Thursday, December 06, 2012

Castle: Season One

I had put off watching Castle for a long time, for a lot of reasons. I worried that it was only popular because of Nathan Fillion, because sometimes super fans don't always have the best record and are very forgiving of things if their favorite actor is involved (I'm guilty of this too). Also, because I watch way too many murder mysteries. It's one of my favorite genres, but I've felt a little burnt out on them.

I started watching a different police procedural type show recently, and I only got a few episodes in before I just gave up because it felt like more of the same. There was nothing to draw me in, I was just bored with how predictable they've all gotten. And none of the characters really interested me either. I was really afraid that was going to happen with Castle too.
It only took ten minutes of the first episode to change my mind. All I needed was to meet the main characters and I was sold and ready to give this more time.

The thing about mysteries, both novels and shows, is that they are a well worn genre. There are certain character archetypes, relationships, red herrings. The problem is, that for mystery fans, you can't leave these things out. It's a danger with any kind of genre work, you have to be part of the genre but you don't want to be the exact same as everything that came before.

The problem is, that a lot of shows try to circumvent this by doing the whole "but that's in books/on tv/in movies, this is real life!" argument. Don't get me wrong, Castle goes into this too, but they do it in a way that I love. Instead of the skeptical character going "this is real life!" you have Castle spinning his crazy stories and Beckett saying that this is police work, not a novel, and they need evidence. And on top of that: Castle's theories are usually wrong.

The show is just so creative. They're able to give the characters so much backstory, without it feeling forced or inconsistent. Even if the writers don't have the entire long story mapped out, they're very good at staying on track with their characters. Normally the first season of a show is where the characters are figuring out who they are, and the actors are trying to find themselves in the role. But Castle didn't feel that way.

Every single actor on the show is pulling their weight, and they're all amazing. Every character that could be a cardboard stereotype, especially Castle's family, isn't. There isn't a single recurring character that isn't layered, interesting, and awesome in some way.

Even the "Moonlighting" style relationship between Castle and Beckett doesn't feel tiresome and played out, but like two people genuinely getting to know each other and having a relationship build from begrudging co-workers to friends to possibly more.

I haven't really gotten into the specifics of season one, I know. But that's because the specific episodes almost aren't even the point of the show. Yes, the murders are all a little weird but the resolution of them is actually my kind of mystery. They keep me guessing, and with one notable exception, I almost always am following the same dead end trail as the detectives until they prove it wrong. It's the first time in a very long time that I've been excited to not know what's happening, and to have no desire to look up spoilers and know things ahead of time.

Also, unlike some shows on television (some of which Castle calls out without naming and those jokes are hilarious) they actually follow police procedure that seems realistic. Plus, so far I haven't seen them break any laws or violate anybody's civil rights to get the bad guy like some other shows I could name. Beckett actually delegates responsibilities to other departments and members of her team in a realistic way, rather than having some lab tech question suspects or a showing a beat cop running forensic tests or something.

The first season of Castle is only ten episodes, and I can see how it might have been a hard sell to the network in the first place so they only ordered a short season. But it finds it's groove so quickly that I'm still terrified it can't stay this good for that long. But then the season finale ends not on a physical cliffhanger (somebody held at gunpoint, somebody kidnapped, whatever) but on a very strong emotional one. You have to watch the next episode, not to find out what happens (though that's part of it) but to find out how they FEEL about what happened.

And that, my friends, is the mark of good television.