As a single woman with an underwhelming social life, sometimes I have to fill the gaping hole in my life with trivial pursuits to stave away the encroaching darkness. I usually do this by falling down Internet rabbit holes or embracing a short-lived obsession with a dumb series. “Ice Planet Barbarians” by Ruby Dixon was one of those series, and those bizarre little books have been an excellent muse.
Recently, I rewatched the CW show “Beauty and the Beast,” and I’m only slightly ashamed. As a pretentious nerd, I feel like I’m only supposed to like unique and highbrow televised content, like that heart-breaking episode of “The Last of Us” or whatever gritty crap swept the Emmys last year. But that’s not me. I like a lot of stupid things. And even though admitting to enjoying a CW show feels as shameful as admitting to writing “Ice Planet Barbarian” fanfiction, I want to be honest.
I had looked forward to this show when it first aired. I was already a fan of Kristin Kreuk from her time as Lana Lang in “Smallville,” and I was young enough to still think CW shows were pretty good. In addition, I was fully aware that this show was loosely based on the 1987 show “Beauty and the Beast” starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman.
I wish I could say I watched the entirety of that show, but I stopped after just a few episodes. I knew that Linda Hamilton had to leave the show after the second season and that a new character was cast as Vincent’s love interest. Removing the “Beauty” from “Beauty and the Beast” already soured any joy I could hold for the show, but to bring in another beauty for Vincent to love? I mean, how many hotties is this Cat-Bear-Man going to pull? So I stopped watching after a few episodes because I didn’t want to have to put my mind through those psychological hoops.
The guy who plays Vincent Keller in the CW version of “Beauty and the Beast” does not require me to suspend my disbelief to nearly the same degree. Jay Ryan is a typical CW hire: he’s a New Zealand actor capable of putting on a decent American accent, has experience acting in stupid Australian soap operas, and is outrageously handsome. Like I think something in the water in Australia and New Zealand makes the people there so incredibly attractive. It makes me think I should move to the opposite side of the equator to give my future offspring a fighting chance at being anything higher than a five on the hotness scale.
The actors on CW shows are so good-looking that it borders on offensive. Adelaide Kane, the star of “Reign,” is an Australian actress who’s so beautiful she would inspire the goddess Aphrodite to fly into an apoplectic rage and curse her to fall in love with a hideous monster of a man in retribution. Every female actress in the unwatchable “Riverdale,” looks like they were built in a lab out of the spare parts of former supermodels. If someone told me that Tom Welling was actually Superman, I’d agree with them. No need for evidence or anything like that – just his face is proof enough for me.
That being said, just because an actor is physically attractive doesn’t mean they’re good at acting. And it’s especially difficult to turn in a sincere performance when the script is less than stellar. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve outright cringed at the dialogue and acting in a CW show, especially during my rewatch of the first season of “Beauty and the Beast.”
Something is fascinating about watching two characters speak in a way that is completely devoid of any semblance of reality. In the real world, people don’t usually shower each other with exposition, remind each other of their motives, or speak in such a way as if another person is overhearing who may need valuable information to complete a mission.
I have mixed feelings about this kind of expository writing. On one hand, I despise when writers treat me like an idiot who can’t remember what happened only two episodes ago. On the other hand, I know for a fact that many casual TV watchers will not remember what happened in a show two episodes prior, and it’s extremely unfair to call them “idiots” for not remembering it. Suppose you’re binge-watching a ten-episode show in the course of a day or two. In that case, it’s understandable that you’d remember everything that happened. It’s entirely possible that the creators of the show structured it that way. CW shows are a little different. They can be binged, but often they’re episodic, once-a-week.
Some shows are not meant for binge-watching. “Black Mirror” has many great episodes, but watching them all over a weekend would be a torturous experience. It would ruin the emotional impact these episodes have to offer.
“Beauty and the Beast” and other CW shows are not ideal for binge-watching, and it shows. Many of these shows run for an hour (including commercial breaks), twenty-two times a year. That is an exhausting amount of content to watch, let alone write, film, and edit for a network. As a result, it’s hard to watch these shows in a single sitting.
If I were to guess one of the reasons people continue to return to these shows, even if they’re not exactly Emmy-worthy, is for the same reason people watch soap operas. They’re sincere. Despite the melodrama and theatrics, these shows are written with a level of sincerity and vulnerability that makes them easy to enjoy.
For example, in the show “Smallville,” Tom Welling infuses his character Clark Kent with kindness, compassion, and hope. And then he’ll fight a person who has the power to control bees or glass or something outrageously silly like that. But it’s still fun to watch because he feels like Superman.
I do find it interesting that the only shows to nab Emmy wins for the CW, “Jane the Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” are shows that embrace soap opera theatrics while also winking toward the camera about those theatrics. “Jane the Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” are good shows but painfully self-aware. These are shows that are familiar with certain media tropes, and may even play into them, but will also make it clear to the audience that they’re aware of those tropes, and maybe are a little too good for them. I usually really like the result, but every once in awhile, I wish they would play it straight.
There’s also this strange hypocrisy the show displays regarding the issues of violence, sexuality, and profanity. Basically, when it comes to the way sexuality is portrayed in the show, the characters always have sex on their minds, and yet the shows are strangely prudish in how they portray that sexuality. I find the near-constant sex references cheesy, but they wouldn’t really bother me if I weren’t constantly comparing them to the egregious displays of horrific violence in those same shows.
Using “Beauty and the Beast” as my example, in the second season, Cat and Vincent are intimate in a few episodes. As the audience, we’ll see them exchange a few kisses, and then the aftermath of their coupling, both actors clad in bed sheets like Roman togas. There’s also some awkward pillow talk about what happened in between those moments, as if to suggest to reassure the viewers that “yeah, they totally did it, you just didn’t see.”
I could shrug this awkward writing and editing off if it weren’t for the fact that in that same season, there were so many gratuitous violent scenes that I was actually surprised the network didn’t request the episodes be re-written. Within the second season of “Beauty and the Beast,” characters were almost regularly disemboweled. I’m not exaggerating. Characters would have their hearts ripped out and their bodies shredded like pulled pork. Was it entertaining? Hell yeah, I was on the edge of my seat for most of it. But it was also tonally dissonent and sometimes really upsetting.
I do not mind violence in media as long as its proportional and makes sense in context. If I’m watching a movie in the “Alien” franchise, I’m not going to get pissy if I see a few alien babies crawl out of peoples’ abdomens. I will get pissy if that same “Alien” movie, in addition to being cavalier with human life, can’t even say the word “fuck,” for fear of losing its PG-13 rating. Like, I’m sorry, but are we as a society really chill with watching disgusting violence but will clutch our pearls if an actor says a naughty word or if we see a naked body? Because that’s basically what the entirety of the CW’s programming feels like. We’re allowed to watch bodies get mangled, so long as they keep their clothes on and don’t swear during the mangling.
For the record, I don’t necessarily think all CW shows will be improved if they include more sexual content and profanity. Rather, I think the writers are often backed into a corner and have learned that an easy way to fill time in a 45-minute show is to insert as many scenes as possible of the characters making out. This has the unintended consequence of making me feel uncomfortable, like I’m in high school again and trying to avoid eye contact with the exhibitionist couples who would make out in the quad or at over-crowded school dances. I’m not trying to stop you, but could you please not do that right in front of me?
I also may be alone on this one, but I do find it odd that CW shows seem to go out of their way to get the male actors to take their shirts off. I feel like every person reading this who’s ever been attracted to a man will start screaming at me. Because why would I criticize something that viewers clearly respond positively to? It’s like the television equivalent of jingling a bunch of keys in front of a baby’s face. Maybe instead of relying on cheap tricks, like filler scenes of attractive men doing elaborate push-ups, the writers could try to write something? Or at least fabricate a reason for why the character is always shirtless.
Believe it or not, I really do like to watch these shows for the stories. And when the writers are actually able to push a story forward, then these shows are incredibly entertaining. I genuinely enjoyed season 2, 3, and 4 of “Beauty and the Beast” because of the action-packed plot and the chemistry between the leads. There was always something fun and exciting happening, and I really enjoyed the strange twists and turns the show would take. It wasn’t scientifically accurate or even grounded in reality, but that is okay. There’s such a thing as suspension of disbelief and I am more than willing to utilize it.
The reason I’m so focused on this topic is because I see a lot of potential in these stories. Still, I think due to the format of these shows, the writers are often forced into a corner about what they can write to keep the soap opera theatrics coming. It’s possible to create a show that delicately balances the line between drama and sincerity without becoming a mockery of itself. The first key may be to stop forcing the writers to churn out a thousand minutes of empty content like a queen bee crapping out eggs. Then these shows might stand a chance.
2 thoughts on “CW Shows Are a Trip”
-“As a single woman with an underwhelming social life” I feel attacked… I have 0 friends and I’ve lived in my new town for a year. YOU MY FRIEND ARE DOING AMAZING. I fill the void by going to NYC and walking for miles and miles and eating soft serve and pastries
-I was convinced I would marry Tom Welling. I am very disappointed in what has happened to my life wah wah wah
-Violence and sex in US media is so disproportionate. It’s beyond explaining to anyone outside of the US.
Your NYC adventures are thrilling though! Anyone would be lucky to be your friend because you are interesting and have excellent taste in pastries and soft serve