TV crime show and romantic fantasy meet as urban mythology in the original Beauty and the Beast, which ran for three seasons, from 1987 to 1990, on CBS.
This is the original modern TV fairy tale starring Linda Hamilton as Catherine, a beautiful crusading lawyer, and Ron Perlman as Vincent, the tender-hearted man-beast who watches over her. And by romantic I do mean swoony, dreamy love stories of a worldly human and a feral yet gentle man in wolf’s clothing who hides his leonine face in the underground world beneath New York City but surfaces to watch over the woman he loves.
In the opening episode, “Once Upon a Time,” Vincent finds Catherine beaten and left for dead and nurses her back to health, inspiring her to leave her privileged life and become a crusading assistant district attorney. This is the only time in Perlman’s career when he played a genuine romantic hero (though years later he applied make-up again for another fantasy hero and cult figure for the Hellboy movies) and he is utterly beautiful in his creature make-up, a lion of a prince in the body of a beast. That would make Hamilton the princess, but then again she was the kick-ass heroine of The Terminator and she’s no mere damsel in distress. Roy Dotrice co-stars as Father, the leader of the utopian underground society, and while wary of outsiders, he welcomes Catherine as one of them.
This mythic romance played out for two seasons, until Hamilton left the show and the third season opens with its beauty gone and its beast on an odyssey. Catherine gave birth to a son by Vincent and he embarks on a search for his boy, who has been kidnapped by a vicious criminal kingpin (Stephen McHattie), and vengeance for Catherine. Jo Anderson joins the cast, taking a kind of Julianne Moore role as an investigator who follows Catherine’s trail to Vincent and Edward Albert, the millionaire who loved Catherine, joins Vincent on his quest. The show is still unusually moody and romantic but its romantic heart left with Hamilton and the show ended with this brief season.
There’s another particularly interesting dimension to the series: George R. R. Martin was a screenwriter on the show who became a story consultant and a producer. It’s his first major work of fantasy and after the show ended he began working on his first major novel in over a decade: A Game of Thrones. I can’t say that there’s any direct inspiration, but I’d like to think that the romance, the mythology, and the world building helped him develop the storytelling skills he brought to A Game of Thrones. And of course it’s now come full circle: Martin’s epic has become that greatest fantasy series ever made for TV.