When the premise of Castle was first announced – Nathan Fillion playing a mystery writer who tags along with the NYPD solving crimes – I thought I might swoon. In essence, it was a brand new Murder, She Wrote, with Mal Reynolds as Jessica Fletcher. This, I need hardly point out, is an idea of almost unrivalled greatness.
But when the show began, it was immediately clear that we were dealing with an altogether hipper, more knowing series. It was also much grislier: Castle murders have included a man found with a bag of severed heads (Headhunters, 4,21), a woman killed in a washer-dryer (Nanny McDead, 1, 2), and frozen corpse hanging at a building site (A Chill Goes Through Her Veins, 1,5).
The pre-credits sequence of the opening episode of Castle (Flowers for Your Grave) is a masterclass in speedy, cute exposition. In just 6 and a half minutes, and three scenes – two at a book launch and one at a uber-stylised crime scene, with a dead girl covered in flowers - we learn: that Castle is a rock star author, flocked by groupies, who has just killed off his lead character; that his publisher is his ex-wife; that Beckett is a brilliant detective; that she leads a team of two guys, Ryan and Esposito; that Lanie, the medical examiner, is her friend; that Beckett reads a lot and is a fan of Castle’s books, but has given up on romance; that Castle has writer’s block and needs a new hero; that he lives with his radiant yet swotty daughter and minxy mother. Then our two heroes meet when she arrives to question him about a murder committed in the style of a murder in one of his books. Bang.
By the time the opening credits roll (one of my favourites – as the pen stabs down through the A of Castle, dripping bloody ink all over the shop), we know everything we need to know about how the show will work. Except for why Beckett would let Castle tag along beside her, and that is almost immediately addressed: he’s friends with the mayor.
Beckett and Castle swiftly develop one of the great will-they-won’t-they romances on the small screen. It belongs right up there alongside Mulder and Scully, Niles and Daphne, and Maddie and David, for likelihood of provoking me to bellow, ‘Just KISS, dammit,’ at the television while watching. We’re heading towards the end of Season 4 with no resolution, and I may not be able to bear it much longer.
The supporting cast is crucial to Castle’s success. Ryan and Esposito provide legwork and comic relief. They have also, thanks to Fillion’s excellent Twitter-feed, given the show an interactive perk: whenever Esposito says, ‘Yo,’ (usually on entering a scene), viewers should have a small drink. In my flat, we have extended this to include when Ryan says, ‘Hey,’ too, but that is because we have a drink problem here.
Lanie Parish is Beckett’s confidante as well as a top-notch ME. Though things take a terrible turn for the worse when she misses an episode, and is replaced by Dr Perlmutter, played by Arye Gross. Keen Diagnosis Murder fans will be as afraid of him as I am, after his 4-episode run as the evil Carter Sweeney in the Season 5 finale and Season 6 opener (Obsession, parts 1 & 2, and Resurrection, parts 1 & 2). I simply can’t get past this history, and expect him to go for Castle with a scalpel any day.
The show treads a fine line between goofy fun, gory death and serious jeopardy for our characters. The finale of Season 3 (Knockout, 3, 24) is genuinely shocking, and Season 4 has kept the stakes high – Castle and Beckett have come close to death stuck in a locked freezer, drowning in a sinking car, and at the paws of an angry tiger.
Castle could cruise by on Fillion’s charm alone, but they also like to reward fans of his previous work. Vampire Weekend (2,6), opens with Castle dressing up for Halloween in a suspiciously familiar space-cowboy costume: that of his much-loved and long-lamented character in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. And in case we missed his role as Caleb in Whedon’s earlier hit, Castle greets the body of an apparently dead vampire with the words, ‘Looks like Buffy’s in town.’ And in Season 4, Fillion’s Firefly co-star Adam Baldwin (now finished with Chuck, because the universe is never fair) turns up to guest-star too.
Castle may be a TV show packed with beautiful actors, but it is still all about the writing: Dennis Lehane, James Patterson, and the late Steven J Cannell have appeared as Castle’s mystery-writing poker buddies. And the fans are keen readers too: the Rick Castle novels have sold almost as well in the real world as in the TV show – Heat Wave and Heat Rises (starring Nikki Heat, the character he has based on Beckett), both made the top ten of the New York Times Bestseller List.
Iconic: With this much sexual tension? I think so.
Duffers? Get rid of the scary man from Diagnosis Murder. Or at least have him prove he’s been evil all along.