YOU know TV network executives are absolutely desperate when they decide to jazz up a series about police detectives by adding a character who is -- tada! -- a writer.
Yet this is exactly the gimmick at play in Castle, a new ABC drama starring two Canadians, Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. At the start of the series, NYPD Detective Kate Beckett (Katic) -- described on the show’s website as “a tough, smart homicide detective” -- consults crime novelist Richard Castle because a killer is basing his crimes on scenes from Castle’s books. As the website blithely describes it, “once that case is solved, (Castle) and Beckett build on their new relationship as they look to solve more strange homicides in New York -- as much fun as one can have with death and murder.” (In other words, party down!)
Big city-based crime-solving shows are now beyond clichéd, and this series features TV’s usual complement of hunks and babes in the lead roles. Beckett is a wraithlike sleuth who dons an oversized beret for cold weather investigations. She approaches the body of a murdered teenager in Central Park with precisely the same abdomen-forward gait as any of the walking skeletons on Fashion TV. (If that’s what a steady diet of doughnuts and bad coffee does for a policewoman, sign me up.) I guess we can call it at this point: The gritty days of NYPD Blue’s pudgy, pockmarked detectives are dead; long live America’s Top NYPD Model.
But I’ve digressed. To me, the best thing about this show is the hilarious way its website describes Richard Castle as a “roguish best-selling writer.”
Now, I don’t know how many best-selling writers you’ve met, but we’ve all seen them looking every inch the ornery misfit on TV. The last thing you’d call most professional scribblers is “roguish.” Churlish, perhaps. Nerdish. Jewish, in some cases. I could actually imagine somebody who looked like Mordecai Richler riding along with the New York police, annoying them all day and boozing with them prodigiously later. But I’ve seen few writers of any kind who even vaguely resemble dashing, well-dressed Richard Castle. On top of that, he’s charming -- he’s the only reason I’m watching the show.
Not only is Castle described as “roguish,” he’s “wildly famous.” There’s an oxymoron for you -- I’ve never heard a writer described as “wildly famous,” although I suppose J.K. Rowling would come close. Those on a quest for wild fame tend to scrupulously avoid writing for a living. Writing is more the province of misanthropic hermits who can barely afford two shoes to rub together, which serves as their excuse for never going out.
These days, Canada’s most wildly famous writer is probably Margaret Atwood, who seems able to wander all over the country without being trampled by hysterical sycophants. It’s not so easy for our character Richard Castle, apparently -- he’s “the consummate man’s man, ladies’ man, and man about town -- nearly as well known for his tabloid-generating antics as for his immensely successful novels.”
Tabloids stalk writers? Must be an American phenomenon. I once read something about Stuart “Vinyl Café” McLean’s “antics,” but that was in Frank magazine. The paparazzi just don’t seem to hound Canuck writers the way they oughta. If only we could get more photos of grizzled poets skinny-dipping on the cover of Hello! magazine.
As a matter of fact, this whole Castle TV series has made it clear to me that Canadian writers don’t know what they’re doing. It turns out the reason for Castle’s interest in wasting his workweek shadowing a detective is that he’s “bored with his own success.” That’s right -- fame and money (you should see his loft) were so easy for Castle to come by that by the age of 30-something they’re a honkin’ yawn. And that without any Canada Council support.
Obviously this is some scriptwriter’s vengeful fantasy. I can guess at how it all went down. Officially, he (or she) was planning to pitch some other TV series, possibly about an L.A. pastry chef and surfer who always seems to stumble on either pastry- or surf-related crime scenes. But the night before the scriptwriter is to present his concept and a sample first episode to some mucky-muck at ABC, he can’t get to sleep because of the rats scampering over the rusty car in which he lives. So he amuses himself by making up some godforsaken bullcrap about a rich, famous, handsome, sexy writer who’s so blasé about his achievements that he prefers to spend his days bumping into corpses with a humourless NYP “dick” who appears to be suffering from a raging case of PMS.
Anyhoo, the writer wanders into ABC with this pastry chef-surfer-crimesolver scheme in hand, presents it to a surprisingly unappreciative audience, and is about to be punted out the door with the ferocity of Pelé. Suddenly, he backtracks, shouting, “But that’s not my real idea! My real idea is, uh, about a mystery writer, like, say Scott Turow but without the lawyer bafflegab, who starts advising the NYPD, partly to get ideas and partly because there’s a hot cop in charge. And then he thinks it’s cool so he starts tagging along on all her assignments, and because he doesn’t think like a cop he helps her solve crimes!”
And for some reason, the ABC network honcho agrees that this would make a fine series. As a matter of fact, the honcho’s own father was a mystery writer who died of starvation and ignominy while waiting for somebody to buy his stupendous novel about the murder of a roomful of television executives. Maybe the honcho can somehow right this tragic wrong by giving the fictional Richard Castle the life his own dad craved. “If it appeals to nobody else, it’ll appeal to the writers,” he explains to any higher ups. As they begin to laugh uproariously at the very idea that that might count for anything, he pulls out his taser and mows them all down. They shall not be missed.
Not that I have anything against ABC TV executives. As a matter of fact, I have an idea to pitch them myself: A humourist with a chip on her shoulder the size of, say, the Lower Mainland keeps stumbling over bad TV shows and coming up with her own magnificent alternatives. One day she tags along with an ABC TV executive and -- hey, I don’t give this stuff away. You’ll just have to wait for the pilot.