Hit or Sh**: AMC’s FEED THE BEAST
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Well, that was weird.
I suppose in some regards, I’m happy that FEED THE BEAST exists, if only because it proves that as far as creative storytelling goes, it’s still the Wild West in terms of just what in the Hell is going to make it to air. Not one infinitesimal modicum of logic populates the 46 minutes of the pilot. Telling the story of poverty Jesse Pinkm— er, I mean, Dion Patras, a coke-addled rockstar chef who gets out of an arson charge early at the behest of the Polish mob in order to repay his considerable debt, FEED THE BEAST ambitiously aims to tackle a food porn-oriented take on a mob tale, to unpredictably baffling results.
I suppose I’m not immediately turned off by the general premise, as seeing someone like Anthony Bourdain or Gordon Ramsay have to battle against dangerous gangsters is something I’d unequivocally board the hype train for. I’m sure there’s been some dirty money passed around behind the scenes of restaurants. However, once you throw in a sad, alcoholic David Schwimmer (who even cares what his character’s name is?), who does his best to convince us that being a sommelier is a totally rad, alpha job to have; David Schwimmer’s mute child who won’t speak after seeing his mother massacred in a drive-by shooting; a pudgy Polish gangster who does his best to convince us that being called “the Tooth Fairy” is a totally rad, alpha name to have; and some random FBI agent who unironically screams “I AM AHAB.THE TOOTH FAIRY, THAT FAT PIECE OF SHIT, HE IS MY WHITE WHALE” in the last five minutes of the pilot; and you have quite the recipe on your hands.
No joke, he walks through this meat locker as a shortcut to get to a woman who sells him peonies
All problems seem to stem from the uncomfortable tone, which consistently toes the line between wanting to sit at the prestige television table despite all the outward trappings of a tongue-in-cheek soap fest. I’m all for a little camp when appropriately presented, but FEED THE BEAST amounts to dressing a pig up in an Armani suit. Considering the fact that we’re introduced to Dion making an exquisite five-star meal for the prison guards as the resident prison chef before he’s quickly informed that he’s freed, only to have him immediately snort coke and have sex with his lawyer before even leaving the building, I was content to settle in for what was sure to be a comedy, albeit a presumably dark one. Instead, I realized that Clyde Phillips wanted me to take this entirely seriously, as I was quickly whisked away to David Schwimmer’s depressing subplot of being unable to communicate with his child, mourning his dead wife, and drinking expensive wine out of coffee mugs before driving his child home from school.
The Daddy Sauce
Things only get more confused and muddled as Dion makes his way to David Schwimmer’s home (they were apparently attempting to open a restaurant with the help of Schwimmer’s dead wife, before it burned down) and Schwimmer somehow decides that it will be a perfect idea to let an ex-con who’s being actively pursued by the Polish mob into his home. Cue several overwrought scenes of Dion smashing things, doing coke, and screaming at Schwimmer for being a depressing, washed-up excuse for a human being who won’t live his dream and MOVE TO PARIS TO OPEN A RESTAURANT WITH THE SEVERELY COKE-ADDICTED DANGEROUS CRIMINAL, despite the fact that Schwimmer is a horribly depressed single father whose entirely alone in the world as his son deals with his own deep-seated and devastating PTSD.
It’s actually quite sad, or at least it would be, if I didn’t have to sit through unintentionally funny little vignettes such as everyone taking it in stride that Schwimmer owns an astronomically expensive imported Italian coffee machine that would make Gale Boetticher cream his trousers despite being broke as a joke, Schwimmer pouring craft beer I could get at a liquor store for five dollars into actual whiskey glasses in order to drink it, and, my personal favorite moment: Dion walks into Schwimmer’s house, fresh off of having his finger broken by the Tooth Fairy, who’s getting cranky that his money’s still nowhere to be found. Schwimmer asks if Dion has stayed away from Paris due to his “boo-boo,” only to have a figurative needle scratch, Dion cock his head and say, “No. THIS is why.” The stove fires up, literal blues-y guitar riffs play, and Dion deftly whips up some hoity-toity meat monstrosity, all while presumably cooing “Ooooooooo yeahhhhhh” in his head.
*“Sweet Child O’ Mine” plays faintly in background*
To the show’s credit, Schwimmer wasn’t a horrible casting choice, as it’s made clear that the writing is to blame instead of his acting chops. Hell, I was even legitimately moved when he breaks down crying in group therapy, although that was quickly ruined by a woman named Pilar, who makes it painfully evident she wants to swim with the Schwim, being assigned to roleplay as his dead wife. In addition, the show at least manages to make Dion’s food look good. I can believe that he was a highly regarded chef in a former life, but one scant visually interesting scene of him describing a dish as the respective parts appear on a plate that he’s holding isn’t enough to save the rest of the sinking ship. I don’t know what the show was trying to say, I don’t know who the target demographic was, and I don’t know why anyone thought this would be a good idea. What I do know, however, is that FEED THE BEAST is only worth a watch if you’re looking for one of the hottest messes of recent memory.
FEED THE BEAST airs on Tuesdays on AMC.