By Ken Tucker
Updated January 07, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST
Chuck Hodes

The Beast is one of those cop shows in which the old-pro rebel — in this case, Patrick Swayze as swaggering undercover FBI agent Charles Barker — snaps out lines like ”Screw bureau protocol!” while surrounding characters give begrudging approval with lines like ”He gets the job done.” This stuff was old when Clint Eastwood was Dirty Harry. Wasted in a generic badass role, Swayze looks none the worse for his tussle with pancreatic cancer: He’s lean, ?mean, and totally up for a better script.

Struggling to keep up with Swayze is Travis Fimmel as Barker’s rookie partner Ellis Dove. Giving inexpressive line readings, he’s here because he’s young and pretty (Fimmel was a model), and he fits A&E’s desired viewing demo. Ellis is the newbie who earns Barker’s respect because, as someone says to Ellis in another tired line, ”[Barker] ?looks at you and sees himself 20 years ago.”

The ”beast” of the title isn’t antihero Barker; it’s the tedious, dirty job these two have to do while under deep cover, worming their way into the confidence of hoodlums. ”The beast eats away at you,” Barker explains to Ellis in the opening episode. But for ?us, it’s the hour spent trudging through The Beast that eats away at us: We could be spending our time reading better hardboiled yarns from fresh tough-guy novelists like Charlie Huston or Duane Swierczynski. ?In fact, I’d rather watch an hour of ?Swayze reading one of their tales aloud than ?sit through an episode of The Beast. C