Posted by: Ken Brown | March 15, 2009


Other than Science Fiction, Crime Drama is probably the genre I’ve watched the most faithfully. The thing I love about shows like CSI and films like The Fugitive is their emphasis on the reality of evil and the importance of justice. But in recent years I’ve grown bored with the countless spin-offs. There are only so many ways you can solve a murder (even with improbably advanced technology), so the shows have become more and more unbelievable–yet paradoxically predicable–over time.

Every episode is the same: someone  is killed under questionable circumstances, attractive cops show up to investigate, spouting techno-babble and witty aphorisms while spending most of their time chasing down tiny details that (in real life) would almost certainly turn out to be irrelevant (“Hey look, I found a flee! I bet it’s some incredibly rare breed from the Amazon that will prove who the real killer is!). They chase down a series of likely suspects who turn out to be innocent, before a final twist conveniently solves all mysteries in just one hour. It’s all impossibly unrealistic, and frankly, if I want unbelievable, I’ll stick with sci-fi.

But with sci-fi alum Nathan Fillion as the lead, I couldn’t pass up ABC’s new Castle, and I was pleasantly surprised by the premier. Richard Castle is a best-selling author–of crime dramas!–who learns that someone is copying the murders in his books. Looking for inspiration for a new story, he offers to help the NYPD catch the killer and, naturally enough, ends up working with a feisty but attractive detective named Kate Beckett.

Overlaying this predictable storyline, however, is a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the whole genre. Thus, when they catch the suspect early in the episode, Castle insists they have the wrong guy. Not, as per usual, because he noticed some detail that proves his innocence, but simply because, “That was too easy! The reader would never buy it.” As he tells his writer buddies at a poker game:

Castle: “It starts with a famous author. Some psycho starts staging murders like  he does in his books”
Author 1: “Ha, that’s pretty self-aggrandizing, isn’t it?”
Author 2: “This is Castle we’re talking about.”
Castle: “So, the crime scenes are clean–he doesn’t leave any fingerprints; doesn’t leave any DNA–but the psycho writes the author a fan letter with his prints all over it. That leads the cops to his apartment, where they find enough evidence to convict him…” He stops.
Author 1: “And then?”
Castle: “That’s it.”
Author 1: “That’s it?”
Castle: “Yeah, they arrest him.”
Author 2: “That’s terrible!… What about the twist?”

And of course, since the episode is only half over, that’s exactly what happens. The guy had been set up. Castle helps solve the case, and we’ve got the beginning of a long and entertaining relationship filled with witty banter and sexual tension–at least until the show gets canceled.

I’m curious how long they’ll be able to maintain this satirical approach before adopting the same cliches they are currently mocking, but at least in this episode I particularly liked Castle’s insistence that life is best understood as a story:

Beckett: Can I ask you a question?
Castle: Shoot.
Beckett: Why are you here? You don’t care about the victims, so you aren’t here for justice. You don’t care that the guy’s aping your books, so you aren’t here ‘cuz you’re outraged. So what is it, Rick? Are you here to annoy me?
Castle: I’m here for the story.
Beckett: The story?
Castle: Why those people? Why those murders?
Beckett: Sometimes, there is no story. Sometimes the guy’s just a psychopath.
Castle: There’s always a story. Always a chain of events that makes everything make sense.

Isn’t that really the issue? Do we see our lives as a series of unconnected and therefore meaningless events, or do we see ourselves as part of a story?


  1. oh, dang it! i forgot to dvr that, arg. sigh.

    and nice catch on the story-talk. i like that.

  2. Sounds like a good concept. Please keep us posted on whether it lives up to its opening.

    Re your final question, I occasionally wonder if an important difference between members of different belief communities (conservative, liberal, theist, atheist, etc) is not so much what we want to believe, but which narrative feels most meaningful to us.

  3. Carmen,
    You can still watch it on (sorry Timothy, I don’t think it works in Canada).

    That’s a great point. I think we are, by nature, story-creating people, and so much depends on the kinds of stories we tell, how well they actually correspond to reality, whether they support life, etc.

  4. I wanted to watch that one, too, but it was on past my bedtime. Sounds like I’d like it, but I’m afraid to get interested in another show I’ll have to find time to watch online.

  5. I’m looking forward to the Unusuals, which (how convenient!) will be right after Lost!

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