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(written by Andrew Marlowe; directed by Rob Bowman; TRT: 38:50)
The network's description: "(from ABC's press release, August 2008) Cross a mystery novelist with a rock star and you would get Nick Castle. He's got Jagger's swagger and James Bond's way with the ladies. Although the handsome writer seems to have everything�fame, fans, and females�he's grown weary of it all. In fact, he's just killed off the legendary character who's sold millions of books for him. But when a real-world copycat murderer starts staging murder scenes from Nick's novels and NYPD Detective Beckett asks him for help, Nick feels the old blood pumping in his veins again. Is it the thrill of the chase�or the fact that Beckett is a strikingly beautiful woman? When Nick's freewheeler detective style clashes with Beckett's conservative approach, the sparks certainly fly�leading to both danger and a hint of romance. Keeping him grounded are his washed-up Broadway diva mother and his quick-witted teenage daughter; his poker playing buddies James Patterson, Sue Grafton, and Stephen King; and his long-suffering ex-wife Gina, who also happens to be his editor. From producer Armyan Bernstein (Spy Game, The Guardian, Children of Men) comes a comedic crime procedural centered around smooth yet self-effacing literary phenomenon Nick Castle. If it was a book, you wouldn't be able to put it down."
What did they leave out? The lead character is actually named Richard Castle, not Nick. Also of note is that "Castle" was filmed as a presentation, coming in a few minutes shy of a standard pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: Literary bad boy Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) has just released "Storm Fall," the final installment in his Derrick Storm series of mystery novels. And much to his publisher/ex-wife Gina's (Monet Mazur) horror, the book features Derrick being killed off - taking the Storm franchise with him. You see, between the parties; the celebrity; the poker games with "Patterson, Grafton and King"; and the signing of fans' breasts (okay maybe not that), Richard got bored with Derrick's story and now seems more interested in making post time at the Belmont than writing. He explains to his wise-beyond-her-years daughter Alex (Molly Quinn) that he just wishes someone would tap him on the shoulder and surprise him by saying something new. Cue Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), an NYPD detective who definitely has something new to say to him - she's just come from a murder scene - the second to use one of Castle's books for inspiration (much like his "Flowers For Your Grave," the second victim was covered in rose pedals and had sunflowers placed over her eyes). And despite his ego (he notes that a copycat is "Criminal Cooperstown" and asks for copies of the scene photos to show off to his friends) and libido (he all but suffocates Beckett Pepe Le Pew-style), the straight-laced Beckett's going to need his help to crack the case. Castle explains that the killer must be much more than your typical fan ("'Hell Hell Hath No Fury'... C'mon, only hardcore Castle groupies read that one," he quips about the initial murder scene) which points them to his daily bins of fan mail for clues. Sure enough it's not long before they uncover a head case ("The Wire's" Leo Fitzpatrick) with an apartment filled with Castle artifacts and a direct connection to the second victim. "It's too easy," Castle remarks about the bust. "They'd [the readers] would never buy it." While Castle isn't satisfied, Beckett's boss Captain Montgomery (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) is. Now it's up to Castle to find the real killer, whether Beckett, Montgomery or the NYPD like it or not. Along for the ride then are Castle's mom (Susan Sullivan), a washed up actress that's far too chatty about his private life; a medical examiner (Tamala Jones) who's impressed by Castle's medical knowledge; and a pair of Beckett's fellow detectives (Colby French, Jon Huertas) who are amused by Beckett's frustration with Castle.
What works: There's an almost meta undercurrent to the show that gives it a unique flair - Castle's written every murder cliche there is so he can spot them a mile away and in turn, informs us the audience the same about the show itself. In other words, by poking holes in the obviousness of the case they're working on, he's inadvertently poking holes in the obviousness of the show itself, making it amusingly self aware. Helping matters is that Fillion is always a lot of fun to watch - he's the go-to guy for the roguish, devil-may-care types that secretly harbor a strict moral code (in this case, that "the story" is important above all else). There's definitely a show somewhere in here...
What doesn't: ...I just don't feel it quite yet. Katic's Beckett is unfortunately written and played as something of a paper tiger. She's all threats and attitude but caves in to Castle's whims without batting an eye (where is Castle's meta commentary when you need it?). It's only when she catches that a suspect is lying that we're given any sort of sense that her streetwise skills will serve to counterbalance Castle's more academic ones. I also don't quite buy the "Bones"-esque chemistry between the two as Castle measures her up within a few scenes and she doesn't even get close to making a dent in him in the entire show. It's actually only during the scenes with Castle's daughter that we're given a view through his borderline-douchebag-with-all-the-answers routine. Beyond those three we're not given much to go on - Castle's mom is kind of loopy, Beckett's co-workers are just, kind of... there. And of course there's the danger of going too meta - making fun of its own obviousness is cute for a while, but when the premise of the show is a little silly to begin with (a mystery author that solves crimes) not mention a little pat (I wish I had a challenge? Beat. Hello, challenge here.) - it's a fine line between clever and foolish.
The bottom line: All in all, there's something bubbling under the surface here that I hope rises to the top.