minute Catherine tripped over his giant ball of yarn for the tenth time, or found Vincent up on the countertops, it would be over.
And seriously, why is Vincent so paranoid about showing his face in the Above world? I've been to New York City several times, and let me tell you: after walking some of the downtown streets at night, there's not a thing he'd have to worry about. Vincent would fit right in. Fortunately for me, at least, this second season of Beauty and the Beast spends more time down Below, where at least a casual visitor to the show can find some mild fantasy elements that may remind him or her of similar, better shows. Although I'm still not buying the whole "secrecy of the Tunnels" - for a supposedly hidden underworld, with its privacy jealously guarded, they sure invite a lot of civilians down there - some of the sets are pretty cool (with some good matte work showing the enormity of the caves), and some serious violence rules down there this season, as well. People are getting bonked on the head, stabbed, and even set on fire before plunging to their almost certain doom (the victim actually survives this assault). And when Vincent goes sort of crazy towards the season's end (kind of like your kitty whose had too much cat nip), the potential for violence on the part of this once-gentle character, is nicely handled.
For my tastes, at least, I would have enjoyed more screen time for Tony Jay's evil villain Paracelcus; his increased presence could have steered the series into more exciting fantasy conventions; however, that's not what Beauty and the Beast is all about it. It's all about the love, isn't it? Fans of the show get this in spades, and frankly, more power to you. I found quite of few of the episodes in this second season derivative of other cop/investigation series, as well as other fantasy shows; when a series, only in its sophomore season, rips-off It's a Wonderful Life -- the Remember Love episode - you've got big problems already keeping things fresh. And there's no getting around the fact that the show is so lugubriously paced and pretentious as hell, that you feel the only appropriate response is to laugh at it, since it can't look at itself with even a faint hint of irony or humor. If I had spotted a trace of either of those qualities, I might have grown to like the series (or at least not mind it so much). But Beauty and the Beast's self-important, affected, pompous manner really distances me from the potentially intriguing premise.
Here are the twenty-two, one-hour episodes of Beauty and the Beast: The Second Season. PLEASE NOTE: As with most vintage TV series released by CBS/Paramount, there is a small disclaimer (smaller than normal, actually, with no prominent border box for this one) at the back of the DVD slimcase that states, "Some episodes may be edited from their network versions." There is no further explanation of what cuts, if any, were made. Never having been a fan of the show, I can't tell you what, if any, post-broadcast cuts were made, but I didn't notice anything egregious in the editing. Most of the episodes time out at a little more than 48 minutes, which is about right for the original network run times. It's possible, though, that these are the syndicated versions, which may account for the minor cuts for time. Edited TV shows are one of the hottest topics concerning DVD releases, and as a reviewer, I've taken both sides of the issue, depending on what title I'm reviewing. It's usually a case-by-case basis:
While walking in the world Above, Vincent recognizes Rolly, a teenage musical prodigy and ex-tunnel dweller who is now a junkie.
With the help of a guardian angel, Vincent gets a good look at what life would be like without him after he becomes frustrated at not being able to live in the world Above.
A plague is unknowingly brought into the world Below by an escaped Russian seaman.
Dead of Winter
Paracelcus, Vincent's chief nemesis, prepares the perfect disguise, which will enable him to make a killer appearance at Catherine's first Winterfest celebration in the world Below.
God Bless the Child
Catherine brings a pregnant young woman to the tunnels to await the birth of her child, but the young mother-to-be falls in love with Vincent.
Sticks and Stones
A deaf girl who used to live Below falls in with a street gang., which threatens to put a deadly end to her first serious love affair.
A Fair and Perfect Knight
Catherine befriends a boy from the world Below who leaves the tunnels to go to college...and falls in love with Catherine.
The world Below's existence is threatened after a young neighbor of Catherine's follows her to the tunnels.
Fathers' son, Devin, rescues a giant, deformed man from the circus to live in the world Below.
A Gentle Rain
Catherine reopens a case that reveals a well-respected tunnel dweller is wanted for manslaughter.
The peaceful world Below is threatened when a violent "family" invades the tunnels.
After her father dies, Catherine thinks about living the rest of her life in the world Below.
A famous ballerina, who was once a tunnel dweller, revisits the tunnels, which opens up old emotional wounds for Vincent.
When the Bluebird Sings
A strange young man, who claims to be an artist, involves Catherine and Vincent in a series of strange and mysterious events.
A mysterious voyeur stalks and terrorizes Catherine before closing in for the kill.
A Distant Shore
A murder case in Los Angeles pulls Catherine 3,000 miles away from Vincent, who still has a sense of her, but feels powerless to help her.
Catherine prosecutes a Wall Street celebrity in a case of fatal child abuse, but the man's wife refuses to testify against him.
A Kingdom by the Sea
Putting her life on the line, Catherine tries to protect a man who's the target of a death squad.
The Hollow Men
After trying to bring a pair of murderers to justice, Catherine becomes the killers' next target.
What Rough Beast
Vincent's identity may be exposed after a persistent investigative reporter manages to snap a photograph of him in an act of violence.
Ceremony of Innocence
Vincent nearly goes mad after Paracelcus spreads "secrets" about his birth, forcing a deadly showdown between the two enemies.
The Rest is Silence
Losing control to the dark side of his nature, Vincent struggles with his madness alone in a cave. Meanwhile, Catherine desperately searches for Vincent, determined to help him.
The full screen video image for Beauty and the Beast: The Second Season is fine, with occasional grain, and minimal-to-no artifacting.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio track is a nice step up for this DVD, with a strong, clear mix between dialogue and music. Close-captioning is available.
Unlike Beauty and the Beast: The First Season, Beauty and the Beast: The Second Season sports five newly shot, two-to-three minute introductions by Perlman and Hamilton, for episodes Chamber Music, A Fair and Perfect Knight, Orphans, A Distant Shore, and The Rest is Silence. Fans who were disappointed with the first season's lack of extras will no doubt love these, but it's still a pretty skimpy offering (a behind-the-scenes featurette would seem in order here).
Pretentious, pompous, self-important, and fatally slow, Beauty and the Beast: The Second Season isn't much better than the first season, but there was a noticeable increase in the violence, as well as an effort to stay down Below more, which helped me a little in getting through these terminally humorless episodes. Fans will no doubt love the second season, as they should; it looks good on DVD, and the small bonus intros by the stars will help. For fans, it comes recommended. But newcomers to down Below should watch Out, and rent it first.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.