Part of “Old Info And News”
Full review after the break.
EYE ON PEOPLE
Well, it’s about dam time
After ABC announced this ambitious new drama as a mid-season replacement last fall, then impressed TV critics with a preview at the winter press tour in Pasadena, I was beginning to think The Beast would remain in captivity forever. I mean, Making the Band came back before this thing even made the schedule.
What’s up with that? And it’s not like we’re dealing with a bad show here. Just a difficult one. A hard sell in a world of soft comedies and startlingly similar “reality” shows. Will there be an audience for a hip, adrenaline-fuelled trip to the dark side of the news world sandwiched in between huggy-feely ABC fare like My Wife and Kids, Millionaire and What About Joan?
Hopefully. Now that repeat season is upon us, the network finally unleashes The Beast to take on summer originals like Kristin and Spy TV and the competition is, to put it mildly, dreadful in comparison. If it does well, perhaps we’ll see it again. But more than likely, we won’t. I say this because, while the show is quite addictive, it is also very strange. And TV is not a safe place for strange (See: Twin Peaks, Profit, American Gothic, Dr. Laura).
But you have to give them credit for trying, right?
Produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Television unit, the show exhibits the same style and bravery that has won Imagine’s previous small-screen endeavours like SportNight and Felicity both critical acclaim and viewer apathy. Set at the World News Service, a fictional 24-hour cable news outlet owned by creepy media mogul Jackson Burns (Frank Langella, making Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner look like altar boys), the six-episode run begins with a twisted combo of Alice in Wonderland and 1984. And from where I’m sitting, the ride looks pretty cool.
The shamefully underrated Elizabeth Mitchell (ER) stars as Alice Allenby, an earnest journalist (remember, this is fiction) whose entrée into WNS begins with a late-night job offer from the Machiavellian, almost omniscient Burns. And since you apparently don’t say no to this man – even when he calls during your naked lover’s post-coitus proposal – Alice takes the bait, grabs some clothes and heads off to give WNS a look-see. Faster than you can say “exposition,” Alice tumbles into the frenzied newsroom filled with a cadre of colourful new colleagues.
There’s Rees, the angry anchor who uses the camera to spout liberal diatribes and toss off witty one-liners. It’s a clever idea, but Jason Gedrick plays him and let’s face it – he’s series serial killer. EZ Streets, Class of ’96, Murder One and Falcone all died quick deaths. Guess who stareed in each one? He’s the Ebola of network TV. Then there’s Sweeny, Burn’s tart-tongued assistant, played by Harriet Sanson Harris in a barbed spin on her recurring gig as Frasier’s amoral agent, and in a bit of brilliant casting, film actor Peter Riegert as Ted, a hot-headed producer who seems addicted to butting heads with his boss. In addition we get Wendy Crewson (Air Force One), Naveen Andrews (The English Patient) and April Grace (Finding Forrester) fleshing out the ensemble, and let me tell you, they’re all good.
In the frenzied opener, Alice’s first gig goes from a bleeding heart anti-death penalty piece to a live (and quite disturbing) broadcast of a convicted killer’s execution. A serial bomber infiltrates the station after Reese’s on-air taunts get the worst of the madman. And to top it off, all this and more is fed onto the Web by some faceless guy named Harry who keeps an eye on the action via hidden cameras all over WNS. It’s supposed to be some commentary on the camera.
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