Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Castle:" Why You Should Be Watching

Nathan Fillion and Molly C. Quinn in Castle

Now, usually when I tell people to watch a show it's because it's a cult favorite that pushes boundaries and is in imminent danger of cancellation. Anyone who read my column in the Swarthmore Phoenix will remember the way I shamelessly begged people to watch Fringe for weeks and weeks (and weeks). In my defense, Fringe was renewed for a fourth season, yet another piece of evidence that executives and showrunners at FOX read my musings on a regular basis. (If you need more proof, this was published on February 3, one month and eight days before FOX aired the Glee episode "Sexy," which addressed the many, many problems I had with Brittany and Santana's relationship. Some might say this was a coincidence, but I suspect that the more accurate explanation is that Ryan Murphy reads my writing."

However, today I'm here to suggest you watch ABC's Castle, which is in no danger of getting canceled, having been renewed waaaay back in January, and which is far from a cult show, despite the fact that star Nathan Fillion played Mal Reynolds in Firefly, a cult show if there ever was one. And since Castle is fairly popular and no danger, I'm not going to beg; instead, I'm simply going to suggest that you devote an hour of your time on Mondays to watching this fun, witty police procedural.

I know that "fun" and "witty" are words that don't often appear in the same clause as "police procedural," unless they happen to be separated by a string of negative polarity items. (For a definition of negative polarity items, look here.) However, Castle takes what is often a dour, humorless drama - as the sexual assault of the week on Law & Order: SVU demonstrates as well as anything - and makes it into a show so lighthearted, so full of witty one-liners and sharp comedy, that you almost forget there are murders taking place every week.

A large part of the humor on Castle comes from its irascible leading man, best-selling author Richard Castle, brought to life by Fillion. Anyone who has seen Fillion in anything - Firefly, Doctor Horrible's Singalong Blog, or Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place - knows that the man had an undeniable, rouge-ish charm about him, one that permits him to say truly disgusting things and still come across as cute. (Example: his immortal line from Doctor Horrible, also know as the best line in the history of anything, which can be found here. I'm not going to repeat it, because this is a family site, and by family site I mean that my parents read it.) Fillion's natural charm makes the shallow, cocky Castle seem lovable rather than awful, and makes his readings of lines such as "I really am ruggedly handsome, aren't I?" come across as cute while also being impossibly vain.

At first glance, it might seem that it is only Fillion's charm and admittedly rugged good looks (despite the weight he has gained since his Firefly days) that keep the show from running into the ground. After all, it is a fairly formulaic procedural based on a laughable premise. In short, Castle is called by the NYPD when a murder is committed that resembles a crime in one of his books, and stays to shadow Detective Beckett (Stana Katic) because he is friends with the mayor. Apparently his friendship with the mayor extends so far that he is allowed in interrogations, on stakeouts, even in raids. Sometimes he even fires a gun, not that he's had any sort of police training or anything. Because that would be totally cool with the trained law enforcement officials he endangers with his lack of skill on a regular basis. But back to the show...

The reason that the premise occasionally seems to make sense is Castle's chemistry with his costars, in particular with Beckett. I'm getting a little tired of the will-they-or-won't-they plot that's been dragging on for two seasons now, but such is the curse of detective procedurals; you have great chemistry between your two leads, but if they actually get together the momentum of the whole thing just collapses. Just ask Moonlighting. Or don't, because it got canceled a mere one season after the two leads hooked up. However, despite the laggardly pace of the Castle-Beckett romance (or lack thereof), it can't be denied that the leads have excellent chemistry, and their scenes are always entertaining.

The show's best scenes, however, are those that involve Castle and his teenage daughter, Alexis (Molly C. Quinn). They may not have the most realistic parent-child relationship on TV - either that, or there's a lot of yelling and door-slamming that happens off screen - but their storylines distill the nice moments from the stew of angst that is being a teenager in a lovely, funny and often touching way. I would take their relationship over Beckett and Castle's any day, and not just because scenes that involve Castle and Alexis also tend to involve Susan Sullivan as Castle's mother Martha, and she's just great. She's like a nicer, more supportive Lucille Bluth, and while I love me some Lucille, after watching so much Arrested Development and Archer, it's nice to see a parent occasionally support their child.

Castle is far from groundbreaking television, but it's a sharp, quick-witted take on the usually bogged-down procedural genre, with a charming male lead who is matched by the supporting cast. In addition to Beckett, Alexis and Martha, Seamus Dever and Jon Huertas are great as the interracial cop duo Ryan and Esposito. They always seem to have popped in from their own buddy cop movie - one of the good ones, not Cop Out or Rush Hour 3. Some people like the episodes where Castle goes darker, like this season's two-parter in which Castle and Beckett foil a terrorist attack in New York that had undertones of 9/11, but for me the best episodes are the one in which the quips are constant and the good time are rollin'. Sometimes the bullets fly too, but that's all part of the fun.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my god. It really is like Ryan and Esposito have their own buddy cop movie going on and just pop into Castle several times an episode to do the grunt work.

    Also, I love how Ryan and Esposito get their feelings hurt when Castle clearly favors Beckett in something. They definitely have their own little crushes. Also, I surprisingly like Esposito and Laney when they randomly have scenes together. And Ryan is the sweetest little whipped fiance ever.

    Castle, for me, is the example of the fact that good characters, solid acting, and witty writing totally trumps all of the high concept bullshit that the networks try. (I love high concept, but pretty much only if it has the three aforementioned factors.) And Castle's ratings totally support me.

    Also, have I mentioned that I am completely and totally in love with Kate Beckett? Maybe once or twice.