Beauty and the Beast returns to TV

STEPHANIE HOLMES
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2013
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New beasts on the block: Jay Ryan with co-star Kristin Kreuk.

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In the 1987 series Beauty and the Beast, Vincent (Ron Perlman) - the beast - was part-man, part-lion; an outcast abandoned at birth, raised in a community of outsiders living under the streets of New York.

In the 2012 update, Vincent - played by New Zealander Jay Ryan - is a former soldier; strong, muscular, dangerous and brooding, a large scar the only blemish on his boyishly handsome face.

The new Beauty and the Beast was "re-imagined" for America's CW network - famed for its teen-focused shows starring young and beautiful Hollywood stars, including Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries and Supernatural.

For Ryan, it's his biggest break to date after working the United States audition circuit for the past seven years. Famous in New Zealand for his roles in Neighbours, Go Girls and Offspring, his most recent American series was in Steven Spielberg's big-budget sci-fi series Terra Nova. But it is this remake of a popular 80s cult classic that could have the power to put him on the trans-Atlantic map.

"I actually watched the show back in the day, with my nana," says Ryan, 31. "I used to go home from school and watch Beauty and the Beast, so knowing that this is a re-imagination of that original series is very exciting. I feel quite honoured to put my twist on a new beast role."

Very loosely based on the 1987 series, the new version gives a modern update to Vincent's back-story. Here, the character is a former emergency-room doctor who enlisted in the army after both his brothers were killed in the Twin Towers on September 11. Washington Post's Hank Stuever explains Vincent then "became an unwitting lab rat for a vaccine that turned soldiers into hyper-aggressive killing machines. The battalion seroconverted into beasts and were eradicated by top-secret order - except for Vincent, who escaped to New York to seek a cure".

Battling against his new uncontrollable aggressive alter-ego, Vincent hides from the world but secretly tries to recapture some of his humanity, performing acts of vigilante justice.

"He is human at heart," Ryan says, "he's just got this chemical buildup inside him which is making him this sort of fierce killing machine. But with this Beast that chemical imbalance comes out when his instinct is to protect or to save or to kill if he feels threatened.

"Every other time he's Vincent, he's just keeping himself at bay, he's calm, he's the same man he used to be."

For every Beast, there must be a beauty. Former Smallville star Kristin Kreuk plays Catherine - a woman haunted by the memories of her mother's murder and the mystery figure who saved her from the same fate. Flashing forward nine years, she has become a hard-nosed homicide detective, searching for answers to her mother's death and the identity of the beast-like creature who rescued her.

"[Vincent and Catherine] are both alphas, very dominant individuals who want to feel like they can control matters so bad things don't happen in their lives," Kreuk said in an interview with The Fresno Bee's Rick Bentley.

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Critical reception was mixed when the series debuted in the US late last year. While Stuever called it "hideously blah" and Variety's Brian Lowry said the show would be "hard-pressed to get under viewers' skin", NY Times' Neil Genzlinger said "the pilot [episode's] hint of a connection between the beast's condition and the murder of Catherine's mother offers the promise of future depth".

But culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg was more concerned about the show's glorification of a potentially abusive relationship to its largely young, female audience, accusing it of "playing right into one of TV's current favourite tropes: romanticising troubling relationships between violent men and the women who adore them".

But in her interview with Bentley, Kreuk praised the strength of her character, both in and out of her relationship with Vincent.

"This is in many ways a partnership. Sometimes she will have to help him, and at times, he'll help her. In this case, there isn't an underlying assumption that a man needs to save a woman. It's not about being like a man, but about being a woman and being as fully that as possible."

And Kreuk believes even in the new, modern-day version, the underlying message of Beauty and the Beast remains the same.

"Thematically, it's beautiful. What we are trying to say is so gorgeous - that people are beyond what they look like. With all of the versions of Beauty and the Beast, it's not just that we are beyond what we look like, it's that there's a human being underneath all these things. There are all these layers that we put up and there's a soul that exists and it takes time to get there. This show is about two people trying to discover that with each other and within themselves."

"Beauty and the Beast as a story is universal," Ryan says. "Everybody knows it and I guess everyone will be extremely intrigued to see what we've done with our interpretation."

Beauty and the Beast, Friday, 9.30pm, Prime

- Sunday Star Times

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