“Only the good die young,” as the song goes. Over the years there have been a number of TV shows that have made an impact on us here at 25YL and that we have been sad to see struck down in their primes. A season or two that grabbed us, and…that’s it. Whether there is some sense of completion or we are left dangling by a finger from the side of a cliff, these are shows that we think are worth remembering, re-visiting, or even watching now for the first time. This week Cat Smith takes a look at Beauty and the Beast.
I’ll be honest with you: When I first pitched the idea to write about Beauty and the Beast—a show from 1987 that a lot of people don’t even remember—I was unsure whether it belonged in our Cancelled Too Soon feature or our Cancelled Too Late one. Really, you could make an argument in either direction.
Long before Belle and her singing candlesticks hit cinemas, we children of the 1980s had our own version of the classic fairytale. Created by Ron Koslow (Roar), Beauty and the Beast gave the story an urban twist, and without a touch of Stockholm Syndrome anywhere. Our “beauty” was Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton, The Terminator, T2), a rich girl turned tough cookie who works for the New York District Attorney’s office. In the pilot, a case of mistaken identity finds Catherine at the business end of an attack involving thugs and sharp, pointy objects. Left for dead in a heap in Central Park, she is rescued by Vincent, our “beast,” and thus begins one of the greatest romances in television history.
Vincent wasn’t your run-of-the-mill beast. Played by Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy), he was romantic, chivalrous and heroic, and he had a better head of hair than you or I will have in our lifetime. The “lion man” beast look was created by FX makeup trailblazer Rick Baker (An American Werewolf In London). It took four hours a day (not to mention the hour it took to take it off) to turn Perlman into a romantic lead, but fans of the show and Perlman himself will tell you that it was worth every second. Vincent was every woman’s dream of the perfect man. His only flaws were that the only day of the year he could take you on a date in public was Halloween, and sometimes his latent beast nature would get the better of him.
As a star-crossed OTP, Vincent and Catherine checked all the expected boxes and thought up some new ones. After her experience with the thugs leaves her with facial scars and a new need to get out there and do good, Vincent nurses her back to health. He brings her back to his home, a magical subterranean maze of tunnels and chambers beneath Manhattan. Those tunnels, by the way, are really there—they just don’t house a community of well-read people who look like they came from a cold-weather renaissance festival. They don’t contain masses of old books, aren’t lit by candles (can you imagine the fire hazard?), and probably don’t smell nearly as good. For the Neil Gaiman fans out there, I’m guessing that the real-life world Below has way more in common with its depiction in Neverwhere than it does here.
I was horribly bullied as a child, lonely as a teenager, and this show was everything I could have asked for in a fantasy. The thought of a hidden community where everyone loved art and kindness, where you could escape from the noisy and often cruel world Above was infinitely appealing. They even had helpers who lived up top, keeping their secret and stocking them with things like food, supplies, and medicine. And it wasn’t just the world that spoke to me. For all the time that Cathy Chandler spent being rescued, she was smart, resourceful, and, when the chips were down, pretty badass. After recovering from the attack, the first thing Cathy and her newly fixed face set out to do is learn self-defense from a hard-bitten New Yorker who teaches her things like how to kill a man with a high-heeled shoe. Daddy’s little girl is forced to grow up, and the way she leans into it as opposed to resisting it is a beautiful thing to watch. And despite how frequently Vincent comes to her rescue, when he turns out to be the damsel in distress (and it happens more than once) or his brooding gets to be a bit much, she is the one to take care of him.
Quick personal anecdote: When I was a teenager, if you had offered me a magic wand or plastic surgery and said I could change one feature of my face, I wouldn’t even have had to think about it. I have these full lips that, while I have grown into them and like them now, I hated back then and spent my life trying to de-emphasize. This was before people started with the plumping lipstick and collagen injections. Suddenly, there was this TV show called Beauty and the Beast, and “Beauty” had lips like mine. She also wasn’t a conventional beauty, like someone you’d see on the cover of a magazine. Hamilton’s a stunner, but not a fashion-model type. Slowly, I was forced to do the math in my head: If lips like that on her meant “beauty”, maybe they could mean that on me, too? Years later, I met Linda Hamilton at a con and was able to tell her this story, and how she indirectly helped me with my questionable self-esteem. I think hearing it made her happy.
Back to Cathy and Vincent. Not only do our lovers share books, music, and profound, whispery-voiced conversations that would have made even Ted Mosby roll his eyes, but they share a psychic connection. For reasons no one really understands, his initial rescue of her gave the already sensitive Vincent an empathic bond with his lady love. He can feel what she’s feeling, and when she’s in trouble, he senses it and can come running. Talk about the ideal boyfriend. And they work well as partners, too. When something going on in the world Above starts to affect the inhabitants of the tunnels, Cathy is able to investigate things topside in ways the tunnel-dwellers can’t. Conversely, if the residents of the tunnels make trouble for the topsiders, Vincent is usually able to sort out the problem, either with words or a set of great big claws.
This is not to say the show didn’t have its problems. Even as a teen, totally invested in the love story, I would get a little frustrated at our lovers’ inability to think outside the box. They were always bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t live in each others’ worlds, so they couldn’t really be together. Look, kids, there is an entrance to the tunnels that is literally under Catherine’s basement. Put out the word that she has a house in the Hamptons (she could have totally been able to afford one) that she goes to on weekends, and then sneak down and spend Saturdays and Sundays with your fuzzy fella. We know he can’t properly leave the tunnels due to his face and the fact that everyone down there counts on him to protect them (and is that really fair?), but why couldn’t he get away with her for a day or two if they took the proper precautions? In one episode, he rides on the tops of trains to get all the way out to New Rochelle to rescue Cathy from a psycho. In another, he refuses to go with her to Connecticut for the weekend, even in a private van. He loves her, but neither he nor the people who depend on him really want him to leave his comfort zone.
For all of that, for all the schmaltz (and it is quality schmaltz, for the most part), this show really does hold up, over 30 years later. Watching it as an adult, I am less exclusively fixated on the love story as I was back in the day, and when you can get past that and the ridiculously purple prose, there’s actually a lot more to be seen. Let’s not forget that George R.R. Martin (A Song Of Ice And Fire) was one of the producers and writers right from the start, and when you’re looking for it, his influence really shows. In a post-Game of Thrones world, hearing characters from 1987 say things about winter, or always paying their debts, is just funny. And some of these episodes are dark AF, dealing with adult relationships and emotions that wouldn’t have even been touched on in a standard fairytale. For example, while they are completely devoted to each other, each of them has to occasionally suck up feelings of jealousy when the other one meets someone and makes a legitimate connection.
One of my very favourite episodes is “God Bless The Child,” in which a beautiful pregnant girl named Lena (Katy Boyer) comes to live in the tunnels and falls in love with Vincent. They make friends and bond, he is there for the birth of her baby, and she offers herself to him. She’s not put off by his appearance, even for a second. She had been a prostitute, and she says it would mean so much to her to be with someone she cared about, even just the once. Vincent tells her no, of course. But he also says, “When Lena came to me, there was a moment…a pull…beyond thought…when I felt what it might be like to be someone else’s possibility. But it was just a moment.” An episode or two later, a young tunnel-dweller on his way to college Above develops a crush on Catherine, and it’s Vincent’s turn to be both jealous and adult about it. It’s wonderful to see a beast-guy with that kind of humanity. And what’s great is that both times, Vincent and Catherine actually talk to each other honestly about it, own that it is natural to get the occasional flicker for another person, and move past it. They don’t even vilify the people with the crushes, and those people accept the friend-zoning with grace and hugging. Vincent and Catherine even laugh together from time to time, which you don’t see a lot with those star-crossed types.
Back to the dark-AF thing. For all that the tunnel-dwelling community was based on kindness and acceptance, they could be harsh when they wanted to. At one point, their council decides to punish someone by giving him the silent treatment. It’s awful for him, living down there, surrounded by people who won’t talk to him or even acknowledge his existence. And if that doesn’t work, the ultimate punishment is inflicted: banishment. Recurring villain Paracelsus (Tony Jay) had been banished, but again and again, he managed to do plenty of harm from beyond their borders. Plus, he was absolutely terrifying. Later episodes involved plots that were ripped directly from the headlines at the time. Remember the Joel Steinberg case, or Robert Chambers? They made for compelling episodes, painful though it was to revisit those lower points in humanity. One of the more beautifully crafted episodes in Season 2 brought back Laura (Terrylene), a deaf girl who grew up in the tunnels but has emigrated to the world Above, and now runs with a gang that is made up of other deaf people. Subtitles are used, as is a ringing sound that drowns out all background noise when the deaf people are signing to each other. The leader of the gang forces Laura to sign over and over again that she hates hearing. It is harsh and beautiful.
All of the above are arguments for saying this show was cancelled too soon. It was gorgeous and wonderful, and there should have been more of it. However, speaking of harsh and beautiful, now comes the argument for Cancelled Too Late. Linda Hamilton decided she wanted to leave the show. She had a child to raise, she was busy with Sarah Connor, and she had a bunch of personal stuff she was dealing with. That’s all fair. But the fandom went crazy at the thought of their show being cancelled, so the network decided to go ahead with a third season. Beast, sans Beauty.
In the last episode of Season 2, Vincent was going through what I always thought of as the beastie version of pon farr. He was thrashing around, feverish and out of his mind. Afraid of harming others while in his mania, he retreats to a cave far below the tunnel world. When the others realise the state he’s in, they send for Catherine. She tends to him—that is to say, they finally make love—and this, I guess, is enough to make his madness retreat. It’s the cheesiest thing ever, I have to admit it: a ridiculous music video with clips of them together, her hand and his fuzzy hand clasping and unclasping, and a red rose opening and closing. It’s all done to the tune of “The First Time I Loved Forever” (what does that even mean?), bizarre and hinky (and grammatically insane) lyrics set to the admittedly beautiful Lee Holdridge opening theme music.
The song ends, Vincent opens his eyes, and everything is back to normal—except that Vincent doesn’t remember any of it, including finally doing the deed with his love. He even has trouble remembering her name for a while, and their empathic bond appears to have been severed. Our heroes try to not worry too much about it, figuring that Vincent will return to himself in time.
Unfortunately, due to circumstances involving betrayal and power plays made by evil, megalomaniacal types, Catherine is abducted by our new Big Bad, a billionaire-type sociopath by the name of Gabriel (Stephen McHattie). At first, it is all about torturing her for information about said power play, but then he realizes she is pregnant. There’s going to be a beast baby! Gabriel realizes who and what the baby’s father is, and he decides that the baby is going to be his.
The months go by. Vincent is out of his mind with worry over Catherine, and frustrated because their connection hasn’t come back. He has no way to find her. Finally, as the baby is close to being born, Vincent begins to feel it—its heartbeat. He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but it is enough to bring him to the rooftop where Catherine lies dying. He sees Gabriel flying away in a helicopter. Catherine, who has been given a fatal dose of morphine, tells him that he has a son. Then, tearfully reciting a Dylan Thomas poem, she dies in his arms.
That’s the season opener. The rest of it dealt with Vincent on his quest to track down and rescue his son from the evil Gabriel, and trying to go on without his love. He is assisted by detective Diana Bennett (Jo Anderson, Dead Again), and they really go out of their way to establish solo Vincent as the Dark Avenger, this vigilante out to help the helpless, etc. It didn’t catch on. When the love story was over, the fans and the network were done with the show. They wrapped up the baby storyline, brought him home to a happyish ending, and boom, no more show. A few episodes that were set post-baby didn’t even make it to air, and a lot of the writing became clunky and bad. This show, which started and ran so strong, left with a whimper.
Should they have just cancelled the show when Hamilton said she was leaving? Was it a mistake to try to press on without her? Who knows. I recently learned about an offshoot of the surviving fandom (and we are more numerous than you would think) known as SND (She’s Not Dead), and they apparently refuse to acknowledge the existence of Season 3. Sure, guys, you do you.
For me, I will always love Beauty and the Beast and be grateful to Ron Koslow for bringing it to us (less so for that recent reboot of the same name, which had nothing in common with the original apart from the two leads being named Catherine and Vincent). I am almost embarrassed to admit just how much this show influenced my love of poetry and literature, being English-major porn of the best kind. And as a native New Yorker, I love the gorgeous NYC cinematography. The shots of the pre-9/11 skyline, 1987 Times Square, Chinatown…yes, the show itself may have been shot in sunny Los Angeles, but those writers and all that stock footage had a pure appreciation for my hometown.
So, Cancelled Too Soon or Cancelled Too Late? I don’t know. What I do know is that Beauty and the Beast was life-changing for me and so many others. I will always be grateful to have had it as long as I did.