Beauty and the Beast (1987)

Disney is currently in production for a live action version of its popular animated Beauty and the Beast which is scheduled for release in 2017, but 30 years earlier there was a totally radical reimagining of the classic fairy tale. On September 25th, 1987, CBS aired “Once Upon a Time in the City of New York,” the first episode of new TV show called Beauty and the Beast. The show was a dramatic departure from the traditional telling of the story; this Urban Fantasy took place in a gritty underworld of New York called “The World Below” filled with magic and horrors.

Beauty and the Beast 1987

Those not familiar with the show might recognize “Beauty” Catherine as Sarah Connors from the early Terminator movies, played by Linda Hamilton, but look closely into the eyes “Beast” Vincent and you might recognize Ron Perlman . . . also known for Hellboy, Alien Resurrection, City of Lost Children, and countless other science fiction films.

Catherine ScarsThe show begins with Catherine Chandler being abducted, beaten, slashed, and left to die in Central Park after being mistaken for somebody else. A mysterious figure rescues her and heals her wounds; the beast Vincent takes her to Father (played by Roy Dotrice), head of a hidden community of people dwelling in tunnels below the city of New York. Ten days later, Catherine returns to the surface with the promise of keeping Vincent’s secret and the challenge to go on after her terrible attack. After completing her recovery, her life begins a serious transition: she takes self-defence lessons, leaves her comfortable job at her father’s law firm and joins the Manhattan District Attorney‘s office as an Assistant District Attorney. Upon investigation Catherine tracks down her attackers, and once more comes under threat, but this time she is protected by Vincent, who mauls the men.

Vincent FangsThe series follows the developing relationship between the characters and the division between New York and the hidden world beneath it. In a twist from the original tale, however, this “beast” does not transform into society’s idea of beauty after gaining the love of Catherine. Rather, Vincent’s inner beauty is allowed to remain the focus of who he is, and it is Catherine’s life that transforms from her relationship to Vincent.

During the course of the first season, the production team fashioned a blend of romance and crime drama which used both Catherine’s position as an ADA and her will to help Vincent and his world to place her in moments of physical danger which would bring the idealized romantic figure of Vincent to the surface world as her guardian angel; through an empathetic bond, Vincent senses Catherine’s emotions, and becomes her protector.

Vincent-and-Father 680

Vincent and Father

Subtle hints are given that Vincent might actually be the product of genetic experiments, and the implication is that Father was the scientist responsible for his creation. The second season explores and expands more of the underground community and the various characters and outcasts who reside there.

Diana BennettWhen the series returned for its abbreviated third season late in 1989, Linda Hamilton had announced her decision to leave the series as she was pregnant at the time. The character of Catherine was killed off and replaced by Diana Bennett, played by Jo Anderson, a criminal profiler investigating Catherine’s murder. The show became darker through Vincent’s grief for Catherine, and rating continued to decline without the love story that drew many to the show. August 4th, 1990 saw the final episode, “Legacies,” and a sudden abrupt ending with no real resolution. 

Beauty and the Beast 2012More recently in 2012, CBS attempted a reboot of the concept with Ron Koslow, the creator of the original, as executive producer, along with the earlier show’s producers, Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas. The reboot has been described as a “modern day romantic love story with a procedural twist.” In this version Vincent is played by New Zealand actor Jay Ryan and Catherine is played by Kristin Kreuk.

While the 2012 reboot is available on Netflix, the 1987 show is not so readily available, and only clips have made their way to YouTube . . . so to catch this 80’s classic (through legal means) the only option would appear to be DVD; the complete set is available from Amazon for $36.62 (as of this post).

The surface scenes of the show look very dated with the fashions of the time, but even the “timeless” fashions of the underworld dwellers have all the influence of the 1980’s New Romantics movement that incorporated poet shirts and other Renaissance Fair feeling garb. The show was very innovative in its portrayal of “hidden worlds” of fantasy and magic, tropes that have become more popular since then with franchises such as Harry Potter, but sadly despite a slim cult following the chronicles of Catherine and Vincent have faded into the annals of TV myth and legend . . . perhaps in 2017 they will be dusted off, re-marketed, and rediscovered in the excitement of the new Disney film.

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