With the People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story coming to an end in April, TV fans won’t have to wait long to see David Schwimmer again. Yahoo TV has the exclusive first look at Feed the Beast, the 10-episode AMC drama premiering in May that stars Schwimmer and One Day’s Jim Sturgess as best friends who try to turn their dysfunctional lives around by opening an upscale restaurant in their hometown, the Bronx.
Based on the Danish series Bankerot, the show is adapted by showrunner Clyde Phillips (Dexter, Nurse Jackie), who enjoys writing characters as damaged as Schwimmer’s alcoholic sommelier, Tommy Moran, a widower with a 10-year-old son (Elijah Jacob) who hasn’t spoken since he witnessed his mother’s death in a hit-and-run, and Sturgess’s cocaine-addicted superstar chef, Dion Patras, who opens the premiere cooking for prison guards but scores an early release courtesy of the Mob, who’d like him out working to pay off his six-figure debt.
“I describe the show as a tragic farce,” Phillips tells Yahoo TV. “The way we’ve designed our set is, every time you settle for a moment, a door opens and somebody comes in with a piece of news: the meat didn’t get here. Another door opens: the police are outside. Another door opens: the Mob is coming. Another door opens: ‘I’m pregnant.’ The show’s a constantly moving beast.”
In the photo above from the premiere, the friends, who are more like brothers, sit in the warehouse that they’d planned to turn into a restaurant with Tommy’s late wife, Rie (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Christine Adams). “Dion’s just made an incredible pasta dish out of nothing. Tommy’s refrigerator was empty, so he’s that much of a great chef,” Phillips says. “Now they’re drinking wine, and Dion is trying to talk Tommy into following Rie’s dream, but Tommy doesn’t want to do a restaurant without her.”
Dion — who’s keeping his Mob problem a secret from Tommy — ultimately gets his way, and Tommy ends up borrowing money from his father, Aidan Moran (The Wire’s John Doman), with whom he hasn’t spoken in 10 years. “His father is a racist crook and a very successful business man, probably running for president for all I know,” Phillips says. Hidden in the contract was that Aidan could put in his own chef. That guy doesn’t last long; in the photo below, Dion and Tommy are celebrating his departure by burning the chef’s whites he forced them to wear.
The show will deal with a lot of issues about fatherhood, Phillips says. Tommy’s dad never wanted children but was stuck with one after Tommy’s mother left when he was an infant. Dion’s parents were killed when he was a boy in the Greek diner they ran. “As dark as the show is, we write it knowing that the actors will bring the appropriate lightness to the moments that we need,” Phillips says. “And we actually write some funny scenes, too, and they play them brilliantly. Who knows more about comic timing than David Schwimmer?”
After wrapping People v. O.J., the former Friends star took a general meeting with Lionsgate Television Group, which produces Feed the Beast with AMC, and expressed his interest in doing more quality television. Chairman Kevin Briggs called Phillips suggesting he chat with Schwimmer. “I watched some of the O.J. stuff, and we had lunch a couple of times, and he watched the entire Danish series. He drove deep,” Phillips says. “He was our guy.”
Sturgess’s casting happened in basically one afternoon. “We didn’t think we’d be able to get him, and then he had read my script, and I Skyped with him, and he was just leaving that day to go on holiday somewhere on the continent with his girlfriend,” Phillips says. “He told me how much he loved it, and we talked about [the role], and I said, ‘If you want it, it’s yours.’ It was a fairly quick negotiation, and his holiday ended up being in New York City in cooking school instead of going to wherever he was going in Europe.”
The show takes its “food porn” seriously. It employs several experts — a sommelier, a butchering consultant, and a food advisor (Susan Spungen, whose credits include Julie & Julia, It’s Complicated, and Eat Pray Love).
“When you see an actor playing the piano, and he’s always shot from behind the piano, and then you cut to his hands, and then you cut back to his face — we don’t want to do that,” Phillips says. “Our guys have been in cooking school, knife cutlery school, wine sommelier school. They’re always taking lessons in something. And we use certain special lenses when we want to shoot the food and present it. Everything’s authentic.”
With a test kitchen right next to Dion’s kitchen on set, there’s one obvious question…
“The crew is very well fed, yes,” Phillips says.
Feed the Beast premieres in May on AMC.