2 out of 5
Created by: Andrew W. Marlowe
covers seasons 1 – 8
Castle gets better. But I don’t care. If you have to wait 5 seasons for something to “get better,” then maybe it’s just that you’re “getting used to it,” and I’m not sure that baseline tolerability is indicative of anything really positive. So: a show with an acceptable premise for maybe a season, maybe two, made it to eight; a show that hardly tries to hide its incompetence behind early- / mid-00s Maxim-style indulgences; a show that’s maybe miscast due to the same reasons; a show that, even by casual procedural standards is very sloppy… This is not a great thing. But a lot of these negatives are somewhat badgered into irrelevance once the show commits a move that would generally be jumping the shark, at that halfway-ish point; its bar is pretty low, so now it can just set shush aside all the bruised toes of its missteps, not fuss with any details, and become a kinda charming, consistent mystery-of-the-week series.
Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a popular mystery writer, who’s committed a potentially grievous error – killing off his main character – in his popular “Derrick Storm” series, in the hopes of shaking himself out of some doldrums. That doesn’t happen until inspiration comes via a different avenue: a killer has been following steps lain out in his books, and the NYPD – specifically Castle fan Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) – call in the writer for an advising assist. Beckett becomes something of a muse for Castle, helping him jump into a new character / series: Nikki Heat. And since Castle has friends in high places, he’s able to swing an ongoing ride-along setup with the NYPD, much to the chagrin of the harried Beckett and her fellow detectives, Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Ryan (Seamus Dever), as Richard’s role in any given case is to throw out wildly fanciful “solutions,” get in the way during shootouts, and crack wise at inopportune moments. And then, also, actually help them solve cases, which is used to further justify his continued presence, while also setting up a hopeful will-they / won’t-they with Beckett.
Alas, while the episodic cases are a mixed bag of CSI / Law & Order norms, the quality of characterization – besides Castle, because he can just be written as a charming goofball, and Fillion excels at that – is bottom-barrel, and the dialogue written to churn us through interrogations and bullpen banter is painful. Huertas and Dever are serviceable as tough guy / naive guy cops, but they’re mostly just used to parrot back ideas, little personality / presence otherwise; Ruben Santiago-Hudson, playing the captain for the first few seasons, is like a relic of a yokel cop from Keystone – his standard “the mayor’s on my ass” scriptings are given negative gravitas, a whiff on casting; medical examiner Lanie (Tamala Jones) is one of the few bright spots early on, allowed to hold her own… when the show isn’t going into the aforementioned Maxim territory by embodying the era’s take on female empowerment: proposing that being a sex object is the most proper form of strength for a woman, and all reasonably attractive men and women want to do is bang one another.
Yes, some of this stuff has been hanging around in TV forever, but during that time, we really thought that progress meant embracing it. And this has the most direct, unfortunate effect on… Katic’s role.
Katic is intended to be the tuff seductress, kicking ass and showing her ass, running hot and cold to turn on man-child Castle and thrill us viewers who only see things in shades of humpability. And Katic, uh, isn’t great at either one of these roles. I assume she tested well with Fillion in auditions, but I do not see it on screen (and famously, behind the lens, the two actors did not get along); compatibility aside, even, her patter as the hard-edged cop does not fit her – the words are staccato when delivered – and there’s always, to me, an element of discomfort when trying to be the femme fatale. Again, later on, when the show is able to settle on its hormones for various reasons, she works – when Katic can just be a regular character, and not this Maxim fantasy type, it all fits together pleasantly. But these initial seasons… oof. It’s very cringey, kept afloat almost solely by Fillion, some vague ongoing threads – mysteries from Beckett’s past – and the popcorn factor of quirky cases that make you want to hang around and see if you guessed the killer correctly, incompetent policing aside. And the hook – the writer / cop teamup – while completely implausible after a certain point, is fun.
But that fun really doesn’t get the chance to flourish until after the show has paraded out other poorly effected tropes, first. Had I been a weekly viewer, I don’t think I would have made it very far. Revisiting this streaming, where soundalike eps can be ignored and auto-play the next one, I just barely trudged into later seasons, and then found myself enjoying it. You choose how you spend your time.