Posts Tagged ‘ castle ’

The Upfronts 2015: ABC

ABC network logoOf all the American Broadcast Networks, it seems ABC is my natural match. I watch, or have watched more shows on this channel than any other, although even I would be hard pressed to describe some of them as ‘good’. I don’t know whether it’s just my good luck, or if I’m just synced up with what Americans want to watch, but ABC is also having a particularly successful run of things, with renewals far outnumbering the cancellations and some impressively long running series.

Finished or Cancelled
Forever is the only cancelled show that I was sort of watching. I liked the pilot and stuck with the series for the first half dozen or so episodes mostly thanks to the charismatic acting combo of Ioan Gruffudd and Judd Hirsch. But the momentum fell away and it slipped into ‘stuff to watch while cooking’ territory and then slipped off the list altogether. A bit of a shame really. It did see out the whole season though, which is more than can be said for Manhattan Love Story which won this year’s prize for fastest cancellation, airing only 4 episodes before the plug was pulled. Selfie made it 6 episodes, Cristela made it the whole season.
Revenge was a show that to me took the themes of the channel to an extreme and showed how hateful it could be. It made it four seasons though, so what do I know. Resurrection was a show that while more engaging that the French version Les Revenants still wasn’t quite compelling enough for me to watch and was cancelled after its second season.

Returning
greys anatomyShonda Rhimes continues to rule supreme, Grey’s Anatomy enters season 12 (although losing another original cast member this year may signal it’s living on borrowed time), the ever more ridiculous Scandal goes into season 5 and How to Get Away with Murder makes it to season 2 (I somehow missed it when it aired in the UK and am waiting for it come around again). Marvel’s Agent Carter gets a second season following its 8 episodes this year, to compliment Agents of SHIELD which swings widely in quality, but maybe Joss Whedon will spend some time with it now Avengers is done.
castleI actually gave up on Castle this year, I just got bored by it. It was touch and go for a while whether both Fillion and Katic would sign up for season 8 but they did, and back it comes. Once Upon a Time and Nashville are both series where I enjoyed the first season, but got lost and disinterested in the second and never bothered returning to. They’re renewed for seasons 4 and 5 respectively. Secrets and Lies is a new drama that completely passed me by but got renewed for season 2, American Crime is an anthology series (cf American Horror Story) and has been renewed for a second season with a whole new story but an overlapping cast.
ABC also has a pretty strong sitcom line up renewing six in all, upcoming season in brackets: Black-ish (2), Fresh Off the Boat (2), Galavant (2), The Goldbergs (2), Last Man Standing (5), The Middle (6) and Modern Family (6).

New in Autumn

The Muppets: The Muppets are back. Just like the original Muppet Show, it’s behind the scenes as they put on a show, this time a television late night chat show rather than a variety show. The series is set up as a behind the scenes documentary, including little interviews etc and aims to be more grown up. The trailer wasn’t as funny or as nostalgic as I might have hoped and they actually used the phrase “like you’ve never seen them before”. Honestly, what idiot writes these trailers?


Dr Ken: Ken Jeong a comedian who I find irritating in everything he does (most notably Community) now has his own show to spoil all by himself. The trailer was so painfully awful that I only made it half way through.


Quantico: A group of new recruits join the FBI training academy which is half military level special ops and half high school summer camp. But there’s a terrorist attack, one of the recruits is a traitor and another one is framed and must clear her name. I found the trailer deeply confusing, so I’m not sure whether the series told chronologically or in flashbacks. It also had a terrible narration that hopefully will not carry through the series.


OIL: Rich families, oil fields, money, poor families, American dream, yadda yadda yadda. Utterly not interested.


Of Kings and Prophets: Based on the biblical Books of Samuel, it looks like Game of Thrones with even fewer dragons. The trailer hovered on the edge of parody I felt and Ray Winstone may be the worst casting I’ve ever seen.

Coming later

The Catch: A woman who chases con-artists is herself conned by the man she spent a year with and was going to marry. I’m guessing the series will comprise her occasionally taking cases but mostly dealing with her personal stuff. It’s Shonda Rhimes again, so expect a strong female lead, a horrible male lead that we’re supposed to find dreamy and increasingly ridiculous plots that all combine into something incredibly compelling that you sort of hate yourself for.


The Family: Ten years ago Claire’s son disappeared. Now she’s the mayor and about to run for governor, and the son she thought was dead has reappeared. It’s a good idea for a film or mini-series, but I’m not sure it’s got the legs for a whole series. Still it’s actually an original idea so I’ll give it a try and see where it goes.


Wicked City: St in Los Angeles in 1982 following a serial killer and the investigation. I’m not sure how this can stretch into a series without becoming exceptionally repetitive and frustrating.


The Real O’Neals: A perfect catholic family turns out to have a few secrets. I may be desperate and mistaken, but I didn’t spot anything offensive or depressing in this trailer. I actually smiled a couple of times.


Uncle Buck: posh people get sufficiently desperate for a babysitter they call Uncle Buck who takes the kids to bars and is disreputable in a pre-watershed kind of way. Nothing horrific, nothing that exciting.

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2013-14 – Season Review

2013_2014Another television year is over. Or at least it is if you take the American-centric view of things which I tend to fall into, whereby the new season starts in mid September with the big pilot presentations. In the UK it’s a bit less marked, but there seems to be at least an element of September being a starting point for some new series, so I’m bundling everything together.

American Series
Almost Human S1
American Horror Story: Coven (S3)
Castle S6
Criminal Minds S9
CSI S14 (in progress)
Extant S1 (in progress)
Fargo S1
Game of Thrones S4
Grey’s Anatomy S10
House of Cards S2
Mad Men S7 Part 1
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD S1
NCIS Los Angeles S5
Orphan Black S2
Penny Dreadful S1
Scandal S3 (in progress)
The Americans S2
The Big Bang Theory S7
The Blacklist S1
The Following S2
The Good Wife S5
The Lost Ship S1 (in progress)
The Night Shift S1 (review coming soon)
The Walking Dead S4
British Series
Downton Abbey S4
Happy Valley S1
Last Tango in Halifax S2
Outnumbered S5
The Crimson Field (not reviewed)
The Honourable Woman
The Musketeers S1
The Smoke S1

Short series
Death Comes to Pemberley
Dr Who
Sherlock S3
Suspects (seems to air a couple of episodes every now and then, which is my excuse for not having reviewed it)
The 7:39

International Series
The Bridge S2
Borgen S3

Intended to watch but not got to/aired yet – Utopia S2, Chicago Fire S2 and Defiance S2. I’m also a bit behind on Perception and Nurse Jackie.

Purely by the numbers, I have watched a lot less television this year. By my count I’ve watched 20 full series of American shows (with four others in progress), 8 UK shows, 2 Scandinavian ones and about half a dozen micro-series (shows of 3 or 4 episodes – e.g. Dr Who this year, Sherlock). This year’s list looks very different to last year’s. For a start it’s considerably shorter, last year I watched 46 series (31 American, 10 UK, 3 international and 2 short series). But there’s also been a big turnover in what I watched.

I added 13 brand new shows, and three others which hadn’t aired or I didn’t watch in 2012-13. But then there were 13 series from last year which didn’t return this year, and another 9 that did air, but I chose not to watch The rest of the difference is made up of a few shows that I haven’t got to yet, or didn’t air significant numbers of episodes I that timeframe.

Best shows
orphanblackThe Good Wife – The consistently outstanding quality puts It a step above any other series on network television, and the fact that it makes more than 20 episodes per year marks its achievement as superior to anything on cable television. For the incredible writers and amazing cast to ‘churn’ out such entertaining and interesting stories and characters, it really shows up the rest of the television community. The series keeps growing and changing, never getting lazy or cheap and it is easily my favourite show of the year.

Happy Valley – a near perfect piece of television that blended serious and difficult stories with just enough humanity and humour to make it bearable. I’m not sure how I feel about there being a second series mind you, this one will be hard to top without losing the sense of reality.

Orphan Black is a fascinating series, that really should have been on my ist last year as well, but I was just slightly too slow watching it. Season 2 just got better and better, with a complex plot that never got too bogged down. The way the completely different personalities of the clones and their friends and families all came together was fascinating and it never lost sight of the ridiculousness of the idea, with plenty of humour along the way.

Honourable mentions: House of Cards was a harder watch in many ways this year, but was completely gripping from start to finish. The Honourable Woman was equally gripping, although I don’t think it quite lived up to its early potential. The Americans changed its tack a little, getting rather more serious and rather less wiggy and handled it very well; although I do miss the fun spy stuff.

Favourite shows
SherlockI’m going to put Sherlock on this list, although I hesitate to describe 3 TV movies as a ‘series’. But still, my pure delight while watching Cumberbatch and Freeman deliver Moffat’s dialogue in the beautifully directed style is unsurpassed. The series isn’t in the Best category because I did think it was a little flabby in places, and playing to the fans a little too much on a purely technical level, but as a fan, I couldn’t have loved it more.

The Walking Dead tends to swap back and forth between the ‘best’ and ‘favourite’ slots, and I’ll be honest that’s because I use it to create space in whichever category needs it. There’s a huge amount happening in this season, and yet there’s also masses of time given to the characters, and the second half the season when they’re split up into often unusual groups was particularly interesting. It never ceases to impress and thrill me that a zombie apocalypse show can be one of the most fascinating and beautiful shows on television.

I’m going to put Fargo in the ‘favourite’ category too. I think most of the quality of it actually came from the Coen brother’s film, but what the television series did was flesh it out with a really charming and engaging cast and some additional twists and turns that ultimately felt like a large diversion (the whole Oliver Platt storyline) but were entertaining enough on the way.

There are other shows that I enjoyed watching (obviously, I’m not such a masochist as to watch all of them just for the sake of completing a review), but to be honest, nothing else reached the level of “must watch” that I got from those series. If I were going to list a few honourable mentions – Downton Abbey, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, NCIS LA and The Blacklist would appear somewhere. Oh, and Game of Thrones actually felt much improved to me and (with the exception of the last couple of episodes) I rather enjoyed the season.

Acting
goodwifeIf I think about the most impactful performances this year, the most interesting and dynamic characters, I think my top five would all be women. Maybe even top ten. Shows like The Good Wife (Julianna Margulies), The Honourable Woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Happy Valley (Sarah Lancashire), Borgen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), Orphan Black (Tatiana Maslany) and Scandal (Kerry Washington) have painfully real women in the lead. Even many of the ensemble shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Fargo, The Americans, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Smoke) the female roles have amazing depth and complexity. Shows like Castle and House of Cards may appear on paper to be a male lead, but their female partners are just as vital and vibrant.

Comparably, I’m not sure the guys are having such a strong time at the moment (I know, cry me river). There are clearly some actors having a lot of fun (James Spader in The Blacklist jumping to mind), but really meaty roles and performances seem to be more limited when it comes to the long form. to the shorter series – Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in True Detective, Idris Elba in Luther to name a few.

One of the things that Emmy doesn’t award of course is ensemble. The Screen Actors Guild do (this year the nominees were Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and Homeland with Breaking Bad taking the win). The key thing to me in a strong ensemble is that it’s greater than the sum of its parts. There isn’t a single person (regular, recurring or guest) on The Good Wife that doesn’t deserve some sort of award, and yet they get even better when they’re bouncing off each other. There is no combination of characters on The Walking Dead or Grey’s Anatomy that isn’t interesting to watch with personalities subtly shifting to reflect different balances and backgrounds.

British Shows
happy_valleyAnother strong year for British shows, although I am (oddly) far more selective about the British stuff that I watch and hence have a much smaller pool for comparison. Again, the majority of these programs are driven by phenomenal female performances. They’ve also had a pretty good range, from very ‘traditional’ hard hitting dramas like Honourable Woman and Happy Valley, to more creative storytelling methods such as Suspects‘ use of documentary style, or just more fun stories such as The Musketeers and The Smoke. The miniseries model many of these shows use (or micro-series when it comes to things like Sherlock or Death Comes to Pemberley) give a high impact and very tightly constructed format that often left me wanting more.

Same old same old
castleWhile the shows I mention above have grown or refreshed themselves, there are other shows that just continue doing the same old thing, season after season. They form a sort of backbone to my television watching, they’re safe and secure and nothing alarming is going to happen. Even when Grey’s Anatomy throws giant disasters at their sweeps episodes and shuffles major cast members, it still somehow feels comfortable and familiar. Low stress. So when CSI season 14 is just like season 12, or Criminal Minds season 9 is just like season 8, I try to be content with that. It makes for boring reviewing, but comfortable watching. And at the end of the day, I’m not confident that the writers could shake things up without actually destroying the core of what I enjoyed about the show in the first place.

But those shows will always be at risk of getting bumped for something just slightly more interesting. Particularly given that many of them are deteriorating into “things to watch while I do something else” series. They’re disposable, not worth paying that much attention to. But there’s a limit to the amount of time I spend ironing and cooking and some shows run the risk of falling off into the next section of “things I just can’t be bothered with”. The Following is in the danger zone at the moment, and much as it pains me to say it, so is Castle which had an utterly tedious season of wedding planning.

Things I just couldn’t face
Supernatural - Season 5Then there were nine that I just didn’t want to watch. Nashville and Once Upon a Time were both fun, but I just didn’t feel like watching them this year. Hannibal had a short season so I stuck it out last year, but couldn’t be bothered this year. Homeland lost me and a lot of people this season, for me it was the moment that Saul, up to now the voice of calm and reason, shouted at a woman for wearing a veil because he was unable to separate extremism from religion. I dropped both Blue Bloods and Bones (after 8 seasons!) because I got fed up with the lack of growth and development, particularly frustrating in Bones where characters would just loop endlessly in circles. House of Lies I gave up on because everyone was so unremittingly nasty. Young Doctor’s Notebook and Warehouse 13 just kind of fell through the gaps. Hardest of all, I’ve stopped watching Supernatural because I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the endless misery and trauma that befell characters that I loved.

Easy access
Game of ThronesI think it’s easy to forget sometimes how lucky we are these days to be able to watch American shows so quickly. High profile shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead air within just hours of the US, and many shows air within a few weeks (often they start a long way behind but run through without interruption so by the end of the year everything’s caught up). A few years ago I had to write most of my reviews based on somewhat dodgy sources of the episodes, but now I can generally just wait a short while before being in synch with the US.

It’s also phenomenally easy to watch television however you want to watch it. Whether it’s live broadcast, via DVR, catchup service or streaming distribution on Amazon or Netflix (or, yes, various questionably legal sources too). I watched Extant on Amazon Streaming Video which I get for just a fiver a month (formally Lovefilm), I watched House of Cards on dvd, I’m catching up on Perception using Sky’s boxset service, and have Utopia stacked up on my Sky+. I can get the Sky Never Miss system to email me when new seasons of my favourite shows are starting and set them to record from my phone. It’s all SO easy!

But that does mean that when things aren’t available it feels like the end of the world. If the UK distributor decides against picking up a series you can be left in limbo. Once Upon a Time and Supernatural both lost their UK broadcasters and haven’t aired this year. Many of the new series never made it to the uk (although that wasn’t always the end of the world). Still it is hilarious when the Americans grumble about having to wait for Downton Abbey.

Overall
It’s taken me a long time to write this round-up, because quite frankly I couldn’t get very excited about it. I wasn’t overwhelmed with things I wanted to sing the praises of, or even things that I wanted to moan about (although I’d suggest going and having another look at my Mad Men review if you’re after that). The whole year just felt a bit… meh. Several of the more exciting shows (for better or worse) didn’t return this year, the established shows are just ticking along and there really didn’t seem to be anything particularly outstanding coming along to replace them. It wasn’t a terrible year by any means, but it certainly wasn’t an outstanding one.

Same old, same old: Castle, NCIS LA, Criminal Minds

There are two reasons for the style of this group of reviews.
1) Between them, the three shows have clocked up 20 seasons. Once they settled in, they’ve been pretty consistent in their strengths and weaknesses. I’m running out of original things to say about them.
2)I’m pretty far behind on my reviewing, and powering through three reviews was likely the only way I was going to catch up.

ncislaNCIS: LA: Season 5
Yay, still the same – the characters and the relationships between them are great, and the banter between them just about perfect. From season 4: “The banter between characters is laugh out loud funny. [It] feels like real people talking, with pop-culture references, sarcasm, recurrent jokes, flashes of anger, touches of fondness.”
Boo, still the same – the plots. They’re getting more and more disposable and I rarely pay them the slightest bit of attention. You can generally be solved by the audience in the first few minutes through the power of looking for the random witness who actually got speaking lines, and I’m not sure the writers even care about that.
Anything new? – the development of the characters and relationship between Deeks and Kensi was interestingly done. The story about Kensi in Afghanistan was another example of me not caring about the actual details of the plot, but enjoying where it took the character. It was also a particularly elegant way of dealing with an actress on maternity leave.
Optimism for the future – pretty high actually, they don’t seem to be breaking the characters or letting them get stale like original NCIS did, and given that the plots are utterly irrelevant, it’s hard to make them worse.

CriminalMindsCriminal Minds: season 9
Yay, still the same – the individual storylines are still original and interesting even after hundreds of episodes. The regular and guest casts never fail to show the emotional impact of crimes. So even if the crimes are extreme, Criminal Minds still feels more realistic than most other crime procedurals.
Boo, still the same – From season 2, “My biggest complaint about season 2 is that they try to make it too personal in places”. Every season since I’ve made the same complaint and that the big storylines just haven’t worked. This one was no different, the cryptic references to something in JJs past didn’t intrigue me in the slightest and the violent resolution felt like it crossed a line into gratuitous.
Anything new? – Back last season I actually predicted a problem the show was about to have. “I think the writers made a mistake this season with the introduction of Blake. She arrived during the unseen summer months, so was pretty much integrated with the team by the time the audience met her and just blended in as if she’d always been there. The writers missed an opportunity to have a new take on the other characters, and a shift in the dynamics of the team.” That carried through, I never engaged with her character, and so her leaving meant nothing. Hopefully the writers will learn from this and do a better job introducing her replacement.
Optimism for the future – middling. My interest levels are starting to wain a bit and I’m not sure how much longer this show can keep going. A new character might inject some energy, but I thought that with Blake and they mucked it up.

castleCastle: Season 6
Yay, still the same – Nathan Fillion is still charm on a stick, Stana Katic gives him a run for his money and there are plenty of moments of sweetness and humour held together with serviceable plots.
Boo, still the same – Will someone please do something with the supporting characters? They’re gradually being reduced to little more than cameos and they can do better. Mind you, if the only thing the writers can offer is of the quality of plot and boyfriend that Alexis got landed with, maybe Esposito, Ryan, Martha and Lanie (remember Lanie?) are better off without stories.
Anything new? God do I ever not give a crap about Castle and Becket’s wedding! The endless debates about venues and dresses and spending a fortune on everything seemed extremely out of touch with reality. I’m not really a wedding person, so maybe this worked for other people, but to me, Castle and Becket are together and happy, everything else is just unnecessary fussing.
Optimism for the future – not great. After a year of building up to it, they didn’t even manage to walk down the aisle and I’m not sure I can face another year discussing caterers.

Castle: Season 5

castleAfter Bones finally settled on one side of the “will they won’t they?” fence, Castle followed suit and committed to “they will”. With both shows I’ve never really been that interested in either the question or the answer of whether the professional partners should become romantic ones too, so approached each commitment with a lot of reservations. I was really surprised that I found Brennan and Booth’s relationship on Bones not just tolerable, but actually interesting and entertaining. Sadly, I’m not quite so enthusiastic about the approach that’s been taken on Castle, but I am relieved that the show is at least not weaker for it.

Maybe the reason that the Bones relationship worked is that they skipped straight past all the awkward dating phase and moved straight to living together and having a baby. That’s not the case on Castle and I think that’s why the whole thing felt considerably less fresh and exciting. The couple go through all the usual stages and traumas – sneaking around and keeping the relationship secret from families and co-workers, getting found out, nervousness around exes, wondering “where we’re going”. It hit all the predictable notes.

That said though, Castle has always excelled at taking the familiar and putting enough charm on the top that you don’t really care. Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic play out the tropes and clichés with such humour, character and charisma, that even cynical old me usually found myself carried along in the moments. It would be marvellous to see what these actors could do with original, fresh material, but at least if we must have unoriginal storylines, they are being done well.

There wasn’t really much in the way of additional ongoing plots this season, which was another disappointment (although given their track record with shoddy arcs maybe it’s better that they don’t try). The supporting characters were their usual fun but underused selves. Alexis being in college seemed to make very little difference although it’s surprising the writers held off this long to have Alexis caught up in a crime. Did anything actually happen to the other characters at all? They do seem to have got even fewer storylines than usual. I really enjoy Esposito and Ryan, but most episodes they are little more than exposition delivery, barely even rating to “sidekick”. Mind you at least they get to appear in every episode, Martha and Lanie had little more than cameo appearances all season.

Castle is a really entertaining show to watch, but it’s increasingly becoming all charm and no substance. Doing it that way round at least means that I’ll continue to tune in every week, but I would like to see them attempt something just a bit deeper. I think everyone involved is more than capable and I’d just like to see a bit more ambition.

Castle: Season 4

Season 4 of Castle, doesn’t time fly. It actually feels like I’ve sent considerably more time with these characters than just four seasons. I mean that in a good way, the characters feel like people that I’ve known for years, maturing and adapting and going through life’s little tribulations (attempted murder, explosions, epic betrayal, you know the day to day stuff).

Castle sits alongside shows like Bones which are happy and comfortable in their place at the somewhat sillier end of the procedural spectrum. They don’t take themselves too seriously and usually focus on quirky cases rather than angst ridden investigations into the darkest crimes. I guess it’s actually pretty concerning to be treating murders as ‘fun’ just because the victims and suspects were involved in zombie walks or reality dance shows, but we’ve got to get our entertainment somewhere. There’s also usually just about enough emotional response to make you not feel like a complete monster.

The show is of course carried by Nathan Fillion, he’s the reason I started watching and his character continues to be one of the best out there, a perfect blend of irritation and charm, capable of bouncing between child-like enthusiasm and grown-up intelligence and honesty. Increasingly though I realise what a fine job Stana Katic is doing as his partner. She lets just enough humour shine through that she’s not ‘just’ the straight man and her balance of fondness and irritation with Castle is adorable. Maybe Bones’ success at creating a believable and actually rather lovely relationship between it’s two main characters has weakened me, but when Castle and Beckett eventually stopped dancing around each other at the end of the season, I wasn’t annoyed. I actually find myself really intrigued to see what happens next season without any of the sense of dread I would have had in the past.

I do wish they’d do a little more with the other supporting characters. Alexis was the only one who really got any sort of arc this year, and it was very well written and acted. Watching her go through her last year of school and struggle to decide where to go to college, torn between reluctance to leave home and excitement at the possibilities ahead was sweet and interesting, particularly when combined with watching Castle correspondingly struggle with pride and ambition for her, but sadness that she’s growing up. Their relationship is beautifully played out and right up there with Veronica and Keith Mars on the wonderful father-daughter relationship rankings.

It’s a shame the other supporting characters don’t really get much to do. Ryan and Esposito are always entertaining, their easy going and very well established partnership a good contrast to Castle and Becket who continually question their partnership. But I’d like to see Ryan and Esposito do a little bit more than just the grunt work and exposition delivery. As everything came together for Beckett and Castle at the end of the season, it seemed to be breaking apart for Ryan and Esposito and I really hope that the fallout of that is given some good screen time next season.

Like Bones and NCIS Los Angeles, this show knows what it is and plays to its strengths, focussing on what the audience loves – the charismatic actors, geeky storylines, and bucket loads of fun banter. The episodes that I find least interesting are actually the ones with the biggest plots, the two parter in the middle of the season with a whole conspiracy theory and national threat thing going on I just found rather tedious. It’s an easy going show, comfortable to settle in with over dinner at the end of a long day.

Castle: Season 3

Castle always feels a little like summer viewing, like it should be hidden away on a random small channel (like it is in the UK where it premiers on Alibi). It just doesn’t feel like it’s big enough to air on a major network in the US, the humour is geeky and subtle, the characters deep but not cliché, the whole tone of the thing is far closer to cable summer shows like White Collar and Leverage. But it isn’t hidden, it’s prime-time on ABC, and holds its own in the ratings, coming out 30th overall this year squeezed between Bones at 29 and Grey’s Anatomy at 31. Not too shabby.

I, and I suspect many others, would never really have given the show a second glance if not for the fact that it stars Firefly’s Nathan Fillion. Network executives (and the world as a whole) owe Joss Whedon such a debt of thanks for finding this guy and giving him a chance to prove that he’s leading man material, he’s one of those actors that just beams out of the screen. He’s absolutely superb as the eponymous Castle, a completely charming scoundrel who would be utterly frustrating if not for the fact the writers gave him the gift of a ditzy mother and an overly smart teenage daughter who allow him to show the vulnerability that he doesn’t let the rest of the world see.

The strength of the premise of course is to pair this irresistible force with someone who is completely uncharmed by him. Becket started out as rigid and hard, but by season 3 she has softened considerably. She’s a bit more friendly, a bit more willing to trust and treat her colleagues as her team and Castle as her partner. That’s not to say she’s not still exasperated by Castle and driven to solve her cases, it’s just all a little less highly strung.

Unfortunately, the ongoing arc that winds its way through the season was a bit of a letdown. While it gave some more meaty material, it just didn’t quite sit right. The day to day plots are an entertaining collection of random cases, but they’re played more for humour than for empathy. The victims die in entertaining ways (explosive decompression, a Houdini water tank drowning), or participate in a specific obscure element of society (beauty queens, steampunk fans); it’s not that people don’t grieve their losses, but it feels more superficial. This isn’t a show about the lives that are devastated by crime (the victims, the families AND the perpetrators). Think Bones, not Criminal Minds.

But the arc storyline about Becket being haunted by her mother’s death and desperate to solve the case just didn’t quite fit in that model. Particularly once it turned into a conspiracy theory and police overstepping their powers. The big reveal at the end felt particularly weird, it really didn’t fit with the easy-going comedy leanings of the rest of the show.

But, I do love it. It’s so easy and entertaining to watch. I sat down to watch an episode over lunch one Saturday and lost the whole afternoon watching about 6 episodes in a row. I find the show so entertaining I’m even willing to overlook the frustrations of the will-they-won’t-they relationship that isn’t quite as annoying as it is on Bones, but comes close sometimes. Nathan Fillion is utterly wonderful and this part is perfect for him, a scoundrel with a heart of absolute gold. Becket is formidable, a hard and determined exterior with a centre of mush. Even the sidekicks Ryan and Esposito seemed to be having more fun and turning into an entertaining double act in their own rights. Other than the rather out of place arc storyline, it was a great season and I’m looking forward to the next one.

2008-2009 Television

I decided this year that rather than do a summary of my tv watching at the start of the year, it made more sense to do it in the middle, once all the ‘current’ seasons of stuff have wrapped for the year. It means almost all the US shows (which make the bulk of my watching) have completed their seasons and can be reviewed as a whole. Also, I basically failed to get round to doing this in January and after a while this excuse seemed valid.

A quick add up shows that I’ve watched approximately 400 episodes of television this year. That’s about 300 hours and it’s not including the stuff I’ve watched that wasn’t new this year or random stuff like Top Gear and documentaries, probably about half as much again. Just imagine the useful things I could have got done in that time!

So, here’s the list of this year’s shows I’ve watched:

  • Battlestar Galactica – Season 4
  • Being Human – Season 1
  • Bones – season 5
  • Brothers and Sisters – season 3
  • Castle – season 1
  • Criminal Minds – season 4
  • CSI – Season 9 (about halfway)
  • CSI:NY – season 6
  • Dollhouse – Season 1
  • Friday Night Lights – season 3
  • Gossip Girl – Season 2
  • Grey’s Anatomy – season 5
  • Heroes – Season 3 (Up to episode 14)
  • House – season 5 (Up to episode 21)
  • Lie to Me – Season 1
  • Mad Men – Season 2
  • Merlin – Season 1
  • NCIS – season 6
  • Primeval- Season 3
  • Pushing Daisies – Season 2
  • Stargate Atlantis – Season 5
  • Supernatural – Season 4
  • The Mentalist – Season 1
  • Torchwood – Children of Earth/Season 3
  • Warehouse 13 – season 1 (Up to episode 10)

This year’s new additions
This year’s new shows were either instant hits for me or instant misses, I started with ten, dropped three within a few episodes but will watch season 2 of the remaining seven. The Mentalist, Castle and Lie to Me are all fairly standard procedural type things, extremely watchable thanks to very strong leads (all male, where are the female leads?). Each of the shows has the danger of becoming too formulaic if the writers aren’t careful, but the first seasons were all very fun to watch.

Warehouse 13 (which is a midseason show, so only about 8 episodes in), Being Human and Merlin are an interesting triangle. Warehouse 13 is a fun concept that disappointingly looks and feels very cheap – the CGI is bloody awful, the writing is clumsy and dumb and the only saving grace is some enthusiastic actors who are doing more with the scripts than they deserve. Being Human meanwhile is a great concept that is charming and fun pushes the limitations of its budget and scope as far as humanly (or otherwise) possible and was much better than I expected. Merlin meanwhile was pretty much exactly as I expected, cheesy and ridiculous but an entertaining way to spend an hour on a Saturday night.

The final new show I’ve stuck with is Dollhouse, which got off to an extremely bumpy start but eventually kicked into gear and got very interesting in the second half of the season, finishing with a superb ‘finale’ that was actually never aired in the US. The blatant network interference to give more action and sex made a real dent in the interesting concepts that Whedon was trying to investigate through his customary quirky, fun and occasionally traumatising style. I’d also like to praise the casting, with Whedon extending his growing family of actors with some wonderful and non-standard additions.

Shows I gave up on this year include The Unusuals – a ‘quirky’ procedural that wasn’t nearly quirky enough. I watched the pilot of Fringe but didn’t get on with it, I might give it another try at some point though. Knight Rider gave itself away as painfully awful when about 5 minutes into the pilot they came up with the dumbest excuse ever to get their characters to strip to their underwear, and just continued to get dumber.

Tune in tomorrow for cops and robbers and medical mysteries.