Making Murder Fun Again

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the series “Castle.”

I’ve got an entire season’s worth of “Castle” recorded, not really out of a desire to watch it so much as I wanted to test the DVR and ABC is one of the few networks I get via my antenna. I’m sure I fit squarely into some demographic or other: I first heard of it because any show with an ex-Firefly cast member gets a ding on my radar, so I planned to watch it eventually. But it looked like any other of a billion police procedurals, indistinguishable from your Laws & Orders or CSIs or Boneses or NCISes.

And really, it kind of is. The cases are fairly predictable, the references all a little dated, the situations all a little bit cliched and predictable. But there’s a big difference, and surprisingly, it’s not just whether or not you like Nathan Fillion. (That’s only about 85% of the draw).

The difference is that there’s a genuine chemistry between the characters. And not just the two leads (although they’re the most obvious), but everybody in the cast. It really does seem like it’d be a fun show to work on. Even when the story seems to be coasting, it’s just pleasant to coast along with them.

And even more appealing to me: everybody likes each other. I’ve been watching several episodes back-to-back, and it was starting to dawn on me that there was something odd about this series. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until there was a scene where Castle went back to his apartment and… had a pleasant, clever conversation with his mother and his daughter. It’s the standard template for every single TV series that you can’t have drama without conflict, so you always get the tough-as-nails police chief reining in the lone wolf cop, or the detective with a dark past, or a tension-filled home life. “Castle” seems to get that when you’ve got a homicide every episode, the tension is already built in. You can have all the characters just being nice and supportive of each other, and as long as you’ve got the writing chops for it, it doesn’t have to be dull.

It sounds like I’m damning the series with faint praise, but I’m really not: that kind of believable chemistry not just between your will-they-or-won’t-they? leads, but between the entire cast, isn’t just something that happens. The whole show is just charming and occasionally goofy, without being completely unable to take itself seriously like “Psych,” and without being self-consciously quirky or wrapped up in false romantic tension like “Moonlighting.” I’d say it’s more like The Thin Man without the booze, instead of “Law & Order” with more jokes.

And the writing’s pretty sharp in places, too. My favorite bit from the most recent episode (spoiler if you haven’t seen it and are interested): there’s a tense as-close-as-this-series-gets-to-drama moment in which Beckett is being hit with feelings of self-doubt, and she’s worried about making a mistake on a very important and very personal case. To reassure her, Castle says, “Do you know why I chose you as my inspiration for Nikki Heat?” “No, why?” Pause. “Because you’re tall. Now get in there and do your job.”