I’ve never seen a pilot as uneven as this one, despite it being also oddly compelling.
After his failed attempts to impress in American Crime Story this year (mostly because he was saddled with the word “juice” between every other line), David Schwimmer pulls off a surprisingly great performance as the mopey, depressed Tommy in Feed the Beast. It might be familiar territory for Schwimmer, but when given the right material he truly shines here, playing the widowed father of a 10 year-old TJ, who’s never spoken a word after witnessing his mother get killed in a hit-and-run a year earlier. It’s amazing how quickly the emotional scenes are so powerful and resonant even though it’s just the first episode, but I’ve never rooted for a main character as immediately as I did for Tommy, a former sommelier who worked at a restaurant with his wife and best friend while dreaming of starting their own Greek place one day, but is a wine rep now surviving on a day-to-day basis alone with his kid.
The first hour takes its time before kicking into full gear, with a gratuitous and unnecessary sex scene opening the pilot just for the sake of being “edgy”. However, once those few kinks are out of the way, it flows pretty naturally for an episode that fills us in on so much backstory. The show immediately identifies its two protagonists (as shady and dishonest one of them might be) with Dion (Jim Sturgess) proving to be perhaps more intriguing than Tommy, and it wastes no time developing its character dynamics with Dion being the stronger and more confident one. Despite being a locked up coke-head for burning down the restaurant the trio used to work at, he’s committed to starting their dream restaurant all over again; a part of him wants to pay off his debt to his old boss, but another part really wants to be the successful chef he’s always dreamt of becoming.
Sadly, the mob subplot feels like it’s on a completely other show. The tonally jarring scenes with Dion and The Tooth Fairy (what kind of a mobster goes by that name though, seriously?) are actually so bad and cringe-inducing, they might eventually kill this show’s chances.
Sturgess is perfectly cast for the role, but the writers repeatedly toyed with this character in the span of just one episode. Giving him that unappealing opening scene is supposed to tell us he’s slimy and kind of charismatic, but he seems to nail the emotional beats better whenever he’s reminiscing with old best friend Tommy about simpler times. In addition, as much as I have the outmost respect for John Doman’s scenery chewing, I can’t say I’m looking forward to seeing his racist character spurt out the most appalling things on a weekly basis because it’s become less shocking and more predictable now to have the lead’s awful father in the role of the villain on TV.
Where it lacks in shocking twists and reveals, the show more than makes up for it in a couple of nifty visuals and a gritty, Bronx setting. It’s an unusual New York destination for a TV show, making it all the more fascinating. Additionally, the quiet, blues music and the uneasy camerawork are a welcome change for a show that delves into what it’s like to start a fancy restaurant from scratch. Plus, if the plot or the setting or even the characters don’t interest you, you can always just watch for the food, which is consistently mouth-watering to look at.
– The first 15 minutes are ridiculously uneven and boring, but the worst part is trying to understand how Dion was able to get away from those scumbags. Does he have a magic shrinking suit?
– The part about Rie’s iPhone was quite heartbreaking, as unbelievable as it might be (who’s been charging this phone all this time?).
– I loved the flashback, as short-lived as it was, mostly because it’s shown in a completely different palette: a bright and cheerful color that’s visually jolting. It’s a nice and interesting contradiction and I hope we’ll see more flashbacks in the future.
– The pilot moves at such a quiet, brisk pace that when the finger-cutting scene happens (yes, I’m calling it that) it’s less shocking and more uncomfortable and gross. I really hate the mob subplot.
– The support group scenes are certainly the most engaging parts of this hour, and I already really like Pilar, even though her character is very much undercooked (pun intended).
– Schwimmer certainly brought his A-game while talking about his wife in the group. Very touching.
A bumpy opening salvaged by a couple of impressive performances and an emotional backbone. If they write out the mob subplot in its entirety, this could end up being the juicy summer series you never thought you’d need.