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
This first 10 episode season is available on DVD only.
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.
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.”
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.
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.