The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Impossible Possibility of Beauty and the Beast

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

ImageOkay, I’ll admit it.  I’m in love with Beauty and the Beast, the 1980s television series starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Pearlman.

I’ve been waiting several years to confess this publicly.  And I could lie and say that I love its cheesiness, with lines that sound inappropriate outside of Hallmark cards and bad poetry.  I could say that I laugh at the horrible effects; one clip–of Vincent traveling through New York City on top of a subway train–is used over and over again in the first season, enough that it could be a nice collegiate drinking game.  I could say that the cynic in me mocks all of the corny “love means never having to say you’re sorry”-type sentiment it espouses.  I could say all of it.  But I would be lying.

Truth is, Beauty and the Beast breaks through all of my layers of cynicism and darkness and strikes at the core of my romantic heart.  I love Catherine and Vincent.  I love the fairy tale aspects of story.  I love the idea of star-crossed lovers.  And I love that their story is infused with hope, against all odds.  It’s the kind of story that makes me want to sing and write sonnets and smile at random people in the street.  (And I live on the East Coast.  We don’t smile a lot here.)

Haven’t heard of it?  Yeah, that’s not surprising.  It ran on CBS for three seasons between 1987 and 1990.  It follows the relationship between Catherine Chandler, a young (and arguably beautiful) assistant district attorney, and Vincent, a kind, intelligent, poetry-loving…beast.  We’re never exactly sure what Vincent is: a deformed man, a new species, an alien, something else altogether.  Catherine is attacked in the pilot episode and saved by Vincent, who takes her to “the world below”–an underground world that lies beneath the New York City streets.  Despite Vincent’s appearance, and despite the fact that they live in different worlds, they’re drawn to one another.  But their relationship has complications.  Catherine still has a job and family and obligations in “the world above”–in fact, much of the series plots revolve around her (often dangerous) criminal investigations, the consequences of which Vincent often has to save her from.  (Seriously, if attorneys were getting into life and death situations as often as Catherine does, all the social climbers of the world would just go ahead and become doctors instead.)   Vincent odd appearance means that he cannot risk anyone seeing him.  His whole existence is a secret, so his relationship with Catherine must be conducted entirely behind closed doors (or, more accurately, within abandoned subway tunnels).  Vincent also, occasionally, tends to rip people apart–literally.  Plus, it’s a little hard to make out with someone who doesn’t really have lips.  Yet they persevere, and their relationship is pure fairy tale.

Okay, yes, I think the articles I’ve written for CC2K in the past have demonstrated that I have a very well-defined romantic streak, that I will watch movies and television shows and read books that seem far afield from my cynical worldview.  But despite that, I have every reason to hate this show.  The damsel-in-distress scenario really pisses off my inner feminist.  And seriously, I like SEX in my romance.  Without it, it’s just foreplay.  I mean, maybe you can go all Hitchcockian about it and have the couple get into bed…and then cut away to a shot of the train pulling into a tunnel.  But c’mon, give me SOMETHING!  Vincent and Catherine don’t get physical.  They don’t even KISS.  They gaze into each other’s eyes a lot.  And they hug passionately.  Sometimes they cuddle.  That’s about as close to a sex scene as Beauty and the Beast gets.  I have no idea if this is because the writers were trying to keep romantic tension alive, or if they were just prudish.  Maybe the whole “potential interspecies relationship” was too disconcerting for 1980s audiences.  They could handle it when it was just flirting, but not so much when it progressed into the physical realm.  Twenty-something years later, people think vampires are sexy.  At least Vincent never drank blood.  But I digress.

So why, exactly, do I like it?  Why is it that a cheesy 80s show can tear through all my defenses and strike me to the core of my soul?  I think it has something to do with the sheer impossibility of Catherine and Vincent’s relationship.  They live in different worlds, they might be different species, and they must love in secret.  They are the perfect star-crossed lovers: Catherine is too tied to the everyday world to leave it, and Vincent is too unusual to ever live above.  It cannot work out happily.  (And in fact, it doesn’t.)  Yet they keep trying, keep hoping.  Theirs is a love that transcends worlds, transcends the possible…even transcends death itself.

Yes, it’s a fairy tale, but it was a beautiful one while it lasted.  And it’s the kind of thing that gives me hope in my own life, makes me believe in the possibility of the impossible.  Maybe love really can conquer all.  I know it’s only a story, but it came from somewhere.  Someone believed in it enough to make it feel real for millions of viewers.  And as long as that feeling–that hope–is out there, I can continue to dream.