The summer season has always been a traditionally weird time for TV, usually leaving viewers to resort to reruns or stuff that wasn’t deemed awesome enough to make the fall lineup. But with the advent of summer smashes like Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and True Detective, it seems like summer TV in 2016 is shaping up for big things.
That’s why I was disheartened to read initial reviews about Feed the Beast, AMC’s newest drama starring David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess. Schwimmer especially is a warm welcome back to our TV screens, having led a much lower-key existence in the years after Friends than many of his, well, friends. But when he returned to TV in 2016 to portray the late Robert Kardashian in The People vs. O.J. Simpson and earned stunning reviews, it wasn’t only Ross Geller fans that were excited to see Schwimmer back on screen.
More: Robert Kardashian was the real hero, according to The People v. O.J. Simpson
Feed the Beast tells the story of Tommy, a recent widow who had dreams of opening a restaurant with his wife, Rie, before she was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident. He’s reeling from her death and trying to raise their 10-year-old son, TJ, who has not spoken since his mom’s death. He’s also since shifted focus to work as a sommelier, and finds himself drinking a bit too much wine in the process.
If this were where the show’s storyline stayed focused, I think it’d be off to a great start. After all, a show about a man grieving the loss of his wife and trying to raise their son is a delicate and harrowing story to tell. But this is actually a subplot, and in the show’s pilot, almost like an afterthought.
The main focus is on Tommy’s pal Dion (played by Sturgess), who is released from prison after burning down the restaurant where he worked with Tommy and Rie. Turns out, Dion roped Tommy into opening the restaurant to pay back the $600,000 in debt he owes a mafia boss nicknamed the Tooth Fairy since he, uh, loves to take his enemies’ teeth out with a pair of pliers. Lovely.
The mob bosses actually arranged for Dion’s early release from prison, and when he attempts to flee to Paris the following day, he’s caught, and the drama ensues.
Naturally, this is where the meat of the show lies (no food pun intended), but it’s actually a grave mistake, I think, that the show’s introduction has already made. Sure, it’s exciting and gives off the same kind of adrenaline rush that TV viewers love to cling to, but the heart of the story lies in Tommy and TJ.
Friends fans were naturally eager to connect Schwimmer’s gritty role on Beast to his most beloved role to date, but so far, all we’ve gotten is Schwimmer at his Ross Geller worst. There’s opportunity here for his character to really grieve the loss of his wife and connect with his son, who seems to be lost in the shuffle in the wake of his mom’s death.
One particularly poignant moment in the pilot came when Rie’s phone — pink phone case and screen cracks from the accident still intact — rang and Tommy realized it was TJ calling, just to hear his mom’s voicemail greeting. What should have been a devastatingly powerful moment for the audience was pretty quickly glossed over for the next cat-and-mouse game between Dion and the mob bosses.
I’m hoping that the show will explore Rie as a character more and give us intel into who she was and what she meant to Tommy and TJ. I also hope that Tommy’s character will go through the stages of grief in the way he deserves to. I get that Dion’s drug-addled misadventures with the mafia make for cool TV, but the spark is really with Tommy’s inability to cope with his wife’s death. That’s what will give Feed the Beast substance beyond mob bosses and an unfortunate pair of pliers.
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