In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, ABC
There’s a long and honourable tradition on television of mystery authors going out and fighting crime. Obviously, back in the 80s, there was Murder She Wrote, more appropriately entitled Large Scale Holocaust She Wrote or Little Old Lady of Death – Don’t Let Her Come Near You.
But in the 70s, there was Department S and spin-off Jason King, which saw the original Austin Powers, novelist Jason King, solve crimes the police couldn’t; Edward Woodward’s crime writer Maxwell Beckett cowered his way around murder scenes in the 90s with the help of his more able assistant, Nikki, in Over My Dead Body; and in the noughties, we have forensic anthropologist-come-author, Temperance Brennan, helping David Boreanaz in Bones.
There’s probably more, but I can’t be arsed to list them: fancy a go anyone as part of a weekend meme?
Now comes Rick Castle (Firefly/Serenity/Drive/PG Porn‘s Nathan Fillion), a bad-boy novelist with extreme writer’s block who’s unfortunately just killed off his lucrative main character. Fortunately (?), a killer starts copying scenes from his books and he finds himself having to help the police with their enquiries. Except the police happens to be attractive fan Kate Beckett (Heroes’ Stana Katic).
Suddenly, he feels his creative juices flowing again. Cue Moonlighting for the 21st century?
Wildly famous mystery novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is bored with his own success. Then he learns that a real-world copycat killer has started staging murder scenes depicted in his novels. Castle is questioned by NYPD Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), a bright and aggressive detective who keeps her investigations under tight rein. Though they instantly clash, sparks of another sort also begin to fly, leading both to danger and a hint of romance as Castle steps in to help find the killer. And once that case is solved, he and Beckett build on their new relationship as they look to solve more strange homicides in New York – as much fun as one can have with death and murder.
Castle is kept grounded by his Broadway diva mother, Martha Rodgers (Susan Sullivan), and quick-witted teenage daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn). Also starring in the series are Ruben Santiago-Hudson as NYPD Captain Roy Montgomery, Tamala Jones as Medical Examiner Lanie Parish, Jon Huertas as NYPD Detective Javier Esposito and Seamus Dever as NYPD Detective Kevin Ryan.
“Castle” is produced by ABC Studios. Andrew Marlowe (writer, “Air Force One”) serves as executive producer/writer, along with executive producers Armyan Bernstein, Barry Schindel, Rob Bowman (who also directed the pilot) and Laurie Zaks.
Is it any good?
As with just about every “mystery novelist fights crimes” series, this is a relatively light affair, as much about having fun as it is about solving crimes. Castle is mainly concerned with the wild boy antics of Fillion and the will-they, won’t-they relationship of Castle and Beckett – the fact they solve relatively obvious and mundane crimes while they’re flirting is neither here nor there.
In a lot of ways, the show’s really quite conventional. In common with other crime shows du jour, such as The Mentalist, Bones, Lie To Me and Criminal Minds, there’s an ensemble team of thinly characterised helpers backing up the heroes. Castle and Beckett’s flirting is one of those painful, TV-style affairs that doesn’t stem from real relationships or real people, but comes from a pressing need to keep the flirtation going on for as long as possible to keep people watching while having the requisite number of comedy moments per episode. And no one, from Castle through his overly sensible daughter, his man-hungry actress mother, his ex-wife publisher to Beckett and the police captain are written like believable human beings, just sources of potential humour.
However, there is some promise. Fillion and Katic both add far more to the roles than is on the page, with Fillion’s Castle showing some sensitivity when he uses his author skills to find out something that’s painful to Beckett and realising he’s gone too far. While a show called Castle might be tempted to make the episodes all about Castle, Beckett is nearly as well developed that you never get the feeling she’s there purely to make up the numbers and has strengths of her own.
There’s also a neat ‘knowingness’ about the show. When the murderer seems to have been found, Castle goes to a poker match with real-life authors James Patterson and Stephen J Cannell, who advise him that the plot so far is rubbish and that there needs to be a different ending or the audience will hate it. So Castle returns to the investigation and discovers it’s just so.
The show also plays with the conventions of crime fiction, with characters pointing out that in real-life, there are backlogs for fingerprint analysis and nothing is ever instant (cf CSI).
However, despite those few flourishes, it’s not really compelling and there’s no one element beyond the actors that lifts the show out of the ordinary yet. A lot will hinge on what happens in the next few episodes, since the show could quickly become formulaic and the will-they, won’t they thread could have the audience shouting “Oh, just get a room” at the television set before too long. I doubt James Patterson and Stephen J Cannell, who turn out to be surprisingly good actors, will turn up in every episode somehow. And since Nathan Fillion is cursed, it’s a good bet that this will get cancelled very soon, judging from all the other shows he’s ever been in.
Nevertheless, reasonably promising and potentially worth sticking with. Here’s a promo so you can see if the show looks interesting – it’s quite painful, though, so don’t take it as entirely representative – followed by a promo for the second episode.