Sexy Beast TV Review

The prequel to the acclaimed 2001 crime thriller offers an origin story for one of the best villains in recent film history.

Last Updated on January 24, 2024

Plot: Gal Dove and Don Logan are best friends and small-town thieves living the good life in ‘90s East London. Deedee Harrison is a captivating adult film star whose ambitions to control her own personal destiny and her love affair with Gal Dove put her in danger. Teddy Bass is a treacherous, rising name in the gangster world who seduces Gal and Don into his criminal web.

Review: Of all the films I never expected to get a prequel, Sexy Beast would never have occurred to me. The 2001 crime movie, director Jonathan Glazer’s feature debut, focused on a pair of former friends whose lives have drifted apart since they were thieves working for a London crime boss. That film was barely a blip at the domestic box office but garnered critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for Sir Ben Kingsley. Since Sexy Beast, screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto reunited with stars Ray Winstone and Ian McShane for the less acclaimed film 44 Inch Chest. Two decades later, Sexy Beast is back with Mellis and Scinto aboard as executive producers for a 1990-set foray into the origin story of Gal, Don, and Teddy Bass. Sexy Beast is more than just an attempt to milk intellectual property. Instead, it is a solid crime drama with well-placed callbacks to the modern classic movie that inspired it.

Sexy Beast review

Without any context for the feature film, Sexy Beast opens with little connection to the 2001 film. Right off the bat, we meet Gary “Gal” Dove, played by James McArdle, and Don Logan, played by Emun Elliott. Gal is engaged and in a rut, as he faces a life of settling down with his fiance. Gal and Don make decent money as small-time thieves, something Don’s controlling and abusive sister, Cecilia (Tamsin Greig), wants to change. Cecilia sets Gal and Don up with up-and-coming gangster Teddy Bass (Stephen Moyer), who has an intricate plan involving a local politician and a pair of criminal siblings. Teddy offers a lucrative partnership with Gal and Don, something Gal is unsure he wants to be a part of. Don, however, wants the wealth and notoriety that working for Teddy could bring, which pits the two friends at odds. This is further complicated when Gal meets DeeDee Harrison (Sarah Greene), a porn star whom Gal instantly falls in love with. In the feature film, we know that Don works for Teddy, Gal is married to DeeDee and living in Spain, and little else. Sexy Beast worked perfectly as a movie, and this series fills in those blanks despite there being no need to in the first place.

What I noticed immediately in the first episode of Sexy Beast was the physical similarity that James McArdle shares with Ray Winstone. With bleached blonde locks and a scruffy beard, both actors could convincingly play the same role decades apart. They share line delivery, mannerisms, and an opening shot of them in very different pools. On the other hand, Emun Elliott is much different than Sir Ben Kingsley’s take on Don Logan. This series wastes no time in showing us that Don has a screw loose and could snap at any minute, but the younger Don is not the sociopath his older self is in the movie. Here, Don struggles under his older sister, Cecilia, who delivers lines through the eight-episode series that are direct quotes from the feature film. The dynamic between Cecilia and Don is reminiscent of Norma and Norman from the series Bates Motel, and that twisted relationship led to dark places. Equally, Ian McShane’s chillingly psychopathic take on Teddy Bass is given more depth here by Stephen Moyer. However, I found the added back story for the gangster to detract from the mysteriousness McShane lent his performance.

As much as Sexy Beast is a story about a heist and criminal enterprise, the series is heavily focused on the romance between Gal and DeeDee. The movie positions the pair as star-crossed lovers, and the series wastes little time getting the sparks going between the two. A solid amount of time is spent on DeeDee dealing with issues within the porn industry as well as the challenge of Gal already being engaged to be married. Sarah Greene does some of the best work here as she delves into the fairly underdeveloped character in the feature film. The rest of Gal’s family, who factor into his personal life and how it clashes with his career as a criminal, are not nearly as endearing as they are intended to be and offer some of the weakest elements of the series’ narrative. Gal’s clash with his younger sister throughout the series takes up much screen time and ends up as filler compared to the much more interesting arcs for Don, Teddy, and more. Even within this prequel series, we get flashes even further back to the childhood days of some characters, which adds depth and some sympathetic elements for characters I did not want to feel anything for, like Don and Teddy.

Michael Caleo, whose prior credits include writing for The Sopranos and Rescue Me, wrote more than half of the episodes of Sexy Beast and directed the first three. Co-writers include Jennifer Cacicio, Lee Patterson, Ollie Masters, and Juliet Lashinsky-Revene, while David Caffrey, Alex Eslam, and co-star Stephen Moyer helmed the remaining episodes. Moyer directed the finale after previously helming episodes of True Blood and the series Flack, starring his wife Anna Paquin. The series is rooted in London during the early 1990s. Still, aside from the music that factors heavily into every episode, the era is a requirement in preceding the feature film’s narrative. The eight-episode season works as the start of an ongoing series as it ends in a place still a long way from where the movie started. Still, it also feels like it has used much of its strongest material, leaving a second season in the difficult position of transitioning the story to where Jonathan Glazer’s film takes over.

Sexy Beast review

Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast remains among the most impressive directorial debuts of the last twenty-five years. This prequel series arrives just as the filmmaker is back in the limelight with his acclaimed film The Zone of Interest. While Glazer has zero involvement with this series, it is respectful of the movie and does not do anything to detract from its standing as one of the best British films in recent history. As a series, Sexy Beast is a standalone crime drama with intriguing characters and a plot worth investing in. However, I garnered more enjoyment out of the show because of the connections I found with the feature film. I would love to see if a second season of Sexy Beast can improve upon the first, but I hope audiences will discover this show and seek out the brilliant movie that inspired it even more.

Sexy Beast premieres on January 25th on Paramount+.

Sexy Beast

GREAT

8

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.