Timing means everything, and as I continue through my brain-dead summer of television watching in search of light-weight, addictive television, I returned to ABC’s “Castle,” a show that I reviewed unfavorably here just five months ago. Mostly, I stand by my initial assessment of the show, based on the pilot alone. But as I’ve been reminded of on several occasions, it’s not always fair to base a review on the pilot alone. The kinks haven’t been worked out. The chemistry hasn’t been established. The running jokes haven’t been put into play. And the characters haven’t been sufficiently developed.
And, during the middle of July when expectations have been appropriately lowered, a show that you once wrote off can amiably get you through 420 minutes of a summer where only a few blockbusters dominate the movie world (a check of my local movie listings, in fact, recently revealed that I’d seen everything playing in my city except for Ice Age 3). It’s not that I’m hard up for substance; I’m hard-up for frivolous entertainment, and “Castle,” capably provides it, largely thanks to the charming wryness of Nathan Fillion. As I wrote in my original review, I still feel that Fillion warrants better than this — he deserves his own action franchise. But if he’s got to slum it for network television, at least we can be the beneficiaries.
Fillion plays Rick Castle, a bestselling author and one cocky motherfucking stud. After he’s drawn into a murder investigation spearheaded by Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) in the pilot episode, Castle decides — as a means to research his next novel — to shadow Beckett’s murder investigations, essentially acting as Beckett’s detective partner. Katic is indeed another no-nonsense female cop straight out of the “Law and Order” female prosecutor mold, but over the course of the 10-episode first season, she’s begun to show a few cracks in her icy veneer. Not enough to betray her hard-nosed archetype, but enough to give her a modicum of emotional depth. And while I stand my my initial assessment that she looks like like a runway model pretending to be a cop, she does convincingly make believe. She’s also incredibly easy on the eyes (although, at some point next season, Fillion and Katic should have a square-jaw off). The writers have also proven me wrong: They’ve managed, besides a few flirtatious moments, to keep Castle and Beckett apart romantically, while keeping the prospect in play.
But what I most appreciate about the evolution of “Castle” is the way it deftly blends gruesome murders (each episode begins with a beautifully shot dead body — the cinematographer on this show is outstanding) with a smart sense of humor and a dose of pathos, compliments of Caste’s charming and precious 15-year-old daughter (Molly C Quinn) and his heavy-drinking, melodramatic mother (Susan Sullivan, playing a dramedy version of Jessica Walter’s character on “Arrested Development”). The lines can get a little hokey, and the occasional literary references are too obvious, but it works, so long as you don’t ask for too much.
The cases themselves, overall, are saturated with red herrings yet still amazingly predictable. But the easy-going cast (the two junior detectives on the show — Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever — add an extra layer of levity) and the familiar rhythm of “Castle” kicks it up a notch over the most of the other overly serious procedurals, like “CSI” (Castle even takes a couple of swipes at their competition). It’s good company to keep, as you’re winding down at the end of the day, and it makes a suitable companion to “Burn Notice” and “Psych” to get you through the lazy days of summer.