‘Feed the Beast’: A Different Kind of Walking Dead
A new show as glum and dour as the single facial expression its star David Schwimmer uses for every scene, Feed the Beast purports to bring you in on the exciting experience of creating a new fine restaurant from the ground up. Ground beef is more like it — the show is one long hour of slowly burning a big, fat hamburger of drama until all its juice dries up.
Related: Summer TV Preview: The Scoop on 17 New Shows
Schwimmer, fresh from lowing like a cow in American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (he played Simpson loyalist Robert Kardashian), here plays Tommy, a guy who’s supposed to have an almost supernatural talent for picking fine wines. Feed the Beast cannot find enough characters to say that Tommy is the finest sommelier they’ve ever encountered — people say it at least three or four times per hour. In fact, sometimes I think Tommy shoves a glass of wine at them just so they’ll shut up with the praise and drink the damn grape juice already.
Tommy is a very unhappy single dad mourning the death of his wife (he goes to her graveside regularly to talk to her); his young son TJ (Elijah Jacob) expresses his grief over his mom’s death by refusing to speak. Tommy’s best friend Dion (Across the Universe’s Jim Sturgess) has to contrast with the morose Tommy, so the producers make him a hyped-up, motor-mouthed chef with effusive dreams of grandeur and a jittery cocaine addiction. When these two get together, no sparks fly: Dion jabbers about his overwrought ambition, while Tommy winces and moans about failure.
To establish that Dion is the rakish free spirit of the show, his first scene involves him being released from prison, but not before snorting coke and having sex with his lawyer — is this guy living life to the fullest or what? To establish that Tommy is an earnest sort, we get many one-sided conversations he has with his mute son and his dead wife, and we accompany him on his regular trips to group-therapy grief-counseling sessions, where he meets a very appealing woman named Pilar (Lorenza Izzo), who every character and viewer knows is obviously meant to be his new girlfriend, but who Tommy is in too much of a depressed funk to notice.
The show presents Tommy and Dion’s decision to open a restaurant in the Bronx as revolutionary bordering on the delusional. “You’re opening up a restaurant in the Bronx?” someone marvels. Later, Dion exults, “the Bronx is New York’s last frontier!” (Dion exults a lot. Looking down at his phone, he receives a text and exults, “Yo, yo, yo! The truffles are in!”)
The character I liked best was Tommy’s estranged father, played by John Doman (police commander Rawls from The Wire), who looks at Tommy, Dion, and their entire enterprise with the dubious pessimism it deserves.
Related: Summer TV Preview: The Scoop on 20 Returning Shows
An effort is made to — I think this is the right cliché — make the food a character in the show. There is at least one cooking scene per episode, set to jaunty music, and we’re supposed to be hypnotized by close-ups of hands chopping ingredients and the sizzling smoke rising up from frying pans. (“A good chef always listens to his pans!” Dion exults.) There’s also a lot of insufferable wine jargon from Tommy. In one memorably condescending scene in the third episode, Tommy instructs Pilar in some of the fine points of sommelier-ing. Watching his nose stuck down a glass, cooing phrases such as “hints of cedar from aged oak” while Pilar looks at him with wide, admiring eyes, I felt as though Dion had fed me some bad fish.
Feed the Beast is based on a Danish TV series and developed for American television by Clyde Phillips, who was a key force behind Showtime’s Dexter. The crime elements of Beast are trite, centering on a thug with nice suits and a good vocabulary played by Michael Gladis (Paul Kinsey in Mad Men). He’s supposed to be a gentleman mobster because he corrects his henchmen’s grammar, but he’s also known as the Tooth Fairy, because he carries around pliers to pry loose a molar or two from any debtor who doesn’t pay up. It turns out that having your teeth pulled is a better metaphor for what it’s like to watch Feed the Beast than anything to do with fine food.
Feed the Beast airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on AMC.