Nathan Fillion has compared his new show, "Castle," to "Murder She Wrote," -- and he's not entirely wrong. Subtract one prim, smart, steely and nosy Miss Marple-type English woman and insert an egotistical, smartass, fun-loving, womanizing man and you've got "Castle."
"Castle" -- which premieres March 9 at 10/9 C on ABC -- follows hugely successful mystery author Richard Castle who is bored by his own success to the point where he kills off the main character in his novels, sending his ex-wife and his agent into a panic. But he gets rejuvenated when he finds out that a serial killer is basing his killings on the deaths in Castle's books. Cue NYPD Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic, "The Spirit") who has read Castle's books and so recognizes the scenarios. Castle is brought in for questioning, and in what's a pretty ridiculous plot development, he's allowed to stay on as a shadow to the NYPD detectives to get material for his new book and help them solve the murders. (This was all made possible by his buddy-buddy relationship with the mayor, who apparently thinks Castle is the next best thing for New York City tourism this side of the Statue of Liberty.)
Castle and Beckett of course immediately clash, but in a way that means it won't be long until she socks him in the face, he grabs her and kisses her, and it starts to pour rain on them. They're the typical pairing of the loose canon guy and the more stern, exasperated woman. Just once, I'd like to see the woman get to be the wild card. Although at least Beckett's character isn't completely humorless. "Castle" gets credit for skipping the it's-ovbious-to-everyone-but-the-two-leads-that they-belong-together storyline and doesn't have Castle or Beckett pretending there's nothing between them. So far, their chemistry isn't off the charts -- Beckett's character is written a bit dry -- but it could improve.
The other women in Castle's life are his Broadway diva mother, Martha (Susan Sullivan, "Dharma & Greg") and his precocious teenage daughter, Alexis (Molly Quinn). The rule today is that whenever you've got a roguish divorced dad -- "24," Shark," "Lie To Me" -- toss him a teenage daughter to show his sensitive side. The rest of the cast, especially Beckett's co-workers, don't do much in the pilot but stare at dead bodies, but they include Ruben Santiago-Hudson ("Law & Order") as NYPD Captain Roy Montgomery, Tamala Jones as Medical Examiner Lanie Parish, Jon Huertas ("Generation Kill") as NYPD Detective Javier Esposito and Seamus Dever ("Army Wives") as NYPD Detective Kevin Ryan.
What elevates "Castle" above being just another crime procedural is Fillion ("Desperate Housewives," "Firefly.") He's an incredibly charismatic actor, and he brings all of that with him as Castle, who has an appreciatively flippant sense of humor. (At one point, he tries to stop a criminal by throwing his shoe at him.) Fillion is also just so darn likable. The whole show actually has a light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek approach that rescues it from its silliness. The murders aren't jokey, but there's not all the brow-furrowing that goes on in other crime shows. Remember "The Women's Murder Club?" I think one reason that show failed was that it collapsed under the burden of its own seriousness.
"Castle" even has an out from its potentially repetitive plot device -- and it's an out that's written right in ABC's description of the show: "Once that case is solved, he and Beckett build on their new relationship as they look to solve more strange homicides in New York." So there's a plan for what to do beyond the imitation as the sincerest form of flattery killings.
"Castle" isn't remarkable, but like its star, its likable. Even the not so original hook of a killer's m.o. being the same as the deaths in a fictitious murder mystery series is fun. Come for the shoe throwing, stay for Fillion.