In 2005, Patrick Swayze told EW how he planned to navigate the remainder of his now 30-year career: “There is no such thing as burnt out,” he said, “but you have to define the feeling as something, so you call it boredom. It’s your passion leaving. There’s a cure for boredom, and that’s taking a calculated risk. As an actor, or as a person, try something that absolutely shouldn’t work and make it work.”
Watching the premiere of A&E’s The Beast (read Ken Tucker’s review here), you can understand why Swayze would attempt what most considered impossible: a man undergoing chemotherapy for Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, working 12 hours a day for four months to shoot 12 episodes. Charles Barker, the gritty undercover FBI agent Swayze plays, is the best character he’s had in years. (Or, at least the best one fans will have actually seen.) The pilot — shot in Dec. ’07, a month before the actor’s cancer was diagnosed — opens with Barker shooting his rookie partner, Ellis Dove (Tarzan‘s Travis Fimmel), in the vest, to protect their cover on a sting. Predictable, but kinda always cool. Later, Barker hands his brother-in-law a gun so that the guy will “do what’s right” and shoot himself in the head before bad men come after his family. That’s the kind of discussion you’d expect to appeal to the actor who once starred as a Zen-like surfer/bank robber (Point Break) and a bouncer with a degree in philosophy (Road House) — only this time, the context warrants it. Swayze sinks his teeth into the role for sure, but the question is, does the show around him have bite? Does it work?
EW TV critic Ken Tucker says no, and I suppose I should agree with him since I wouldn’t be planning on watching the remainder of the series, shot July through November ’08, if I wasn’t a Swayze fan. (Or, if I hadn’t already seen episode 2 and been sucked into the storyline about Ellis wanting to date his upstairs neighbor. I’m so easy.) There are some things I dig, like the use of a Chicago winter. Didn’t you feel like you needed a scarf? Even when Ellis was flirting with his neighbor inside the entry to their apartment building, you could see his breath. Also, Swayze and Fimmel have solid chemistry. I believe that
Patrick Barker would think it was funny to have Travis Ellis park and fetch their car, and that Travis Elllis would have Swayze Barker programmed as The Devil on his cell. I do, however, have doubts that the show’s scripts are sharp enough to make this cop drama unique when you’ve got anti-heroes all over the dial. Sooner or later, Swayze’s enthusiasm isn’t going to be enough to save cliché exchanges like: “There’s a line though, right?” “Yeah, there’s a line. So we know where to cross it.” And the big reveals need to be jaw-droppers, unlike the one at the end of the pilot where we learned that all the people Ellis had come in contact with while working an arms dealer case were actually FBI agents wanting him to help investigate whether Barker has gone rogue. (The only thing I found truly surprising about that scenario was that the FBI thinks a junkie living in a home protected by a shotgun-toting stuffed polar bear is who you go to when you want to buy the launch cards for a surface-to-air launcher.)
What did you think of the show? Will you keep watching because you have to know A) whether Barker has become the beast, or the evil, he battles B) what was in those files that Barker’s brother-in-law wanted, then didn’t want, to sell, and C) if a young undercover FBI agent can have a personal life? Will you stay tuned because, as producers have stated, Swayze’s off-screen fight fueled and informed this performance, which is the most intense of his career? Or will you pass on The Beast, but continue to admire Swayze’s resilient heart, passion, and courage?
More on Patrick Swayze:
Ken Tucker reviews The Beast
Patrick Swayze hospitalized with pneumonia
Patrick Swayze to Barbara Walters: “I’ll be here, or I won’t”
Patrick Swayze diagnosed with cancer
EW’s 15th anniversary issue checks in with Patrick Swayze in 2005