David Schwimmer, Jim Sturgess/AMC
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When we find ourselves rooting for deeply flawed protagonists, it’s usually because they’re charismatic and good at what they do, even if what they do is very bad. A Tony Soprano or Al Swearengen or Don Draper who bungles the simplest of tasks isn’t likely to hold our interest or sympathy for long. In Tommy Moran and Dion Patras, Feed The Beast offers two characters who are each brilliant at one thing. Tommy is a wine genius who can tell you who picked the grapes simply by sniffing a class of Bordeaux, while Dion is the master chef who can create previously undreamed flavor sensations using whatever he finds in the crisper drawer. These talents aren’t enough to sustain them as compelling characters, however, because this is a show about two guys trying to open a restaurant, and they are terrible at that.

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For that reason, they fit right in on a show that also features a restaurant manager who knows nothing about managing, an oblivious school counselor, fathers who are bad at parenting, and criminals who aren’t so great at crime. So far, at least, Feed The Beast is a show about people who don’t know what they’re doing. That might work if they were a scrappy, likable bunch, but charm is in short supply here, starting with the episode title, “Screw You, Randy.”

Who is Randy? He’s an innocent bystander, a security guard who winds up in the hospital as a result of Dion’s wine heist, which was only necessary due to a chain of incompetence stretching throughout the episode. Things start off on a relatively positive note as last week’s big misunderstanding about TJ’s bruises is resolved when Dion lets Tommy know they were actually caused by a bully at school. Tommy manages to choke out an apology to Aidan, who takes it about as graciously as you’d imagine, but still coughs up a $75,000 check for startup costs. Since Dion and Tommy never read their contract, they don’t realize this has nothing to do with supporting their dream venture and everything to do with screwing them over and putting Aiden’s own gentrification plan in place.

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Once he has his hands on the money, Dion goes on a spending spree that includes the purchase of two walk-in refrigerators (one for curing his own meat, which is what the kids are calling it these days) and the hiring of a kitchen staff at what we gather to be generous wages. There’s also the matter of giving Woichik his cut, something Tommy still doesn’t know about, which is why Dion isn’t thrilled with Tommy hiring Pilar to run the office. He’s right that this is a bad idea, but for the wrong reasons: Pilar has taken the job despite her lack of experience so she can get close to Tommy, who hired her without bothering to find out whether she knows what she’s doing. To be fair, once she has the position, she does her best to stay on top of expenditures (for instance, hiring a combat veteran who can be paid via a grant), but the damage is already done. There’s no money left for wine and bargain brands aren’t going to cut it.

That brings us to the great wine robbery, perhaps the low point of the series to date. The heist itself unfolds as an unconvincing mix of comedy (Tommy getting pulled into the action via FaceTime just after a “too soon” kiss with Pilar, who becomes a witness to the crime before mysteriously departing) and violence (the attack on the aforementioned Randy), but the aftermath is even worse. The show has already settled into a pattern of Dion doing something outrageous and/or illegal and Tommy getting upset about it before quickly backing down under Dion’s bluster. In this case, Dion gets Tommy to say the title phrase over and over until it becomes some sort of catharsis, but the moment is so flat and phony, it just left me wondering why on earth I should be rooting for these jerks. Dion is rapidly becoming a one-note, insufferable character, with Jim Sturgess increasingly reliant on waving his hands around and speaking every line with an “ayyyy, fuggedaboutit” inflection. Schwimmer is still delivering a more human performance, but Tommy is so whiny and spineless much of the time, it’s hard to care.

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At least Tommy’s son is still interesting and sympathetic. The adults in his life now include a grandfather trying to teach him to fight and a school counselor whose reaction to hearing he’s been bullied is to suggest that he may have fallen down on the playground. (Later, in a session with TJ, the counselor enumerates the behavioral problems of several of his classmates, which has to be a HIPAA violation of some sort.) Maybe it’s the simple absence of speech that makes TJ more intriguing than the rest of the characters. Three episodes in, he’s still a bit of a mystery, while everyone around him is an open book.

Stray observations

  • There’s at least one character who’s very good at what he does: Woichik’s van driver. Through three episodes, his timing has never been less than impeccable in cutting Dion off just before he gets away.
  • Another idea that could have used a rethink: playing Afghanistan veteran Mose’s PTSD for comic relief.
  • The mob storyline is still perfunctory at best, right down to fact that Woichik’s rivals for the drug trade are identified as “Asians,” with no more specificity than that. The show draws a parallel between Woichik’s ball-busting father Ziggy and Aidan, with his similar parenting style, but by the end of the episode Ziggy has been shivved to death(?) by an Asian inmate, so it’s unlikely this will develop into anything interesting.
  • Dion shares Batman’s origin story, as we learn his parents were mugged and murdered when he was a boy. At that moment, he looked to the skies, shook his fists, and vowed he would one day cook the most succulent rack of lamb ever known.

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