No, Angela Lansbury fans, it’s not that Beauty And The Beast. But, in its own way, it is a tale as old as time: district attorney city girl falls in love with subterranean lion-human hybrid. We’ve all been there. Or at least we were in the late 1980s when this sumptuous urban fantasy first aired.
As the central lovers, Catherine and Vincent, Linda Hamilton (Terminator) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy) are well-matched in the style stakes. She beats him on pouting, while he has the better deep-set brooding stare, and manages to make a cleft lip look rugged. When it comes to big hair, it is, of course, a draw.
But look beyond the Eighties trappings, and there’s genuine lyricism at work, suggestive of a show that second time to bat was playing to its strengths. Sure, the opening monologue – in which Catherine declares that ‘we have a bond stronger than friendship or love’ – feels like the scripted leftovers from a Linda Ronstadt / James Ingram collaboration. But it is strangely affecting, as are all the moments where the show flirts with schmaltziness, thanks to the quiet dignity of the storytelling. The sincerity is palpable, and is based on values which come free of irony and are not risible: the need to offer shelter to the outsider, and solace to those in need of redemption.
Vincent is a tormented soul, which, in television shorthand, automatically grants him a love of Schubert and a tendency to quote Byron. ‘What makes you smile?’ he asks Catherine, one-part psychoanalyst to one-part Pinocchio. But he’s also the walking spirit of New York: vigilante, romantic, and increasingly, as the season goes on, hell-bent. He’s the city personified, and it works – certainly better than those moments where the city must stand for itself, and storylines of drug abuse, homelessness and mugging are depicted with Eighties earnestness.
As for the other cast members, Roy Dotrice has clearly got over the shame of being father-in-law to Frank Spencer (okay, Edward Woodward, but who’s quibbling?) and delivers a performance of twinkling authority as Father, inviting Catherine to be his guest in the something there of the Tunnel World. (Nope, still not that version of Beauty.) The underground ‘family’ are a confused but endearing collection of British, Irish and American accents, among which David Greenlee, fresh from Fame, stands out as the inventor geek, Mouse.
And then it all goes Pete Tong, as the show crosses over to the dark side. A series which has hitherto been about tenderness and community becomes instead a study of madness and persecution, as Vincent gets goaded into serial acts of violence before his demons finally consume him. It’s like watching Bambi’s mum get shot. By your dad.
If you’re a lover of teenage vampire romances, you’ll already be of the sensibility that every Mr Darcy must have his animal side. If not, while the final trilogy of episodes in this 6-disc boxset won’t be quite enough to undermine your appreciation of the previous nineteen, they may leave you yearning for the odd singing candlestick or teapot. There’s no coincidence that the villain takes the name of Renaissance alchemist, Paracelsus. This is a show which is fatally self-combusting.
Released on DVD on Monday 27th June 2011 by CBS.