Feed the Beast is one of those kinds of shows that could go either way. Based on a loosely classified ‘Nordic Noir’ Danish show (Bankerot) about a restaurant and the criminal underworld around it, it could have been quite a vehicle for storytelling and talent. It also appears on AMC, which has a history of mostly quality hits rather than misses (with a few exceptions, of course). But then, even though the show is watchable, it feels like it is always on the edge of comedy, and I don’t think it is supposed to. Maybe this is because everyone in the show feels like a caricature.
First and foremost, David Schwimmer plays, Tommy, a slightly angrier, more bitter and grief-stricken version of whiny, pathetic Ross from Friends. It’s not that he is incapable of something else – it’s just that this role requires it. And we know from the 12 or so years of Friends that he has mastered that role (incidentally I read an interesting take on Friends’ Ross and how he – and how he was treated and turned into a kind of cartoon – mirrors the way society treats and views intellectuals. And Schwimmer is probably underrated in general; as far as I was concerned, his performance in The People vs. OJ Simpson – as Robert Kardashian – was one of the highlights of that program). In any case, despite Schwimmer’s capability, his presence in a role that so closely matched the Ross role on some levels distracts and inevitably leads the Friends-soaked brain to scream out: “comedy”.
Tommy’s best friend, a low-level conman – and chef – “Dion” (an effective Jim Sturgess), who “bobs and weaves” his way through life, also feels comedic, mostly because his egregious actions don’t seem to lead to real consequences. Sure, he went to prison, but in his own estimation, he enjoyed it there because he got to cook. When he crosses bad guys, he gets a beat down, but nothing he doesn’t just walk away from. He keeps getting chances – and maybe that is what I find unbelievable, even if in real life I see people who get more chances than they deserve and more chances than I can count. It is not unrealistic at all; it just seems that way to me because my own view of the world is linear, and I am not a conman who counts on wriggling and wiggling my way out of every scrape. (And of course these scrapes the character gets into are all his own making; all get worse because of his propensity for piling shit on shit and promise on promise – none of which he can keep.)
The two friends reunite and open a restaurant, Thirio (‘the beast’, apparently, in Greek), which had been their dream along with Tommy’s deceased wife, Rie. This explains Tommy’s grief and anger – and increasing alcoholism, which he tries badly to mask (with his career as sommelier); the only thing keeping him going at all is his son, who has not spoken a word since his mother died.
Naturally the restaurant opening is much easier said than done and ends up involving Dion’s connections and obligations to underworld criminals (the main one is played by Michael Gladis, who is best known as Paul Kinsey from Mad Men – a character who always struck me as near-caricature tragicomedy, which contributes to my feeling about Feed the Beast) and Tommy’s racist, hateful father (to whom he has not spoken since sometime before he even got married). It all makes for what could be a compelling story – but it never quite does. I keep watching because I do get drawn in; yet, it’s never quite as good as it could be. I suspect this is because of this aforementioned hint of comedy I keep getting the scent of (and shouldn’t be).