Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion in "Castle."Fake Writer, Real Books? That’s ‘Castle’ Fake Writer, Real Books? That’s ‘Castle’By GINIA BELLAFANTE
On a recent episode of “Castle,” the cutesy ABC police procedural that is more gumdrop than gumshoe, a male stripper turns up dead after a night of carousing with some bachelorettes who are still drunk and memory-impaired from cheap tequila. Before long it is revealed that the stripper — who liked to dress up as a cop, carry a toy gun and call himself Officer McNaughty — was also involved in a real estate con. And this is where, from a critical perspective, things get problematic.
Set in Manhattan but obviously filmed on a sound stage in Los Angeles, “Castle” is so uninterested in even the taint of reality that it presents a phantasm New York where there are not only motels but also motels with parking lots. The property scam to which McNaughty was connected duped buyers into thinking they could get huge and modish riverfront lofts in Hoboken, N.J., for $400,000 with $10,000 down. I mean, please. This is an insult both to the New York metropolitan area’s cherished housing obsession and to each resident who can recite price-per-square-foot differentials the way a knowledgeable baseball announcer can quote on-base percentage.
“Castle,” now in its third successful season and having its best ratings to date, is on one level an innocuously dopey confection and an arguable waste of 44 DVR minutes. Yet on another, it is an impressive bit of meta fiction, a tribute to its own artifice that would almost seem to demand a guest appearance by Joaquin Phoenix.
At the center is a mystery novelist and doughy rogue named Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion), who speaks in a pseudo-aristocratic near whisper. To cure his writer’s block, he gets his friend the mayor to pair him up with a gorgeous and self-serious homicide detective as a means of finding inspiration. Proving a sufficient muse, the detective, Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), eventually becomes the basis for a new serial character whom Castle, as if culling names from Penthouse Forum letters, calls Nikki Heat. Like Beckett, Heat is reluctantly teamed in this story-within-a-story instance with a writer looking for good material, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist named Jameson Rook.