[19 September 2013]
I started watching Castle, an episodic TV show on ABC about cops, because Tom, a respected colleague and friend in “the biz”, understands films and TV shows at their most basic level: enjoyment, and he suggested I watch this show. If it’s a good time, Tom will like it. So I gave Castle a shot, despite my skepticism for the genre, channel, and subject matter, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t fall for the repetitious charms of Nathan Fillion & Co. Well, mostly.
What’s more amazing than my capitulation to the simple allures of Castle is who actually watches Castle. Tom, for one, is a mid-20s male, as am I. A few other contacts who I discovered like the show have matched that demographic, while my parents and other older sources—who are more in line with the show’s stereotypical expectations—aren’t sure what the show is about. Statistics don’t back this up. Castle is continually bested in the key 18-49 demographic by shows like The Voice and even Hawaii Five-O. These figures seem logical, considering the show’s now-ancient format, but I’m here to tell you they’re unjust and we’re going to fix it. How?
Hashtags. Yes, hashtags. Kids love hashtags, and what started as an exclusive property of the Twitter-sphere has crossed over to Facebook. They will soon take over the world. I mean, there’s nothing stopping new viewers from tuning in this September at the start of season six. Seasons 1-4 chronicled the budding romance between Detective Kate Beckett (StanaKatic) and Novelist Rick Castle (NathanFillion). There were a few developmental points and plenty of enjoyable episodes, but nothing you won’t be able to pick up within the first few episodes of season 5.
Castle and Beckett—adorably nicknamed Caskett—just embarked on their first night of fully-expressed passion in the first episode of Season 5, and it takes some time for the new couple to define their relationship. Many of the usual hijinks remain—Beckett revisits her mother’s murder investigation, Castle is challenged as a parent, Ryan and Esposito get throwaway episodes devoted to their limited character arcs—but what’s notable about Season 5 is how referential the show has become. Castle has always been ready to lightly spoof topical pop culture issues, such as the countless jokes about Fillion’s old show Firefly and his character’s poker game with fellow mystery writers James Patterson, Michael Connelly (TheLincolnLawyer), and Dennis Lehane. Yet Season 5 takes it to a whole other level.
I counted five direct homages and/or parodies in the fifth season of Castle, a monumental figure considering the show’s viewers rely on redundancy for enjoyment. The writers ease their way into it with a genre well-referenced by the show: science fiction. There’s been a murder at Comic-Con, or at least a convention that looks a lot like Comic-Con, and Beckett is called in to investigate. Castle is already there, signing copies of his first graphic novel, so he swings over to the bridge of a Star Trek-esque set where the body was found and begins interviewing the show’s old actors to try to find the killer. The episode was directed by Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander William T. Riker from Star Trek: Next Generations. Formatting doesn’t allow for Frakes to leave much of a visual stamp on the episode, but a quick cameo from the director is sure to please aging fans of a show now popular again with a younger demo thanks to J.J. Abrams.
Next up, Castle takes on cinéma vérité via a musician who’s murdered during the filming of a documentary on his band. The videographers keep rolling, and we see the whole episode from the their viewpoint. It’s easy to imagine the show’s creators utilizing this gimmick simply to allow the affable Fillion to wink directly at the camera rather than slightly to the side of it. After these slight alterations, the show goes into full blown homage mode with a two-episode riff on Taken, a horror spoof of The Ring, and a surprisingly clever 100th anniversary episode honoring Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
The Taken episodes are touch-and-go, with plausibility and believability issues compounding Fillion’s own struggles to channel his character’s slightly unbelievable darker side. Yet Castle and Beckett playing the ying to the other’s yang regarding the paranormal is delightfully light, and the Hitchcockian celebration episode shows just enough self-awareness to make it go down easy.
The same could be said about the five-disc set’s bonus features. They don’t break anything down to its core and dissect it. They’re not here to expose secrets or dive into issues. They’re here for our entertainment, and they mostly do just that. There are deleted scenes on each disc along with a few audio commentaries, including Jonathan Frakes and Nathan Fillion talking over the aforementioned sci-fi episode. “Your Home Is Your Castle” walks us through the set design of Castle’s home among other fancy sets featured on the series.
“Martha’s Master Class” brings in Castle’s mom (Susan Sullivan) to walk us through her direction of the actors in the Rear Window homage. “Lot Cops”, though, takes the cake for most entertaining bonus feature. Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever go through tactical military training and make a joke out of the whole process. It’s pretty well put together for something so few people will see, and both actors embody a perfect blend of their characters and themselves. Sure, there are jokes that don’t land, but the pros outweigh the cons here just as they do on the show.
There are plenty of minor issues to pick at in Castle. Beckett’s extended concern over her boyfriend’s commitment is as ridiculous as her worries about his demeanor. Because he’s charming and jokey suddenly she thinks he could never be man enough to open up to her? What about when your apartment blew up? Or you almost froze to death in that train car? Or Castle was framed for murder and had to break out of jail?
I understand the writers’ need to create conflict within the relationship, but inventing baseless claims isn’t the way to go. Castle works best as light entertainment with heavy doses of romance now and then . We—and I mean all viewers, young and old—want to laugh first and swoon second. If they remain focused on these two base principles—and keep up the homages—Castle could live on for another 100 episodes. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to have a sudden infusion of young viewers…