I’ve been having fun watching an advance copy of the season one DVD of “Castle” that will be released by Buena Vista Home Entertainment tomorrow.
A mid-season replacement show on ABC last season, the series is returning for its second year tonight at 10 p.m.
The New York-set mystery is very light in spirit, often having the feel of one of those cozy comic mystery series the Brits do so well, such as “Jonathan Creek” or “Rosemary & Thyme.”
American television is full of gruesome police procedurals in the vein of the “CSI” and “Law & Order” franchises, so it’s refreshing to see a character-driven mystery show with sophisticated characters and witty, lively banter (when a character compares a female cop’s interrogation technique to a Meryl Streep performance, she replies “The ‘Out of Africa’ Meryl or the ‘Mamma Mia!’ Meryl?”)
The show also puts me in mind of one of the saddest TV flops of the past 25 years, the 1987 CBS series “Leg Work” starring Margaret Colin as a Manhattan private investigator whose best friend played by Frances McDormand worked in the district attorney’s office. That filmed-on-location show was smart and funny and was able to draw on a young New York acting pool that then included Marisa Tomei and Angela Bassett.
“Castle” has a clever premise. Nick Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a best-selling crime writer in the James Patterson-Lee Child vein. When a copycat killer appears to be following the methods of murder in one Castle’s novels, the writer is called in by Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic).
After that pilot episode case is solved, Castle uses his political connections to be assigned to Beckett’s precinct to research a new series of books about a female detective.
The show really rests on Fillion’s shoulders and he is terrific in a very tricky role that requires him to be a glib wiseguy at one moment and a serious crime solver the next. Fillion has the natural charm of a true TV star (I missed him on the cult series “Firefly” but friends tell me he was the engine behind that show, too).
The chemistry between Fillion and Katic in the season one episodes is just about perfect. The challenge (if the series runs for a few years) will be sustaining the sexual tension between the duo while delaying a romantic relationship that could destroy the comic balance.
Susan Sullivan is very funny as Castle’s ex-actress mother, Martha Rodgers, a classic New York type that the veteran performer plays to the hilt.
The first episode of “Castle” benefitted from a lot of New York location shooting; the follow-up shows fake the background fairly well, but it’s a shame that such a Manhattan-savvy project couldn’t be filmed there all the time, ala “Law & Order.”