David Schwimmer is cooking up a solid second career as a serious actor.
After a tragicomic turn as Robert Kardashian in FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” the “Friends” veteran returns as a grieving widower in AMC’s exciting and absorbing “Feed the Beast.”
You might think of the dark dramedy, adapted by Clyde Phillips (“Dexter”) from a Danish series, as a mashup of “Restaurant Impossible” and “The Sopranos.”
Stay with me. Schwimmer is Tommy Moran, single father to adorable TJ (Elijah Jacob). Tommy lost his way after the hit-and-run death of wife Rie. Ten-year-old TJ, who saw his mom killed, no longer speaks; Tommy drinks too much of the wine he also sells and has given up the hope of opening a restaurant, a dream he shared with Rie.
Jim Sturgess is Dion Patras, Tommy’s best friend, a rock star chef just out of prison on a drug charge. (Coked up, he burned down the restaurant where he was working.)
Dion needs to beat feet out of New York immediately because the fire left him deeply in debt to Patrick Woichik (Michael Gladis, Paul Kinsey on “Mad Men”), a mobster known as the Tooth Fairy. (Avert your eyes when you see why.) First, though, he wants to crash with Tommy and TJ for the night.
Immediately, he’s worried. Father and son squat in the shell of the restaurant they had just started to build when Rie was killed.
“Who lives like this?” Dion marvels. “I had better days back in prison.” And then: “You’ve got a $20,000 stove and your fridge is empty.”
Arguing over who let whom down ensues, followed by cooking, leading to fresh pasta and one of the interludes creator Phillips refers to as “food porn.” All the kitchen scenes are shot with lush, romantic beauty, a stark contrast to the grim Bronx neighborhood where the restaurant was going up.
This setup is just the tip of the delicious “Feed the Beast” iceberg. There’s so much wonderful here, from little scenes (TJ makes his hungover father a perfect cappuccino) to extremely moving ones (Tommy attends a grief group). Humor, thankfully, is abundant.
In the manner of “Fargo” or “Mad Men,” “Feed the Beast” presents a range of vividly drawn characters in roles big and small.
The core cast also includes Lorenza Izzo as Pilar, who meets Tommy in a grief group and finds his pain attractive; John Doman (“Gotham,” “The Wire”) as Aidan Moran, Tommy’s estranged, disabled father, described as an “unapologetic racist”; and Christine Adams (Weaver on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) as Rei, in flashbacks.
Late in the premiere, Michael Rispoli shows up as a cop who wants more than anything to take down mobster Woichik and his imprisoned father. “I am Ahab and that fat (expletive) is my white whale,” he says, leaning hard on Dion.
At this point, it should no longer be a surprise that Schwimmer is the dramatic heart of the show. At 49, he may still be best known as Ross Geller on “Friends” (1994-2004), but he started out in drama, and his movie credits include projects as diverse as “The Iceman” (playing a gangster) and “Madagascar” (providing the voice for a giraffe).
Television continues to give Schwimmer his best opportunities, though. During the run of “Friends,” he played an unpleasant Army captain in HBO’s “Band of Brothers” and the leader of a revolt in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II in the NBC miniseries “Uprising.”
The most recent, though, and also most impressive, was FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Schwimmer gave a believable, touching performance as Kardashian, the faithful friend to “Uncle Juice” until the very end.
But Schwimmer does his best TV work yet in “Feed the Beast,” breaking viewers’ hearts just as Tommy’s has been broken. His pain reaches out and grabs us, and we root for him to find a way to go on.
That will be especially difficult given that Dion’s big idea for a partnership carries so many complications. Seeing what happens next, though, may be as exciting as anything TV offers this summer.
What “Feed the Beast” • Four stars out of four • When 9 p.m. Sunday, then 9 p.m. Tuesdays • Where AMC • More info amc.com/feedthebeast