Richard Castle is a successful writer who is granted access to an extended ride-along program with an NYPD homicide investigation team. The team leader, the attractive but gruff and serious Kate Beckett, naturally bristles at his glib remarks and nonchalant swagger. However, his innovative approach to detection and gift of fictive demiurgic thinking give him an almost unnatural insight into the criminal mind and prove to be a valuable asset.
It seems to me that Castle, as a series, is either at odds with what it is or, worse, it refuses to play by its own established rules. On one end, it presents as a very silly and enjoyable whodunit, with a new murder at the beginning of each episode for our loveable team to Encyclopedia Brown. It’s the kind of goofy joy that we used to derive watching Mystery Inc. unmask the ghoul at the abandoned amusement park. There even seems to be an homage to these moments in the episode “Heroes and Villains,” when the identity of Lonely Vengeance is finally revealed.
The other, less effective half of Castle involves a protracted investigation into the murder of Beckett’s mother. On cue, the whole tone of the show abruptly shifts and everyone gets serious, exchanging dramatic glances from beneath knitted eyebrows and mugging pensively while ominous music drones, um… ominously in the background.
This story arc feels tacked on, aimless and unnecessary. The dialogue goes cheap and falls flat, like exchanges lifted from any generic action movie. In a way, it feels like pandering, or at least an attempt at vernacular credibility within an affected genre. It’s like a city-slick politician who shows up to a county fair with no tie and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, trading memorized stories about grits and tractors to appeal to the locals. It’s an attempt give Castle the appearance that it’s a fun show with a serious side or, conversely, a serious show with a fun side.
This is why you give Baywatch Nights its own timeslot.
It is possible to balance plausible drama with the absurd, provided you play within the boundaries set by the established tone. Star Trek could use its characters to tell stories ranging from the deepest desires of the human mind to the trouble with rapidly multiplying fur balls. The X-Files maintained a series-long story arc of Mulder’s kidnapped sister and a huge government conspiracy while occasionally pausing to examine the plight of a Neo-Nazi who’s head will explode if his car dips below 50 miles per hour, or what might happen if two hapless rednecks stumbled across a wish-granting genie in a storage locker.
The difference between Castle and its more successful prime-time counterparts lies within the writing. Star Trek and The X-Files used plot points and story arcs to inform and develop their characters, whereas Castle uses its characters to play-by-play its plot points. The result is an inorganic mess that has Beckett and Castle acting for the words at hand rather than from an identifiable center.
The dialogue itself is a constant drone of exposition. “This is how I’m feeling.” “This is what we have to do.” A lot of quasi-macho bullshit that would play like gangbusters in a movie trailer but sounds laughable in an actual conversation.
The very concept of Castle is ridiculous, and the show does best when it wallows in its own absurdity. Even the opening and bumper graphics, the box art and photography suggest a lighthearted, witty romp laced with mystery.
The fact that this formula works so well is what makes the interruptive bathos so grating. Unfortunately, season four seems to dedicate an inordinate amount of time to this confusing and melodramatic pursuit. It’s more fun to see Castle standing in police-issued field armor with “WRITER” slapped across his chest than it is to see him emoting all over his tweed jacket.
The true test of any DVD set is the strength of its extras, and this collection doesn’t disappoint. Fans of the show will enjoy the outtake reel, which seems to focus on and satisfy the sexual and homosexual tensions of the characters. There’s also a quick documentary about stuntwork and an entire episode done in the style of an old-timey radio show.