I quite often say that returning shows have something to prove. Castle really doesn’t: by now you know what you’re going to get, and whether you like it or not. (I still do.) There are new showrunners, it should be said, but both were previously members of the show’s writing team, so I’m not expecting major changes. I wouldn’t be surprised were this to be the final season, mind you; ratings haven’t been great in America, and Stana Katic took a while to sign up this time round, which suggests that costs are getting high, and/or that at least one key member of the cast might be getting restless (tonight, Alibi, 9pm).
I’m not a fan of costume drama; at least, not if it’s set any earlier than the 1950s, so on one hand I’m probably not the target audience for BBC4’s new Scandi-import 1864. On the other hand, though, it’s made by DR, the Danish national broadcaster that gave us Forbrydelsen, Borgen, and The Bridge, and it stars just about everyone: Sidse Babett Knudsen (Birgitte in Borgen); Pilou Asbæk (Kasper in Borgen); Nicolas Bro (Buch in season 2 of Forbrydelsen); Søren Malling (Jan in Forbrydelsen and Torben in Borgen); Lars Mikkelson (the peerless Troels Hartmann in Forbrydelsen); and our very own Barbara Flynn. Plus millions of others.
It’s broadly about the Second Schleswig War between Denmark and Prussia, apparently an event of considerable significance to Danes. In fact, 1864 seems to have provided some controversy in Denmark, where it was shown last year, with critics on the right wing accusing DR of a revisionist and inaccurate retelling of the story. I realise that in saying this I’m opening myself up to – no doubt justified – accusations of philistinism, but I’m afraid that a hot take on a 150-year-old Danish/Prussian war isn’t my thing, and even if it were the BBC is showing it in those stupid double-bills (BBC4, Saturdays, 9pm, and on the iPlayer).
And not to be outdone, the BBC itself is showing its adaptation of the critically-acclaimed alternate-history 19th-century-set novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, with the always-watchable Eddie Marsan on board as Norrell. Our friend at @ShowStartUK drew our attention to the undoubtedly impressive trailer, but once again this doesn’t look like something for me (BBC 1, tonight, 9pm)
Castle, on the other hand, very much is my sort of thing; it’s hardly rewriting the rulebook for TV crime procedurals, but it’s amiable good fun, and it’s long been one of my favourite go-to shows when I don’t want to work too hard for an hour of TV enjoyment. I mean that very much as a compliment, incidentally. The UK is finally getting to see season 7 this week – with a further season renewal now confirmed – so it’s back to the day of the wedding and Castle’s disappearance. Cold feet? Probably not (Alibi, Wednesday 20 May, 9pm).
Now that some of the shows we’ve been week-by-weeking have finished – and, frankly, because I’m away on holiday and needed to stockpile – I’mma look back at some of the shows I’ve been watching but not writing about regularly. So let’s start with season 6 of Castle.
Perhaps the best episodes were at the start of the season, with the short-lived introduction of Lisa Edelstein – almost always a guarantee of quality – in as Beckett’s new Washington, D.C., partner, and Castle somewhat adrift in New York. I could have lived with Edelstein becoming a regular, but it wasn’t to be. Thereafter the show managed, more or less gracefully, to manage Castle and Beckett’s transition to regular couple; and might even, in the penultimate episode, have managed to finally knock the Beckett’s mom plot arc on the head. Moreover, the real life froideur I thought I had detected between the two leads seemed to have thawed out towards the end of the season. (I may, of course, have imagined it. That’s what I do.)
In fact, before watching this final episode I was going to say that at least the show didn’t insult our intelligence by contriving any number of silly ways to keep the OTP apart. But then Beckett turned out to be married to some dude she tied the knot with in Vegas like years ago and forgot about it, and Castle was hijacked on the way to the wedding by persons unknown, for reasons unknown, which at least gives us a cliffhanger for season 7, although I will not be happy if it means the resurrection of the Beckett’s mom arc. Either way, though, I’ll be back for more.
One of my favourite distractions returns this week, as UK viewers get season 6 of Castle. Now that Caskett is a thing, the writers need to find ways of making that more of a struggle than it should be (apart, of course, from the visibly diminishing chemistry between the two leads), so season 5 ended on some bobbins relationship cliffhanger, which presumably won’t be allowed to get in the way too much. You’ll probably know by now if it’s your sort of thing. It’s mine (Alibi, Thursday 9 January, 9pm).
Before that, we get our first look at The CW’s sci-fi drama The Tomorrow People, about teenagers who have evolved supernatural powers. It stars Jacob from Lost, Nina Myers from 24, Peyton List (Roger Sterling’s second wife in Mad Men), someone off of Home and Away, and a few others. It’s co-created by Greg Berlanti (Eli Stone, No Ordinary Family, Arrow), Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries) and Phil Klemmer (Chuck), with all three exec producing alongside Danny Cannon of the CSI stable. And it’s a remake of a fondly-remembered (by those who saw it, which doesn’t include me) 70’s UK teen drama. So on the face of things it has a lot going for it, but the critical response in America was lukewarm at best, and ratings have been nothing special either. Unpopcult isn’t bothering, unless CJ has a change of heart (E4, Wednesday 8 January, 9pm).
And, belatedly, we should note The 7.39, a two-part drama about a man (David Morrissey) and woman (Sheridan Smith), both in committed relationships, who meet on a commuter train and fall for each other. The first episode, which was enjoyed by at least one friend of Unpopcult, was broadcast last night, and is on the iPlayer; the finale is tonight. Now, let it be said right here and now that I am entirely in favour of scenarios in which attractive younger women fall for older married men. As, presumably, is the writer of The 7.39, David (One Day) Nicholls, who is 47 and married. Perhaps David Morrissey, who is 49 and married, is too. I can’t help but think, though, that The 7.39 would be a more interesting proposition if the gender roles were reversed. Or if it had been written by a woman. Or if one of the leads hadn’t been quite as good-looking. Or… something (BBC1, 9pm).
Also starting: NCIS season 11 (Fox, Friday 10 January, 9pm); Grey’s Anatomy season 10 (Sky Living, Wednesday 8 January, 10pm); and Longmire’s first appearance on Freeview (5USA, tonight, 9pm), about which I’m not going to say anything in case we get accused again of not doing our homework. And Hostages, also coming soon, will have its own PSA later in the week.
Something old and something new: we’re several months behind America with season 5 of Castle, but it doesn’t matter quite as much with this show. Castle is well-made, amiable tosh, with just enough inventiveness in the plotting to make it ideal end-of-a-hard-day viewing. And in Nathan Fillion it has a genuine star, albeit one operating well within his comfort zone. This season, presumably, with added Caskett. Squee. (Wednesday 20 March, Alibi, 9pm)
And the kind-of-new: Boss has already been cancelled in America after only two seasons, but the advance word is that the show is significantly better than its ratings would suggest. Kelsey “Frasier” Grammar won a Golden Globe, for what that’s worth, as Tom Kane, a mayor of Chicago, diagnosed with a neurological disorder which he keeps secret. Very probably worth a look. (Thursday 21 March, More4, 11pm.)
Finally, I haven’t been watching BBC3’s Bluestone 42, so I’ve no idea whether it’s any good or not, but Borgen completists might like to know that Katrine is in it tonight.
The season finale; I’ll get to the squeeing in a minute.
Firstly, though, it being a Castle season-ender or starter we have to address the issue of who killed Mom Beckett, and the investigation of what looks like the routine killing of a former gang member leads, inevitably, to the ever-larger conspiracy against the Beckett family. I kind of feel as if Castle has fallen into the same trap as The Mentalist – your show keeps getting renewed, so your Big Bad has to grow extra limbs and become bigger and badder. Thus Red John is no longer a lone wolf serial killer with an unusual line in interior design, but the centre of RJ LLC. Equally, the current face of the anti-Beckett family network – Maddox (Tahmoh Penikett), as of this week – is just one small part of it; there are people in shadows, people making deals, people hiding evidence from others.
What it yields is Castle having to ‘fess up to the deal he made to keep Beckett alive – Beckett, predictably, is furious, although for once Castle gets angry with her (something which, as far as I can tell, most fans of the show would like to happen a little more often). He tells her he loves her and walks away. Meantime, the relationship between Esposito and Ryan – which, at times, has looked likely to be consummated before anything happens with Beckett and Castle – is put under strain, as Ryan rats Beckett and Espo out for working behind everyone’s backs. They’ll make up, I’m pretty sure. And Maddox vows to put Kate down once and for all.
But, in the end, I don’t really care about that and nor, I suspect, do most Castle fans. What we’re here for is the Caskett and, finally, we get it, the writers really having run out of excuses to keep them apart. SQUEE! SQUEE! SQUEE!
UK viewers can now see any number of seasons of Castle in any number of places, but for those following at cable TV pace it’s back for season 4 this week. Picking up from the shooting of Beckett and Castle’s ensuing declaration of love, I suspect we’re in for a further season of the two of them failing to do it on a weekly basis, with some standard but fun procedurals going on around them. I reviewed the first episode of this season last year – it’s available on iTunes in the UK closer to American transmission – and as might be expected it’s unusually serious, but none the worse for that (Wednesday 7 March, Alibi, 9pm).
UK fans of Castle might like to know that, although the new season probably won’t hit our TV screens until 2012, it’s legitimately available on iTunes as of now.
Anyway, this most frivolous of cop procedurals had its grown-up face on for most of this episode, with Nathan Fillion’s voice staying in a lower, this-is-serious register. And, in fairness, it was a very good episode, although I have reservations about a couple of the developments, which I’ll get to in a moment.
We pick up immediately after Beckett’s shooting, and Castle’s declaration of love (squee!), so even though we know Beckett’s not going to die there are a few minutes of pointless ER suspense, with machines beeping, hearts fibbing, and paddles being charged. And pretty soon after she pulls through we find out that she doesn’t remember her shooting, therefore has no memory of what Castle said to her, and pushes him away. For three months. She returns to a squad room ruled by new boss “Iron” Gates (our old friend Penny Johnson Jerald from 24), who ludicrously insists on being called “sir”. I mean, come on. Gates is tough, no-nonsense, by-the-book – oh, you’ve seen this – and has booted Castle out on the not-unreasonable basis that he’s a writer and not a cop.
There’s a Case of the Week to provide a bit of window dressing, but we don’t lose sight of the central tension of the episode (and, I suspect, the season). Beckett can’t move forward with her life and have a meaningful relationship, she claims, until she finds out all about the increasingly unwieldy Big Conspiracy, which I freely admit to having lost track of back in season 2. Meantime, some dude warns Castle that if Beckett insists on continuing with the Big Conspiracy investigation she’s going to be killed. So he tries to steer her away, thus ensuring (a) that she’ll be demented with anger when she finds out and (b) that they’re not going to do it any time soon. Booo!
More than that, though, I’m concerned that some combination of the Big Conspiracy and a woman who insists on being called “sir” might drain the fun out of Castle; and Castle without fun isn’t going to be worth watching, I’d say. The occasional serious one is OK, though, and all concerned handled it well: in particular, and notwithstanding the twist at the end, you’d have to say that Stana Katic did a pretty good job of shutting down the normally crackling tension between Beckett and Castle. But as of now they need to lose the big story arc for a few weeks and get back to what Castle does best.
Rather like The Mentalist, Castle rounded off its third season with one of its serious episodes: ‘Who Killed Beckett’s Mom?’ is Castle’s Red John, and in both cases frivolity tends to be in short supply. So Beckett’s all, leave me alone; there’s a Major Cast Death; and the declaration some of us have been waiting three seasons for, even if the circumstances weren’t what we might have envisaged.
As it happens, I thought the developments leading up to the Major Cast Death were a little clumsy: I can see why the writers might have wanted to get there, because it was something of a shock (if foreshadowed a little by episode 23), but really? I liked the Ryan/Esposito fight, though, and of course the Cackett stuff was welcome, as someone who spends much of every episode shouting “JUST DO IT, ALREADY!” at the screen. The final scene was, for UK viewers, undercut a little by the continuity announcer telling us that we’ll have to wait until 2012 for the next season. What use is that to me? Squee.
Overall, though, Castle’s doing just fine. Ratings are actually on the increase in America – and in the current climate there aren’t many scripted shows which can claim that – making its early fourth-season renewal a good piece of work by ABC. Nathan Fillion is still very much on top of his material, and Stana Katic has improved a lot as an actor. I’m a little perturbed by the news that our old friend Penny Johnson Jerald (President Palmer’s FLOTUS in 24) has been cast as Victoria “Iron” Gates in season 4, probably taking a dim view of the involvement of Castle in police investigations, no doubt giving everyone a hard time, etc. etc.; I’ll trust the writers for now, although if you ask me that might not suit the generally easy-going vibe of the show. Which, when it comes down to it, is why we watch: it’s a solid, well-made, almost old-fashioned show which is generally a pleasure to watch, and which has actually got better during its run.
Quite a few of our favourite shows are finishing their seasons round about now, but nature abhors a vacuum on TV the same as anywhere else, so there’s plenty of new stuff around the corner.
First up is the start of season 2 of Brit-drama Luther, with Idris Elba in the starring role. This is a prime example of a show which got a rather better critical reception outside of its home territory. I didn’t watch season 1, but apparently it improved as it went on. If anyone wants to report back on this season, we’d be happy to hear from you. (Tuesdays, 9pm, BBC 1.)
Then on Wednesday Nikita‘s back for the second half of its debut season. Now, I’m perfectly happy to concede that Nikita is total nonsense. For example: what’s that apartment of hers like? How does she afford it? Why has no-one worked out that the leaks are coming from Division’s very own computer room? And what’s the deal with Nikita and Michael? (The last being of the most pressing concern to at least 50% of Unpopcult.) It’s silly, yes, but also kind of awesome, and we’ll be finding out what the future holds for Nikita, Michael, Alex, Mikita, Malex, and any other combinations they’ve got going on Wednesday 15 June (9pm, Sky Living).
Then on Friday UK viewers get their first sight of season 5 of Dexter, picking up with our antihero as a single parent, Rita having been killed in the grandstanding season 4 finale. By now you’ll know where you stand with Dexter; I like it, and there’ll be week-by-week reviews here. I’d be surprised if it reaches the heights of seasons 1 and 2, but it might just be that familiarity is dulling the impact (FX, 1opm).
And finally, while those of us watching on Alibi are now halfway through season 3 of Castle, terrestrial viewers get their first chance to see it with a from-the-start run on channel 5, fitting right into The Mentalist’s Friday 9pm slot. As it happens, it’s an ideal show for that time on a Friday evening: charming, absurd, and with a bit of will-they-won’t-they between its two attractive leads. I like it a little bit more than The Mentalist; there’s not so much drinking tea in the drawing rooms of rich widows, and in Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic it has – as I’ve said before – a couple with genuine chemistry, unlike The Mentalist’s siblings. (And, as CJ can confirm from my increasingly frenzied texts, they are presently the TV duo I most want to be doing it off-screen.) It’s worth sticking with.
Camelot started on Saturday as well, but it’s probably shit.