Monday, September 20, 2010

Castle - An Introduction

Beckett (Stana Katic) and Castle (Nathan Fillion) disapprove of Esposito's collection of mid-twentieth-century wood paneling.
Photo Credit: ABC
By Matthew Rasnake

Just in time for the third season premiere, Matthew Rasnake gives us a little warm up for those not familiar with one of the best shows on ABC.

I started watching ‘Castle’ for one reason: Nathan Fillion. I'll fess up to being a Browncoat and having something of a raging man-crush on the man behind the Mal. There's also the thing about me being an aspiring novelist, and the eponymous Castle being a famous writer, and well, what more do you need for a hook, really?

But that just explains why I started watching. I'll explain in a moment what keeps me always anticipating the next episode, but first, a basic introduction is probably in order.

Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is, as I mentioned, a famous author--think Stephen King, or James Patterson (who makes an occasional cameo at Castle's weekly poker game). He's a celebrity, a single dad, a socialite, and something of a lothario. At heart he's an adventurer, and always on the lookout for the raw materials for future novels.

Beckett (Stana Katic), on the other hand, is a grounded, serious professional. She's also the lead homicide detective at a New York precinct that just happens to have, in the pilot episode, jurisdiction over a series of murders taken straight from the pages of Richard Castle's novels.

This is, of course, how we first meet our main character--as a suspect across the interrogation table from Beckett. Rick is instantly smitten, and Kate instantly dismissive. Castle works his way into her good graces, and even proves an invaluable asset in pursuit of the killer. After their first case, he pulls strings to get permission to ride along with Beckett on all of her cases, under the auspices of "research for a new novel" based on Beckett.

What you end up with is an entertaining police procedural drama, loaded with sexual tension and blossoming relationships (both platonic and romantic), with engaging and intelligent characters who feel like they belong right where they are. Nothing feels out-of-place or forced, and character growth is sensible and appropriate.

Over the first two seasons, the Castle/Beckett relationship has gone through the usual twists, turns, and near-misses. Castle keeps his cards close to his chest, but everyone else knows exactly what hand he's playing... except, perhaps, Beckett. In this regard, the relationship is fairly standard TV fare, tried and true. Still, it is well-played, and the chemistry is definitely there, so I buy it every time.

Helping to sell it is a cast of supporting characters with convincing depth. One of my favorite relationships in the show is between Castle and his daughter--an intelligent and vivacious teenager, who is very much a daddy's girl. Their bond is apparent in every scene, and the one flaw is that she often comes off as the "perfect" daughter, with almost no faults. I suppose the idea is, since Rick enjoys being the "cool dad," and acts like a teenager himself half the time, that she hasn't felt the need to act out or rebel. In fact, she's been his conscience or his voice of reason on more than one occasion. Despite the idealized nature of it, theirs is a compelling relationship that adds warmth and lightness to what can occasionally be a dark show.

It's not all perfect television, however. Katic's performance sometimes isn't as transparent as it could be. It's never so bad that it takes you out of the moment, but sometimes she's just a bit stiff. Obviously the real-world writers (and other non-actor guests) who make cameos--like the previously mentioned Patterson, and Stephen J. Cannell--aren't actors, and their performances reflect that. That being said, they do a pretty good job, and their scenes are always enjoyable, if for no other reason than that it pushes so hard against the fourth wall.

That's not the only challenge to the fourth wall that this show enjoys... in fact, there are now two published "Richard Castle" novels (well, the second is coming out around the second episode of this new season) on real-world bookshelves. The first novel borrowed heavily from the plots of the first season, in keeping with the idea that Castle used those experiences as fodder for the novel. It wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination (prose, length, originality, etc.), but nevertheless, I love the idea of publishing a fictional character's novels. (And really, they're not any worse than some of the other tripe the publishing industry pushes on us.) So, yeah, I'll be buying the second novel when it's released, but I'm not exactly expecting a masterpiece of modern literature.

Back to the show...

Season two was a roller-coaster that ended with a heart wrenching turn--they took us to the edge of where we, the viewers, wanted them to go, and then pulled the old bait-and-switch in the final scene. It was almost cruel, and it was painful to watch. It will be interesting to see how they pay that off in the early episodes of season three.

Oh, there is one other aspect of the show that I just love--the bulletproof vest that Castle bought for himself, which says, in giant white letters: "WRITER."

It's a silly little character flourish, but so illustrative of Richard Castle, that (again, as an aspiring novelist) I just love it. If I can get my hands on a suitable "bulletproof vest," I'm definitely doing Halloween this year as Richard Castle.

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