"She's a reader of rights. He's a writer of wrongs. They're New York's most unlikely partners in crime."
I was thinking of that kind of grand old trope even before it showed up in a promo for ABC's Castle. The series, created by Andrew Marlowe, wears it well — although they're actually partners in crimefighting.
The he is Richard Castle, best-selling mystery novelist, divorced with a child and a playboy reputation, struggling with writer's block. The she is homicide detective Kate Beckett, single, stoic, slightly star-struck over meeting Castle but determined not to show it. After Castle's insights help her unit crack a spate of murders based on his books, arrangements are made for him to shadow Beckett as inspiration for his next novel — to her consternation, when procedural friction and romantic tension ensue.
You may recall Fillion from his stint as husband to Dana Delaney's Katherine on Desperate Housewives a year or so back, and he achieved cult fame as a starship captain in the Han Solo mold with the 2002 Fox series Firefly (short-lived, but brought to the big screen in 2005 as Serenity). I first encountered him as evil incarnate in the final season of Firefly creator Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so it was strange to see him playing a good-natured gynecologist both on Housewives and in the charming 2007 indie film Waitress (highly recommended, with a delicious turn by Keri Russell in the title role, though terribly bittersweet due to the loss of writer/director Adrienne Shelly before its release).
From interviews it's clear that the latter roles are closest to Fillion himself, but he pulls off roguish charisma effortlessly. He has real chemistry with all three of the series' leading ladies: Susan Sullivan, the TV and theatrical veteran who plays Castle's fluttery diva of a live-in mother; Molly Quinn as his grounded, insightful 15-year-old daughter Alexis; and most crucially Stana Katic, a relative unknown who's absolutely riveting as Beckett. Beckett's boss and co-workers are far less vividly drawn, but they'll likely get their turns in the spotlight in the coming season.
Castle only began in March and will return in September along with a DVD release of the brief Season One. Networks air far fewer repeats in the summer than they used to, but ABC is showcasing this series — Saturday on some weeks, Monday on others — and I'm grateful as I only got to see a few episodes the first time around. The pilot had Castle playing poker with author James Patterson and, even more aptly on a meta level, Stephen J. Cannell, writer/producer of such bygone fare as The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and 21 Jump Street (all of which, naturally, are in the Hollywood queue of properties to be "reimagined"). Castle is the perfect summer diversion, a throwback in many ways to when dependable television entertainment was accessible on an episode-by-episode basis; these days, almost everything I watch is laden with backstory, for good or ill.
Jaunty dialogue is as important to series like Castle as are the mysteries themselves, especially when a dysfunctional buddy-cop drama is fused with the "Will they or won't they?" motif. And you get flirtatious, exasperated exchanges delivered expertly by Fillion and Katic, but you also get throwaway lines like this from last night's episode, after Castle asks his daughter how exams are going and she mentions The Scarlet Letter: "The irony is, for you, not getting an A would be a badge of shame." When a show brings back a lead's old-flame former partner for a case like the one that helped drive them apart, yet barely registers any guilt on the pleasure scale, witty writing like that is just icing on the cake.