New Show 2009: The Beast

A&E, Thursdays Beginning Jan. 15

Patrick Swazye stars in The Beast on A&E
For those of you wondering why movie star Patrick Swayze would first subject himself to the grueling schedule of series television now, while he’s battling a deadly form of cancer, I have but three words: Watch. The. Beast.

Fair warning, though — if you’re all about cozying up for a night of Ghost Whisperer-style, feel-good TV, you can skip the advice. But if you love rearranging your life for a show with a toe-curling, can’t-miss-a-minute plotline, well, no more Thursday night bowling for you!

The pilot alone of A&E’s newest scripted drama is filled with such an abundance of — let’s call ’em like we see ’em — “holy @#$%” moments that I silently blessed my press copy for its lack of commercial breaks: Swayze suddenly caps a guy point blank. Holy @#$%! Helicopter spotlight busts him lugging the corpse! Holy @#$%! SWAT team! Ran right past him! Holy @#$%! Dead man talking! Holy — !

And that’s just in the first three minutes.

At the end of a full hour of the most twisty, nervy storytelling since the premiere of Life on Mars, I realized that my press privileges ended right there with the credits, and I’d be waiting like everyone else to find out how this thing shakes out. Holy @#$%.

Shot in the same noirish style as its predecessor The Cleaner, The Beast may inspire the uninitiated to wish someone would turn the lights on once in a while, but the complaints end there. Because, for better or worse, Swayze’s newly craggy face is the star of the show, lending instant credibility to his character, veteran FBI agent Charles Barker, a badge-toting rebel with a murky cause who eats, drinks and breathes his job. (Sleep? Uh uh. Not this guy.)

It also makes him the perfect foil to his rambunctious, hand-selected new partner Ellis Dove, played by Brad Pitt doppelgaenger Travis Fimmel. Dove’s expressions are as twitchy and mercurial as Barker’s are impenetrable, and it’s hard to take your eyes off either. Especially when Dove is asked to double-agent the man who seems to predict his every move.

To give away any more of the story is to take away the forget-the-credit-crisis fun of realizing that clarity and confusion can happen in the same delicious moment — and that the line between good and evil is rarely as apparent as your mama says.

Even when you’re FBI. — Lori Acken

Credit: Michael Muller