TV on DVD Review: Castle -- The Complete Second Season

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The Castle Books

Since ABC’s witty action dramady Castle centers on the research driven new role that Nathan Fillion’s eponymous bestselling whodunit scribe Rick Castle plays – tailing NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) around from case to case – it’s only appropriate that the series’ talented writers room delivers fans television’s most consistently mindboggling, intellectually demanding, twist-filled murder mysteries.

Routinely crafting the cleverest criminal conspiracies since Adrian Monk closed for business on USA Network, Castle offers its well-read, Agatha Christie literate audience red herrings, Hitchcockian MacGuffins and innocent suspects aplenty complete with an extra layer of ‘30s Dashiell Hammett inspired Thin Man screwball banter as Castle and Beckett flirt with and infuriate one another from the crime scene to the obligatory culprit confession.

Despite the irresistible set-up, unfortunately as witnessed in the otherwise superb complete second season, the barbs do eventually take a backseat to the demands of the investigation.

For far too often, Beckett is left with little more to do than simply scowl and scold the writer who’s using her as a muse as though she’s there to serve as both his admitted “work wife” and mother as well.

Needless to say, it’s hard to be sexy when you’re forced to play dual female primal roles and the Katic’s underwritten, mostly humorless and slightly personality-challenged Beckett doesn’t have the ‘30s screwball advantage of serving as an equal partner in the relationship.

And as we begin to coast down the familiar terrain of the show’s pleasurable paradigm, those pulling the strings seemingly forget the fact that Castle’s main job is to pen popular paperbacks as a brainy yet cavalier creative rebel. Without providing us with a good number of scenes to back up his professional life, the characterization of Castle plummets in believability.

But while Fillion’s likability and energy is (as always) at an all-time high, the writers falter in making him less like a valuable inquisitive Mentalist style consultant to aid in the resolution of cases by instead turning him into the show’s downright goofier attempt to claim Psych star James Roday’s title as the wackiest male crime solver on primetime TV.

In other words, just because they want to balance out the morbidity of the murders with lighthearted humor, it doesn’t mean that they need to transform our lead character from an author into a klutz. As opposed to impressing us with the intellectual quickness of a creative artist, frequently Castle stumbles into solutions with a mental “lightbulb” moment inspired by an unrelated, offhand comment made by his refreshingly wise-beyond-her-years teenage daughter (Molly Quinn).

Yet regardless of their tendency to portray Castle as though he’s an escapee from Chuck’s Buy More group of boyish misfits, making his largely weak chemistry with the no-nonsense Beckett seem even less genuine, luckily it’s all so enormously entertaining that the rest of the show just clicks into place like a puzzle.

Without fail, Castle features remarkable twists as well as sophisticated homage to the masterpieces of the genre, particularly as evidenced in the Patricia Highsmith inspired episode, “The Double Down,” and others that toy with impossible circumstances, doppelgangers and misplaced motives like “When the Bough Breaks,” “Kill the Messenger,” “The Fifth Bullet,” and the network’s record breaking serial killer angle two part ratings hit “Tick, Tick, Tick…” and “Boom!”

However, while the mysteries are so ingenious that they’ll fool even the most die-hard amateur sleuth from the school of Hercule Poirot, Castle is anchored by the appealing confidence and near out-of-control charisma exuded by its star. Throughout, Fillion is unfailingly upbeat and engaging even when asked to do things like voluntarily duct-tape himself to a chair.

But the show benefits from an unexpected sweet side to both his character and (by extension) the series due to the decision for Castle to be surrounded and inspired by women at home as well as at work in the form of a mother, daughter and Beckett, which keeps Castle from turning into another cold by-the-numbers procedural.

Admittedly, I do fear that the diabolically deceptive cases may suffer if the writers tweak the pitch-perfect formula too much. Nonetheless, because Castle is chock-full of fascinatingly worthwhile, three-dimensional personalities we normally don’t encounter in crime television, in order to keep us watching for more than just the masterful mysteries, I do hope that those behind-the-scenes will start investigating the potential of the show’s heroes in addition to its weekly villains.

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