Tuesday, November 3, 2009

BAM, said the lady

By Jay Stringer

I’ve been in a strange place tonight. I have a strange listlessness when I’m writing, a kind of procrastination that comes from my brain only wanting to do one thing. Lately I’ve had half hearted attempts at reading books, only to find that I can't get along with the writing style because it doesn’t match mine.

It sounds arrogant, probably, but I think you know what I mean.

On the other hand, I’ve been staring at this blank page for the best part of an hour, thinking through the 101 half formed blog ideas that I have and rejecting them each in turn. A couple of times I even started them. Just so you know, the first line of this blog at one point was “The only way I could hate my ‘to be read’ pile more was if it had just stolen the last ginger biscuit.”

But I’ve learned to trust my brain so far. Just as I’ve written before that I avoid writers block by embracing it, and trusting that my brain will write when its ready to write, I’ve also learned to go with what I want to say on this here blog.

And what I really want to do tonight is to write a love letter to CASTLE.

Lets go back five years. I was (am) a huge Firefly geek. I was one of those unfortunate people for whom the show’s voice, the characters and the message, resonate very deeply. I was angry when it inevitably got cancelled. This was a wrath well beyond any biscuit theft.

And one of the key elements of that anger was the loss of Mal Reynolds. I liked hanging out with Mal. There was something in his wounded cynical nobility that made me want to keep seeing what he did next. He also had a great great story arc.

We first saw him as brash, loud and invincible. A young soldier who was managing to keep his troops going against impossible odds on the strength of his belief.

In God.
In the fight.
In his people.

And we saw the moment when all of that was taken away. The series would, we assume, have given us Mal’s journey as he pieced himself back together. The film Serenity gave us a rushed end cap to the journey, where we saw Mal learn that “it doesn’t mater what you believe, just believe it.

But aside from the character and the writing, there was the actor. Nathan Fillion just had that thing. You know the thing? Yes, that thing. He had that ability to engage you, to make you laugh or cry, and to want to keep watching.

So I was always going to be on board with whatever he did next. I have watched a couple of reeeeeeally shitty movies just because Fillion was in them. When I heard he was going to be in a crime drama, playing a novelist? I really wanted to be excited. I could feel that i should be, and I almost managed it. Almost.

See, I had a bit of a stupid crisis last year. One of those lame ‘get over yourself’ moments. The Wire had finished. McFet wrote a few weeks back about ‘sergeant pepper moments’ and The Wire, for me, was that moment for TV. That’s it. Pull the plug. We’re done.

And I stayed in that place for quite a while. Didn’t need a new show, thank you very much. For all I could see, switching on TV in a Wire-less world was just opening yourself up to X FACTOR. Because that’s the kind of horror that awaits us after the big lights go out.

Then I saw the trailer and my mood eased a little. Fillion looked like he was having a ball. And boy, he sure seemed to spark with his Co-star Stana Katic. But a trailer’s a trailer, you know? They can make anything look good. Hell, they almost made Watchmen look good.

The show goes against everything I got so moody about over The Wire. It’s not realistic, not really. It’s not a master of show-don’t-tell. It doesn’t need absolute concentration. Really, it’s just a good old-fashioned formula crime show. It’s a Rockford or a Quincy. Hell, it’s a Remington Steele. It’s fun and breezy, which means it’s dark moments have a real impact.

The writers beleive 100% in Chekov’s Gun. The key to the crime is somewhere in the first ten minutes. You can really tick off the plot points as you go, like a play-along game. It’s full of in jokes and self-depreciation. And it’s just bundled up in so much charisma that you can’t help but follow on.

I’ve had a favourite rant over the past year; somewhere along the line, the word “fun” became an excuse for “crap”. “You’re being to harsh on the film, jay, it’s just a bit of fun.” It’s as if, at some point in the last twenty years there was a meeting –that I wasn’t invited to- where it was decided that fun =dumb= crap. It became an excuse for writers to mot have to do the heavy lifting and for directors to forget about story. But I don’t buy that for a second. I’m of a generation that grew up on Indiana Jones, Back To The Future, The Goonies, and Ghostbusters. Those were fun. And they were not crap. They had their flaws, sure, but they were worked on. People put in the hard work to make sure that what they were doing had some heart and some sense.

CASTLE is FUN. Proper, old school, hard-work-behind-the-scenes fun.

The story? Well you guys don’t need a recap. The reason I resisted writing this was because the Internet has already done Castle. But for those of you who’ve not caught it yet;
Richard Castle is a crime writer. He’s the kind of famous that doesn’t really exist for crime writers in the real world; he's a friend to everyone, he has groupies, he's rich. He’s just finished a best selling series and has run out of idea for where to go next. Cue a murder that’s based on one of his books, and Castle being called in as a suspect.

From there he forms an unlikely, but increasingly Hawt, bond with the Homicide detective Kate Beckett. And he manages to wangle his way into shadowing Beckett and her team as research for his next series. The two leads bicker, smoulder and smirk like Maddie and David. The script gives them all the set up they need, and the supporting cast know their place.

It’s restored my faith in episodic television.Why are you still reading? Why aren’t you off watching the damn show?

Oh, and hey, you could read Castle's latest book, too.


Lola said...

I'm tempted to watch it, but still reluctant to because it just sounds like Bones without the science and the gender roles reversed. Is this good enough to overcome the lack of Emily Deschanel for eye candy? That's the real burning question for me ;)

pattinase (abbott) said...

It won me over although the vampire ep. sucked. It's getting by on charm and good writing mostly though-the plots are a little iffy.

John McFetridge said...

Yeah, I like Castle because it's true to itself. Like you say, fun doesn't mean sloppy and bad and taking the easy way out.

I certainly cut it some slack in the beginning because of the Firefly connection (my wife is really the big fan in our house) but the mysteries are solid enough (they play fair, at least) and the cast is very good.

So, has anyone read the Christopher Brookmyre novel with the Browncoats and the Buffy references?

Scott D. Parker said...

Of all the shows returning or debuting this season, Castle was the one I most wanted to see. And damn if the writing isn't getting better. The chemistry is there in spades. Lola, I'm not a Bones watcher but a friend of mine is and he says I need to start watching Bones if I like Castle. To him, they are both different creatures.

In a show like Castle, the formula can get in the way. You know what I'm talking about: cardboard people reading lines b/c the crook has to be found out by the 48-minute mark. In Castle, you have real people. True, they are not as deep as the folks on The Wire but there are some moments (especially with Castle and his teenaged daughter) that just sing. As the switch in Castle/Fillion composure when it's innuendo bantering with Becket vs. his daughter is strikingly good.

This season, so far, it's a lot about Beckett, why she does the things she does. Castle's charming but Beckett's mysterious. I think it works wonderfully.

As far as the book is concerned, I just finished reading it yesterday and I will post my review tomorrow on my blog as part of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club.

In short, Watch Castle! It's already been picked up for an entire season. Guess the suits at ABC saw something they liked...a good show.

Lola said...

Cheers Scott - I think everything here makes for a pretty compelling argument, I'll add it to the 'to watch' list.

Anonymous said...

I'm John's wife and the Brookmyre book is "Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks" if anyone is interested.

The Hallowe'en ep where Castle dresses up as a 'space cowboy' in full Mal outfit was hilarious. "Didn't you wear that, like, 5 years ago? Move on."

And check out Can't Stop the Serenity events in your neighbourhood to meet other Browncoats and do some good. http://www.cantstoptheserenity.com/