As much as I enjoy mysteries, there’s something that’s always bothered me about shows where ordinary people solve crimes. It’s not necessarily that they solve the case, it’s that they keep getting into situations where people get murdered, or a priceless gem is stolen, or the heir to a family fortune gets kidnapped. This happened weekly to Jessica Fletcher, Father Dowling, and Dr. Mark Sloan. It defies the law of averages, not to mention reason. And let me tell you, if I were friends with any of those people, I would cut ties immediately for fear that I’d be the subject of their next case.
Castle finds a nice way around this problem. It doesn’t quite hold up under serious scrutiny, but I like that they address the improbability of being around death and larceny this much and give the lead character a somewhat plausible reason for being involved in solving these cases.
Like Jessica Fletcher, Rick Castle is a mystery writer; although he’s more the Mickey Spillane to her Agatha Christie. He’s written a number of successful books about a private investigator, Derrick Storm, with cute names like Storm Watch, Storm Crossing, and Hey, it Looks Like it’s Getting Ready to Storm. I may have made that last one up. After a dozen or so books about this character, Castle decides to kill him off so he can write new stories. The only problem is that he has no idea what those new stories will be about. Luckily for him inspiration comes in the form of Detective Kate Beckett and a murder scene staged to look exactly like the cover to one of Castle’s “Storm” novels. Beckett becomes the model for his new protagonist, “Nicky Heat,” and because he’s friends with the mayor, Castle finagles it so that he gets to tag along as a consultant with Beckett on cases in order to do research.
Honestly, the premise is a bit spotty, but I like how the show tries to give a reason for Castle working with the police. Unlike Jessica Fletcher—who must have the worst luck in the world—murders don’t spontaneously happen around him, and that makes it slightly more believable.
I think the fun in shows where ordinary people solve mysteries is that they act as sort of proxies for the viewer. The majority of viewers are not cops, and characters like Rick Castle are just like us in these shows—outsiders. They allow us to inject more of ourselves into each episode because we can relate to them a bit more than the police detectives. Even though Rick Castle is a famous, rich author, he still provides that in for us through his almost boyish delight in working with the police. While on the surface it may seem crass to get excited about homicide, it speaks to that armchair detective in all of us, not to mention the hero in all of us who wants to right wrongs and make the world just a little bit safer.
This show wouldn’t work without Nathan Fillion. I mean, the writing is good and the other actors are great, but he’s the heart of the show and he brings so much charm and fun to the role that it’s just a joy to watch him. I’ve been a fan of Fillion ever since the much-missed Firefly and I’m glad to see him on a regular show. His Rick Castle comes off as funny, shallow, and charming, while still conveying a basic decency and strong sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. You can tell that Fillion is having a blast playing this character, and that enjoyment is infectious.
Playing opposite him is Stana Katic as Kate Beckett. She has the unenviable task of playing straight man (woman?) to Castle’s antics, and she does it great. Most of the time she gives off the feeling that she’s barely putting up with Castle, but at the same time you can tell that she secretly enjoys his company; Fillion and Katic have great chemistry.
That chemistry gives rise to the inevitable “Will They? Won’t They” speculation with fans, and this leads me to my only critique of the show—it’s formulaic. Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen shows where writers solve mysteries, or where a man and woman crime-solving duo walk the tightrope of sexual tension. Castle and Beckett may as well be the Nick and Nora Charles of the two-thousands. None of the episodes necessarily break new grounds or reinvent the genre, but in its defense, I don’t think it was ever meant to do that. The strength of the show lies in the appealing nature of the characters and its great cast. It’s not quite a comedy, like Moonlighting, but it’s also not quite a mystery-of-the-week like Murder, She Wrote. It’s a fun mishmash of the two styles that sets out to tell an enjoyable story every week.
Each episode is presented in widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio enhanced for 16×9 televisions with the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The show looks and sounds great with no problems with either the audio or video.
Audio Commentary, “Flowers for Your Grave” with Creator/Executive Producer Andrew Marlowe, Executive Producer Rob Bowman, and Actors Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Jon and Huertas.
Audio Commentary, “A Chill Goes Through Her Veins” with Creator/Executive Producer Andrew Marlowe, Executive Producer Rob Bowman, and Actors Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Jon Huertas and Molly Quinn.
Audio Commentary, “A Death in the Family” with Creator/Executive Producer Andrew Marlowe, Executive Producer Rob Bowman, and Actors Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Jon Huertas and Molly Quinn.
Audio Commentary, “A Death in the Family” with Actors Seamus Dever and Jon Huertas.
Since the audio commentary for each episode is essentially the same, I’m just going to talk about them as a whole. Now, I’m not a huge fan of audio commentary tracks, so perhaps I’m not the best judge, but I found these to be a bit dry. There are some funny parts and some tidbits of interesting information, but I found myself zoning out halfway through. It’s nothing against the people involved–it’s just me. So unless you’re a fan of commentary tracks, I’d skip this.
Whodunit: The Genesis of Castle (6:15) – A nice behind the scenes featurette. It doesn’t give a lot of information, but it was kind of cool because you could really tell how much everyone involved enjoys working on the show.
Castle’s Godfather (7:16) – Andrew Marlowe, Rob Bowman and Stephen J. Cannell talk about the origins of the character and what it owes to older shows like The Rockford Files. It was pretty interesting, but Bowman and Cannell spend a little too much time reminiscing about their past collaborations.
Write-Along with Nathan Fillion (9:07) – More love for Stephen J. Cannell. Nathan Fillion spends a few days shadowing the author to research his role. It’s pretty funny and worth a watch.
Misdemeanors: Bloopers & Outtakes (2:37) – Most of the time blooper reels are only funny to the people involved; this one is a little better than your average one, but it’s nothing you need to go out of your way to watch.
With a rich ensemble cast, clever writing, and a strong lead in Nathan Fillion, Castle is a fun show whose strengths outweigh its weaknesses and it’s a show that I look forward to every Monday night. Anyone interested in a strong, character-driven show should check this out. Highly recommended.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents Castle: the Complete First Season. Starring Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Jon Huertas, Seamus Dever, Susan Sullivan and Molly Quinn. Running time: 430 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: September 22, 2009. Available at Amazon.