A long, long time ago, I was hooked on C.S.I. I watched the original series, and then I branched off into New York and even threw in a little Miami before David Caruso became unbearable. I also watched Criminal Minds and NCIS.
To put it bluntly, I was a closet fan of police procedurals.
And then Mandy Patinkin left Criminal Minds. William Petersen left C.S.I. Without two of my favorite characters, those series fell flat, and the other series and spinoffs weren’t unique enough to keep me watching. So for quite a while, my TV habits were completely procedural-free.
Until I started watching Castle.
First Thing’s First
First off, watch this. If you’ve never seen this, it pretty much sums up everything Castle is about. It’s only 35 seconds long and full of win.
Avoiding the Curse
Until Castle, I was pretty sure that Nathan Fillion’s career was cursed. I mean, since Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place, he hasn’t headlined a series that’s lasted over a single season. He even commented on the phenomenon on Twitter.
So when I saw that Castle had been greenlit, I sighed. As great as he is as an actor, I thought he deserved better than to be buried in the pile of procedurals that inundate our TVs every season. I was a little sad that he wouldn’t have another Firefly-quality series in him for a while.
But I hadn’t seen the series. And since he is one of my favorite actors, I was happy that he finally got a lasting job that would get him some much-needed mainstream attention.
Quirkiest Quirk That Ever Quirked a Quirk
Nathan Fillion is a lot like Will Smith. No matter what movie or show you see him in, he plays the same character. If you don’t like that character, you probably won’t think he’s a good actor. But if you do like the character, then he’s one of your favorites.
One of my biggest fears for Castle was that the formula a police procedural would have to follow would hide some of the quirkiness that made me a fan in the first place. I was wrong; if I didn’t know better, I would just think that he was adlibbing all his lines because he’s just as funny and witty as Richard Castle as he was as Mal Reynolds.
The Formula 2.0
Procedurals follow a formula: show the crime, show some evidence, suspects and some red herrings, solve the crime/find the culprit within the hour.
It’s a formula that works. God knows we have enough shows on the air that follow it to prove it. So when my wife and I first sat down with Castle, we didn’t expect a lot. We expected some funny dialogue just because of Fillion’s inclusion, but everything else was going to be routine.
However, what makes Castle different is that I legitimately care about Richard Castle and Detective Beckett. Unlike most procedurals, they’re real people. I don’t know (or care) about anyone on C.S.I. besides Grissom or their personal lives. I do with Castle.
Maybe I’m biased because Richard Castle is a writer, and I fancy myself one, too. But I think it’s more than that. The thing about Richard Castle is that he has a family, and they play an integral role in the show, grounding the cases and characters in a way that a barebones crime-of-the-week show just can’t.
I would love to have the kind of relationship with my kids that Castle and Alexis portray on TV. I think that his and his mother’s relationship is funny, and I enjoy the way they interact. I even got mad at Beckett for kissing her ex-boyfriend in episode 9.
My wife pointed out that I like this show so much is not because it’s not a formulaic procedural, but because they break the formula up with legitimately interesting scenes that let viewers see the characters interacting like real people, making what they’re doing as part of procedural matter.
That said, there are a few gripes in how the series handles certain elements. It’s almost a guarantee that Richard Castle will say something ridiculous after being told to remain silent or he’ll ruin a situation. He is also told to stay in the car in nearly every episode, and I can count one time where he actually did as he was told, and even then, he was responsible for catching the suspect. While funny and engaging on a stand-alone basis, serially watching the first season causes those kinds of situations to stand out when they might not on a weekly basis.
If there’s one thing that Castle does unabashedly well is glamorizing being an author. Richard Castle has a poker night with James Patterson in the first episode, so it’s established he’s a big timer early on. We’re introduced to him at a rooftop release party for his newest book that has an open bar, a modern theme, and even a little breast autographing.
Unfortunately, that’s ridiculous. Book signings are kind of mundane events, even for the big guys, and release parties like that are the stuff of TV shows. …Oh, wait.
Either way, it’s a positive from my perspective when any show can get people to read. And that’s just what Castle did. By releasing the very novel that he’s writing during Season 1, ABC broke the fourth wall and created a NYT bestseller. It’s not even credited with an author other than Richard Castle.
I’m reading the book right now on my Kindle, and it’s fun. It’s not going to be the next Ulysses (thank goodness), but it’s a decent enough crime novel that reads like I’m watching an episode of the series. Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook are just Detective Beckett and Richard Castle because the whole point of the show is that Heat Wave is being written and based on Castle’s experiences with the NYPD, but I don’t mind. I like those characters. Plus it’s fun to read this fictional bestseller’s novel.
The worst thing about watching Richard Castle write his novel is that it makes me want to do it, too. I see him in his book-lined office with his feet propped up on his desk as he types away at his laptop, and I get jealous. Heck, reading Heat Wave and watching Castle has made me revisit an old idea I had a while back for a series of paranormal/SF crime novels. Now all I need are a dozen puns on the word “Chance” for my titles, and I’ll be set.
Castle has been renewed for a third season on ABC and the second season is due out on DVD in September (it’s already available on iTunes and Hulu Plus). I’m glad because even though I was kind of dreading digging in and finding a formulaic procedural that wouldn’t distinguish itself from the others out there.
I’m happy to admit that I was wrong. Castle may be a procedural, but it’s one of the better ones out there. It’s fun and quick, while still making sure that it stays true to its genre roots. I was hoping for a bearable procedural so I would be able to watch one of my favorite actors again, and I found a new resident with high priority on my DVR.