Weekend Review – “Castle: Season One”

By popular demand, here’s a review of a non-genre detective series starring Captain Tightpants himself, Nathan Fillion.

Cast and Crew Information

Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle
Stana Katic as Kate Beckett
Molly Quinn as Alexis Castle
Susan Sullivan as Martha Rodgers
Jon Huertas as Javier Esposito
Seamus Dever as Kevin Ryan
Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Roy Montgomery
Tamala Jones as Lanie Parish

Created by Andrew Marlowe
Written by Andrew Marlowe (3 episodes), Barry Schindel, Charles Murray, David Grae, Elizabeth Davis, Gabrielle G. Stanton & Harry Werksman, Moira Kirland and Will Beall (1 episode each)
Directed by Rob Bowman (3 episodes), Bryan Spicer (3 episodes), John Terlesky (2 episodes), Dean White and Jamie Babbit

Availability Information

This first 10 episode season is available on DVD only.

Premise

Richard Castle is a best selling crime author seeking inspiration. It gets dropped in his lap when someone starts killing people using the signature bizarre murders from his novels. In helping the police with this case, he finds he enjoys working on actual crimes as much as he enjoys working with Detective Kate Beckett, and uses his influence with New York’s politicians to make sure he can stick around to research his next novel, Heat Wave.

High Point

There was a time when the personalities of the crime fighters in detective and cop shows took centre stage, and the mystery unfolded around them. This was the model that characterized Columbo, McCloud, Quincy, Kojak, the Rockford Files, and others. Then came Law and Order, and suddenly every major network put procedure first and characters second. USA has gone back to characters with Psych and Monk, while Castle seems to be the only major network crime show to have adopted the model once more. The character interactions are ever present, while the cases march on. Castle himself is a very fun character, best described in his own words: “I’m a wiseass, not a jackass.”

Low Point

The incredibly rich characterization of Castle, his daughter, his mother, and Kate Beckett stand in stark contrast to the almost complete lack of definition of the other four regulars. We have almost no knowledge of the people behind the badges for Esposito, Ryan, Montgomery or Parish.

The Review

This feels original, not because it’s never been seen before, but because it’s combining old school character emphasis to modern filmmaking techniques. Castle also surprises by removing a lot of the usual trappings of the shows, bringing depth to the seemingly superficial lead almost immediately. I give it 5 out of 6.

The effects are few. This is, after all, not a genre show. We’ve got makeup jobs on the murders, and an obviously CGI windblown feather in one episode. The practical effects work, but the CGI didn’t. I give it 4 out of 6.

The stories are effectively told. Most detective shows in the past thirty years have used one of two formulas: either they focus on character, in which case the criminal is obvious from the start and we see the banter as the detective(s) close(s) in, or the characters take a back seat to procedure and we get a marathon of red herrings before we get the final solution. This manages the best of both worlds, with character driven stories and banter amongst the leads while still showing police procedure going from one red herring to another until everything finally comes together. I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting is very well done by the leads. Nathan Fillion fits the role like a glove. (There may be good reason for this. He grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, where I live. I’ve met two different people who claim to have known him in high school, and both people tell me that he acts very much like Castle in real life.) Susan Sullivan has been on Broadway for years, Stana Katic suits her role well, and Molly Quinn is one of the best teen actors I’ve seen. This series will not be the last we see of her. The other leads mainly stand there reading lines, but they haven’t been given anything else to do by the scripts, so it never seems out of place. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is great. Rob Bowman has impressed me as a director before, when he directed “X-Files: Fight the Future” and when he took the script for “Reign of Fire” and made the movie watchable. (Looking at his IMDB entry, he impressed me before that, but I wasn’t reading credits when I watched “Quantum Leap” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” back in junior high.) He sets the style for the show in directing the pilot, and sticks around to maintain that feel along the way. The little things that happen along the way work for laughs the way they’re shot, but then are given appropriate gravity later, often through the cinematography. (For example, the bit with the text message in episode 9, “Little Girl Lost.”) I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is excellent. Fillion delivers the laughs, while Katic can just as easily dish back the retorts. The interaction between Fillion and Quinn is perfect, playing out as an absolutely convincing father/daughter relationship that adds a new and welcome dimension to the “detective” that leads the cast. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, this is a strong series, and a welcome hour of entertainment for those who enjoy deductive reasoning and/or witty banter. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Castle: The Complete First Season receives 35 out of 42.

7 replies on “Weekend Review – “Castle: Season One””

  1. rickyjames says:

    My wife watches Castle regularly and I go along for the ride as much to watch her responses to the material as to enjoy the show myself. I would argue this show is closer to a B42 genre than you think – it is not a detective show, it is a total fantasy aimed solely at women. Castle is ABC’s answer to TNT’s The Closer, which is also a female power fantasy (ditzy Georgia peach in control of tough LAPD murder squad while dealing adroitly with former lover Chief of Police boss / current cuddly FBI hubby!!!) I have to painlessly sit through at our house.

    But back to Castle. As a guy I’ll watch Nikki Heat, er, Kate anytime and I’ll follow Mal, er, Ricky (nice to see that name making a comeback!) anywhere just for the laughs. Too bad this framework doesn’t allow Fillion to express his awesome dramatic side much.

    I have to watch out for estrogen overdose with Castle, tho. All the male coworkers are paper-thin cardboard cutouts offering zero workplace hassle. Castle’s dad is a total phantom and Becket’s dad is solely notable for buying childhood baseball tickets before she moved on to college trips to Russia all on her own. Instead, we’ve got a dead mom as the long-term-arc angst engine, an ultra-cougar grandmom and a sweetie-pie daughter that is raising dad instead of the other way around. Even the ex-wife is an occasional agreeable charming distraction (there’s a fantasy, let me tell you), as is the fashionista coroner. Cases with lots of money, lots of glitz, lots of sizzle, all with the woman holding the gun and the lone guy as a dreamboat rich charming rouge – what a wonderful escapist combination, seriously. They even had the decency to let Ricky dress up as Mal for Halloween. Bottom line, ABC has a hit, it’s a good one, and they deserve the ratings.

    I just hope ABC can remember the last time they had a similar series this good, and just what killed it. I am referring of course to the mid-80s total classic Moonlighting – one of the best TV shows of all time, period. Bruce Willis took his time becoming a megastar in this vehicle by Doing The Dance with Cybil Shepard, but then the writers decided to move on from the key Moonlighting element of UST (unresolved sexual tension) and introduced Mark Harmon as a series arc guest star astronaut after Cybil. Yeah, I was thrilled along with the rest of the fans when Bruce FINALLY broke down Cybil’s door in both a literal and figurative sense – but the morning after was ugly for the show.

    I say let Nikki Heat smolder for a long, long time so Nathan can become even bigger than Bruce.

    BTW, if you’re going to go non-genre and review Castle, will you PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE extend the same courtesy to Breaking Bad? Season 1 is out on DVD now and Season 2 comes out very soon, before the March 21 Season 3 opener. Bryan Cranston has one not one but TWO best dramatic actor Emmy awards on this show for a VERY good reason. His Walter White character is literally losing his soul while becoming an actual supervillian with his knowledge and misuse of science – that’s a hell of a lot closer the B42 genres than Castle. Besides, in BB Season 2 John De Lance plays the opposite of Q with equal flair – a man with no power to change the reality around him. Stunning guest star role worth watching, hope Donald comes back to meet Walt in the bar once more this season…

    There’s STILL time to catch up and get into Breaking Bad on March 21 from a standing start – watch the six-minute-catchup video at the AMC site. DON’T watch the Ten Top Breaking Bad Moments video if you haven’t seen the series – you don’t want to spoil watching the DVD set, which you’re gonna do once you’re hooked on this show. It’s as addictive as crack…

    And if we’re going to start reviewing non-genre just because the show has a popular sci-fi star as lead, how about leaving the estrogen express behind and reviewing the excellent Men Of A Certain Age with Captain Jonathan Archer himself, Scott Bakula? This show is EXCELLENT. Not a fantasy at all, but a whimsical view of what it really means to be a man when you’re far enough along in life for your dreams to have faded and reality to have taken a life of its own. To (mis)quote Sting, It’s gonna happen to you just like it happened to me, my fellow B42ers, might as well take a look….

  2. TwistyHat says:

    Hey, regarding characters, its not true to suggest this is the only one. Something like “The Mentalist” clearly has one hell of a character as the lead and doesn’t really care that much about the procedural (and its generally better cast that the people reading lines on castle)

    • Fez says:

      Except that the premise of The Mentalist was mostly a rip-off of Psych, which was already mentioned as a USA show with a good lead character. :-)

      Now if you want to mention a network show with a good lead character that was left out, how about Charlie Crews on Life, formerly on NBC. Sadly, it was canceled far too early.

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