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Reviewed by Will Harris
ometimes, a writer needs to eat a little crow to maintain his humility. This is one of those cases.
When “Castle” premiered on ABC in March of 2009, I wrote one of my “Greetings to the New Show” columns for Premium Hollywood, and to say that I was less than thrilled with the series pilot would be an understatement. I wrote off “Castle” as not being nearly as good as Nathan Fillion – who plays the show’s title character – deserved, denied that there was any chance that it would help maintain the career momentum that he’d built via “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” and his guest stint on “Desperate Housewives,” and closed by saying that, “although I’m willing to admit that I could be wrong, my suspicion is that he’ll be moving on to greener pastures far sooner than later.”
That’s not just an “oops” for my inaccurate prediction about the fate of “Castle,” which has returned to ABC for a second season, but also for my dislike of the series based solely on its pilot – although, even having now watched it a second time, I still agree with everything I said about it at the time. More on that in a moment, after we set the stage for those who haven’t actually seen the show before.
“Castle” is the story of novelist Richard Castle (Fillion), who’s written two dozen successful crime novels but has decided to kill off his most famous character. Castle finds himself in the middle of a criminal investigation when a killer decides to utilize murders from his novels in real life, but after the case is solved, he decides to use his connections (he’s one of the mayor’s buddies) to remain as a consultant with the police force – specifically, working with Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) and her team – and get ideas for future books.
In my review of the pilot, I said that “the show thrusts Castle and Beckett together, force-feeds us the fact that they have completely different personalities, and does so in a way where we’re clearly supposed to root for them to eventually get together. It’s straight out of the textbook for Romantic Action-Comedies 101 – you know, the one that’s packaged with the Sledgehammer of Subtlety – and even with Fillion’s natural charisma, it never fails to feel anything less than forced.” And it’s true: there isn’t much chemistry between Fillion and Katic at first. But then, would there be any chemistry between Castle and Beckett? Over the course of the season, the two of them do find a nice middle ground where Beckett begrudgingly comes to appreciate Castle’s observational gifts and respect his relationship with his family.
Oh, right: we haven’t mentioned his family yet. Castle’s twice divorced, but although he only tolerates his ex-wives out of obligation to his daughter (his first wife gifted him with the sweet and smart Alexis, played by the sweet and smart Molly Quinn) and his career (his second wife is his publisher). Alexis lives with Castle, but she isn’t the only one. There’s also Castle’s mother, Martha Rodgers (Susan Sullivan), who is forever meddling in her son’s affairs. The scenes with Fillion and Quinn are invariably amongst the best of any given episode, so solid is the father/daughter chemistry between them, and Sullivan rarely fails to provide comic relief when needed, which is to be expected, given her extended run on “Dharma and Greg.”
There’s one highly underdeveloped portion of “Castle,” however, and that’s the cast of characters who work alongside Castle and Beckett at the police station. Beckett’s right-hand men, Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever), are little more than pencil sketches who assist with the various cases on an as-the-plot-decrees basis, and their boss, Roy Montgomery (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), is only slightly more evolved. There is, however, potential in the character of Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones), the medical examiner who’s also one of Beckett’s best friends, but we’ll have to see more of her outside of the office to get a real feel for her.
“Castle” still isn’t the greatest or the most creative detective series out there, but it’s definitely a solid role for Fillion, who has a way with a one-liner and a smirk that makes women swoon, and as noted, the family dynamic within Castle’s household is almost as much of a reason to watch as the procedural aspects of the series are. The more you watch “Castle,” the more it grows on you, so give Season One a chance, and you might find yourself suckered into watching Season Two, too.
Special Features: This is one of those first-season sets so filled with bonus material that you know it was a harmonious relationship between the studio and the series creators. There are audio commentaries from the cast and crew, a trio of featurettes (“Whodunit: The Genesis of ‘Castle,’” “Write-Along with Nathan Fillion,” where the show’s star spends a day with a real mystery writer, and “Castle’s Godfather,” which focuses on writer / TV producer Stephen J. Cannell), and “Misdemeanors,” a collection of bloopers and outtakes from the show’s first season.