FEED THE BEAST

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Normally, I wouldn’t do this.

When reviewing any piece of media, I’ll take it in from start to finish, no matter how bad or painful it might be if what I’m experiencing is of the worst quality imaginable.  This is a trait of most, if not all critics-they’ll tough it out all the way to the credits like a cornered Steve Rogers in the opening scenes of 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger.  However, in the case of the new AMC drama series Feed the Beast, not only did I stop watching a mere twenty minutes into the pilot episode, but I knew I still had to say something about it, largely due to my excitement leading up to the show’s premiere on June 5th, 2016.

On paper, all the elements seemed to lead to a decent premise-two friends open a restaurant so as to seek redemption for their respective dark pasts and to simultaneously pay off a massive debt to the mob.  Starring David Schwimmer, best known for his performance as Ross on Friends, and Jim Sturgess, one of the many stars of 2012’s excellent Cloud Atlas, I couldn’t help but be intrigued-any story mixing food and gangsters strikes me as intriguing, plus the inclusion of the two leads, both of whom I enjoy, seemed to indicate that Feed the Beast might very well be yet another entry onto AMC’s long list of incredible programming.

Unfortunately, it isn’t long into Feed the Beast’s debut when the show becomes buried under an avalanche of rotten tomatoes in the form of a cliché-loaded story, mediocre characters and forced New York accents that ensures it has a long, possibly impassible road, ahead of it if it wants to reach the level set by AMC powerhouses like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.  Creator Clyde Phillips, known for his work on Dexter, takes plot points from similar, better shows and films so as to create a concoction not unlike something Jim Sturgess’ lowlife chef Dion might prepare.  Unlike the classy fare Dion is seen preparing, on the other hand, Feed the Beast is not dissimilar to casserole you’ve tasted before, and would rather not taste again.

Oh, and about that premise?  Dion is a talented cook who, after being released from prison, unites with his best friend/wine expert Tommy (Schwimmer) to open a high-end Greek restaurant in an effort to fully realize their broken dreams of culinary glory while paying back a large sum owed to a local mobster, played by Michael Gladis (Mad Men).  This is where Feed the Beast could have stopped and solely focused its efforts, but sadly other ingredients quickly enter the mix primarily in the form of Tommy’s backstory, who’s suffering from the death of his wife/restaurant partner in a hit-and-run and which has thrust him into the world of help groups & alcoholism, while his son Elijah has gone mute after witnessing his mother’s demise.  While I can always appreciate fully developed characters with backstories that serve the overall show and speak to the viewing audience en masse, twenty minutes in to a brand new series doesn’t feel like the time to start filling my figurative plate with plot points better unveiled gradually as the show goes by.

There’s also a detective, I think, in pursuit of Dion, for reasons unknown.  I had stopped watching by that point.

The biggest disappointment comes from Schwimmer and Sturgess, two talented actors who phone in their performances and seemingly prevent the audience from liking them in any way.  Schwimmer’s Tommy is simply a battered version of Friends’ Ross, while Sturgess also sheds his English accent for one of the most hackneyed New York voices you’re likely to hear-in trying too hard to make himself look worn down and street smart, he comes off as any background character from Donnie Brasco.  Plus, while he does sport a smooth, well-spoken, off-putting tone to his vocal affections, Michael Gladis as “The Tooth Fairy” may be the least intimidating mob associate I’ve ever seen.

Although I don’t see myself re-visiting Feed the Beast, I do wish it well, if for no other reasons than David Schwimmer, Jim Sturgess, and an overall premise that could work if cleaned up and focused drastically.  There might still be potential, but like so many needless mushrooms in an otherwise delightful plate of spaghetti, they must be removed to ensure quality.  In case you’re wondering, I don’t like mushrooms.

Luckily, we’ll always have scenes like this, which over the course of a mere few minutes is already better, funnier and more charming than AMC’s latest offering.  Goodfellas, you’ll always have a place in my heart.