Three weeks in, Castle has settled in to a predictable pattern typical of crime procedurals. The good guys are called to a grim murder scene; red herrings take said good guys down some dead-end paths; good guys crack the case and cleverly wring a confession out of a worthy foe. It’s the state of the television union these days.
And that’s the problem–Castle brings little new to the table beyond Nathan Fillion. Hey, we think he’s fab, but we find ourselves tapping our toes impatiently through the minutia of the investigative scenes waiting for more of the droll-yet-tender interactions between Castle and his teenage daughter, or more fun with Castle’s phone. Castle’s background as a best-selling author has yet to be truly exploited (he may as well be a wise-cracking cop back from probation)–even Temperance Brennan’s literary exploits have been better woven into Bones‘ storylines, and she’s usually busy playing with femurs and fungus. Fillion’s a gem, but he can’t make plots used ten years ago on Law & Order seem fresh.
Maybe Castle‘s makers should take some lessons from Life.
They’re both crime procedurals. They’ve both had obligatory episodes with creepy flower imagery and overly convoluted symbolic clues. Both shows include wacky distractions at home for the heroes. Both quirky crime-fighting protagonists are paired with by-the-book female cops who grudgingly come to respect their partners, quirks and all, while maintaining a friendly antagonism. The major difference between the two is that Life has a dark streak half a mile wide. Life‘s mysteries, in addition to feeling fresher, dig into the twisted and sad lives of victims and perps alike (the music on Life is fresher, too). Dani Reese’s eyerolling at her partner is tempered by the fact that she’s a recovering addict, the daughter of a dirty cop, and probably shouldn’t be dating her boss (said boss’s and partner’s bemusement at termporary Dani fill-in and mayor-to-be Jane Seever’s lack of a dark side brings a tart amusement). Rick Castle has been married a couple of times. Charlie Crews learned all kinds of deadly skills in prison after being framed for murder–he just tries to find his Zen place so he doesn’t use those skills.
At the same time, Life doesn’t give up on life. It never goes to the bleak extremes of the CSIs of the world (which, to be perfectly fair, get many, many more viewers). While the second season has been more diffuse in lining up suspects in the framing mystery, it has also more neatly underlined the fight between redemption and vengenace that still rages in Charlie. Most other crime procedurals just don’t take on the issues of trust, growth, and failure in their leads that Life manages to balance with every mystery of the week (even the aforementioned and charming Bones places the emphasis on its regulars’ lives on romance instead of redemption). Life isn’t perfect (this week’s crying jag between Ted and his long-lost daughter was embarrassing, and that’s hard to do to Adam Arkin), but it has something to say–one of Castle‘s problems is that it’s glib, but it’s not saying much. Come over to the dark side, Rick Castle. You can bring your phone and your kid.