'Feed the Beast' with David Schwimmer is starved for a bit of levity

Early on in “Feed the Beast,” AMC’s dismal next (it certainly does not seem new) troubled-white-guy drama, Tommy Moran, a widower played by David Schwimmer, visits his grief support group. As he takes a seat in the circle, it is impossible not to be reminded that Matthew Perry, Schwimmer’s former “Friends” castmate, recently played a widowed sports commentator with a similar support group in the short-lived “Go On.”

It’s never a good sign when a critic, in the midst of what is clearly supposed to be a Very Serious and Emotionally Revealing scene, finds herself thinking of Matthew Perry.

 Not just thinking of him, but wondering if the scene in question would not be greatly improved by his presence. Even a cameo, perhaps as a fellow sufferer who might suggest that Tommy, and Schwimmer, just Snap the Heck Out of It. The self-indulgent grief; the laughably wooden performance; or, perhaps, the show itself.

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Which is such a mess that you have to wonder what on Earth is going on at AMC (besides the whole if-it’s-a-white-guy-who-bleeds-it-leads thing). The network that jump-started the Golden Age has had its share of misfires—“The Prisoner,” “Rubicon” — but at least they were innovative, their failures the inevitable price of invention.

“Feed the Beast,” on the other hand, is an attempt to make haute cuisine with leftovers. Sex, drugs, mobsters, crooked cops, a traumatized kid, an abusive old coot, a “hot” lady lawyer and many, many scenes of high-impact cookery — it’s all in there, and more. Cable TV in a microwaveable pouch.

Make that two microwaveable pouches. “Feed the Beast” is the story of two friends, Tommy and Dion (Jim Sturgess) who once dreamt of opening a fancy restaurant in the Bronx, only to see that dream fade when Tommy’s wife, Rie (Christine Adams), was killed in a hit and run accident. 

We meet them in the aftermath: Tommy, once a hot-shot sommelier is now (oh the horror) a lowly wine rep barely able to parent his young son. TJ (Elijah Jacob) witnessed his mother’s death and hasn’t spoken since, which makes him a budding artist and a prime target for bullies. The two live in the shell of the above-mentioned restaurant, which hot-shot chef Dion burned down in his own rage over Rie’s death; Dion has spent the last year in prison for arson.

Now he is being sprung early — good! — but only so that Patrick (Michael Gladis), the son of the mobster who owned the building, can have his way with him — bad! An effete goon nicknamed “the Tooth Fairy” (guess why?), Patrick wants the money the fire cost his father. Money that Dion, who had planned to flee to Paris, does not have and cannot get. Unless… wait, yeah, that’s it, what a great idea – he and Tommy finally open that restaurant.

But Tommy Does Not Want to open the restaurant because, in case you missed him mentioning it 100 times per hour, his wife is dead and he is Very Sad. Also often drunk. Dion, on the other hand, is now desperate — Patrick has threatened Tommy and T.J. — and almost always coked up.

So while Tommy becomes even more lugubrious when they must turn to his racist father (bright spot John Doman) for funding, Dion speeds around sweatily dodging gangsters, placating his new staff, keeping in touch with his unforgivably smitten lawyer, inventing new dishes and dealing with an obsessed cop. Night-and-day character tension is one thing; this feels like two different shows that just happen to share the same under-the-bridge, burnt-out version of the Bronx. (Which I’m fairly certain has some pretty nice restaurants already.)

In the end, which is to say after the four episodes that I watched in hopes it would get better (it didn’t), the only interesting character is T.J.  Which will probably change as soon as he opens his mouth.

To be fair to all concerned,  “Feed the Beast” was adapted by Clyde Phillips from a Danish series (“Bankerot”) and that is always trickier than it seems. Though newly popular with Americans (see also “Wallander,” “The Bridge,” “The Killing,” “Those Who Kill”) Scandinavian television has its own mind-set, which too often translates to “dreary” or “bleak” or “makes no sense whatsoever but that’s what happened in the original so….”

In that context, Schwimmer’s woe-is-me, slump, shuffle, shuffle, slump interpretation of a man beset seems simply a matter of over-compensation. But a dose of humor, however black, would have gone a long way toward making Tommy believable.

It probably would not have saved this “Beast,” but it would have helped. 


‘Feed the Beast’

Where: AMC

When: 10:05 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)

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