Castle is one of those TV success stories that fill me with ambivalence. It’s not a ratings powerhouse, but, helped by its Dancing With the Stars lead-in, it has a growing audience big enough for ABC to have already renewed it for a third season. Which is terrific — I’m glad that Nathan Fillion has found a vehicle that’ll remain on the air longer than 2002’s Firefly.
As mystery writer Richard Castle, Fillion gets to tag along with Stana Katic, playing New York police detective Kate Beckett. Initially, it seemed like a silly premise — why would a nosy novelist be allowed to hang around for so long and contribute so much advice on murder cases? — but now it no longer matters. Because like any TV series that takes root in the public’s imagination, realism takes a backseat to charm and familiarity. That’s why Castle can glide along like a fairy-tale mystery series and why, at home, single dad Castle can be an ideal parent to his perfect 16-year-old daughter (the disarming Molly Quinn).
If you’re a fan, you buy all this, mostly because Nathan Fillion is a natural TV star. He’s got the rough good looks and self-deprecating manner. Whether he’s in a cult classic like Joss Whedon’s Firefly or in the hitin- the-making Castle (created by Andrew W. Marlowe), Fillion commands the screen not with the star power of a blockbuster movie actor but with the week-in, week-out agreeability of a canny, unself-conscious TV actor.
But, well, here’s the thing: Castle is no Firefly. That is to say, it’s not as imaginative in its plots (as a colleague said, ”These mysteries could be solved by Encyclopedia Brown”) or in its dialogue (once an actor works with Whedon, much of what subsequently comes out of his or her mouth wilts by comparison). Some might say it’s part of the go-with-it premise of Castle that we need to suspend disbelief that a woman as attractive and impeccably styled as Kate Beckett would be a lonely singleton who lives to find clues in rug fiber. I’d say Castle and Beckett don’t quite have the spark that makes for a classic will-they-or-won’t they workplace-TV-show couple.
I would never wish Castle or Fillion bad luck, but I do believe that the renewal of the series prevents the actor from doing one role he was born to play. If anyone could step into the shoes of James Garner in the planned remake of The Rockford Files, it’s not, as has been announced, Dermot Mulroney; Fillion was/is the one. Hey, Mr. Mulroney, could I interest you in switching places and becoming Rick Castle next season? B?