Picks and Pans Review: The Beast

updated 01/19/2009 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/19/2009 AT 01:00 AM EST

A&E, Jan. 15, 10 p.m. ET

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Anticipation for this show has been heightened by hope and concern since the news that its star Patrick Swayze was being treated for pancreatic cancer. Now The Beast has arrived, and it's a beaut: a crime show stamped by a tough, surly intelligence and showcasing Swayze doing fine work in an intriguingly tricky role. He plays Charles Barker, a tough old FBI agent—a weathered, Harrison Ford sort of loner—teaching the ropes to his new partner, a kid named Ellis Dove (Travis Fimmel). Ellis isn't sure how much he admires or likes Barker, who doesn't see the need to play by the rules, but he trusts him. Should he? A nicely played twist in the premiere throws that into serious doubt. The first two episodes have the dark, elusive look of good noir, with a sharp cast moving among the shadows. A standout: Lindsay Pulsipher as a law student who can't trust her instincts, either, when it involves romance with Ellis.

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