Castle: "Vampire Weekend"
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Castle: "Vampire Weekend"

For the past couple of weeks, a couple of you have been clamoring for Castle coverage in the comments section of any post for a show that airs on Mondays (or, at least, the shows I’ve been covering on those days). We talked about adding Castle on a full-time basis before the season for an e-mail or two, but while the show has improved markedly from its rather listless premiere and grown into a fairly enjoyable series, it’s still not the sort of thing that’s going to make for good TV Club coverage week to week. It’s a procedural, and the strengths of the show – surprisingly solid plotting, Nathan Fillion, all of the fun women around him – remain the same from week to week, the weaknesses of the show do as well, and, indeed, resemble the weaknesses of most crime procedurals.

Despite how it may appear, I’m not naturally a critical person. Most of the time, when I got to a movie or pick up a book or turn on the TV, like you, I’m looking to be entertained or challenged or moved by whatever work of art crosses my path. Criticism is less a particular worldview to me than it is a certain hat I wear when I go to work. Being an off-duty critic often results in being asked for your opinion or giving it freely anyway, but it’s like being away from any job. Maybe this isn’t true for, like, Roger Ebert, who is so identified with his opinions that he must constantly be asked for them, but when I’m asked if I can stop being critical and just enjoy something (which, yeah, I get asked all the time), I usually am able to admit that I can.

But here’s the thing. A lot of shows that I just have on DVR season pass because I like to have them on while I’m working on other things because I can look up and get a few moments’ enjoyment from them often fall apart when I try to look at them more critically. When we decided to look at Castle’s Halloween episode because it had gotten a fairly substantial bit of hype (due to a certain bit of fan service on the part of Fillion), I volunteered to do it because I’ve been watching the show, but I quickly became convinced if I looked at it too closely, it would seem as though I liked it less than I actually do. The greatest and hardest distinction to draw in criticism is less between the bad and the good than it is between the good and the great (and I’m not the first to say this, obviously). It’s pretty easy, usually, to tell when something’s bad, but it’s much harder to draw that line between something that’s a lot of fun but pretty lightweight and something substantial and meaty.

So while it’s obvious that Castle is good but not great nowadays, I don’t mean it as a slight that it’s not Mad Men or The Wire. I always have a lot of fun watching Castle, though I doubt I’d rarely if ever give it a grade higher than a B. Let’s look at all of the good, fun things there were to behold in the Halloween episode. Fillion’s portrayal of Castle as a smirky, quirky novelist who’s always ready with a quip or to disarm the detective he works and shares banter with by telling a story about how he saw the body of a dead friend as a young child and then revealing he’s just making it up is the same thing he always does, sure, but it’s a good shtick, and I’m still not tired of it. I also like the way the show delineates the relationships he has with all of the women around him, particularly the really very good Molly C. Quinn as his daughter, Alexis. Giving the gruff, devil-may-care rapscallion a family that he really cares about to humanize him is the oldest trick in the book, but I always enjoy the scenes between Fillion and Quinn. Another nice thing about the show is the plotting. Tonight’s episode was very well-constructed at a story level, even doing a callback to Castle’s throwaway line about why there would be a grave with a question mark for a death date and neatly threading the clues of what really happened into a graphic novel. I love Halloween episodes in general, and this one had a nice air of spooky to it, right down to Morlock, the guy suffering from the disease that made him very like a vampire.

I’m less certain about the banter between Castle and Detective Beckett (played by – again – the very good Stana Katic, whose new haircut I cannot get used to). A lot of it is very well written, and Fillion and Katic have the kind of chemistry that can make most of it play, but at the same time, some of it seems tonally very, very strange. There will be scenes in every episode where the two are bantering in positions where it seems incredibly unlikely that they would be doing so. In this episode, it was almost directly after finding a dead body and trying to figure out who it was. The show Castle is most like is obviously Bones, which also had tonal problems like this early in its run but eventually ironed them out for the most part. Castle still has an uneasy balance between the heartfelt stories at the center of the cases and the banter around them, and this is only exacerbated by the rampant ABC Music throughout the episode. ABC Music, of course, is always there to tell you when you’re watching something FUNNY or something SERIOUS, and it drags just about every show not named Lost (which apparently has no ABC Music clause in its contract) on the network down.

And yet, at the same time, Castle’s die hard aim to give only a good time and a mostly enjoyable evening keeps it running along in a low gear. It wants so badly to give everyone a good time that it becomes almost too insistent on that point for its own good. There’s nothing wrong with this when you’re working on other stuff and just want pleasant background noise or when you need a little Nathan Fillion action, but it’s hard to write about from week to week in a substantive way without eventually getting a little irritated by it. Most weeks would likely boil down to me complaining about how the show is still just a detective show, quoting one or two funny lines that Castle said and shaking my head at the rampant ABC Music. Even in a pretty good episode of Castle – and make no mistake, this was one – there are still embarrassing elements (like that final Halloween party), and for every moment when the characters behave like real people with actual emotions, there’s yet another where they behave like TV characters being pushed into a foregone conclusion of a relationship by TV writers. Again, I rarely notice this while I’m folding socks, but if you asked me to write about Castle every week, that’s literally all I’d talk about. Castle is good, but it’s not great. It’s not clear it even wants to be the latter, and that’s totally OK (fun TV can be really good TV), but it still makes it hard to talk about.

Stray observations:

  • One of the things I like about Halloween episodes is seeing what costumes the characters cook up for themselves, particularly since most people’s costumes in real life are usually pretty blah. One of the things I’d like about living in TV world is the Halloween parties, though I hate dressing up in costume myself. (I guess I wouldn’t be invited to Castle’s party?)
  • So, Firefly fans, did you get your space cowboy moment? Did you feel GOOD ABOUT YOURSELVES? Or did it make you sad all over again that the show was canceled? I will light a tiny candle for Wash over here by myself.
  • So, if you want weekly Castle coverage, live it up in comments. If the response is big enough, one of us will surely take on the show. Maybe not me, but someone!

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