Recently, I read an interview with a television actor* in which the subject of contentious writing came up after the interviewer asked about the actor's motivations in a scene that seemed uncharacteristic. "The writers have given me this wonderful character," the actor pointed out, "but whatever loopholes I might see in it, I am at the mercy of the pen. I am at the mercy of what they write."
It's an interesting dilemma to ponder, as we are completely (and, I would argue, necessarily) outside the creative loop of writing, producing and acting in a television show. Since we spend so much time obsessing over every part of their lives, we don't tend to think of actors as being subservient to a higher authority.
Yet that is precisely the point this actor was making: he/she basically does what he/she is told. In the same way that the kid who scoops ice-cream in the dairy after school doesn't quiz the owners about purchasing decisions, actors usually don't question writers and producers. They just turn up on set and perform to the best of their ability.**
Anyway, this interview came to mind as I was wondering how Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic might honestly feel about the latest season of Castle. Last night's episode was the 20th of this fourth season - a season which has steeply deteriorated in quality with each instalment, forgetting everything that made the first three seasons work so well. Fillion and Katic must have noticed this, right?
Castle has never been a show suited to intense scrutiny; it's always been a quirky crime procedural with sexual tension between its leads and family comedy on the side. The writing was always interesting, with Beckett and Castle investigating curious, whimsical cases unlike anything you'd find on any other procedural show. Pop culture references were plentiful. The show had a nice visual style.
Castle was a fun show to watch. Pure one-dimensional entertainment - and I loved it.
So you can understand why I'm bitterly disappointed with the latest season of the show. Season 4 of Castle has got worse and worse each week. The quirky stories have given way to predictable cases and lazy crime drama clichés - a couple of red herrings, a twist in the fourth act, needless repetition of case facts and character name, and so on. Characters are being wedged into situations they don't need to be in, like Castle's daughter Alexis suddenly working as an intern at the coroner's office with Lanie (probably because actress Molly Quinn demanded more screen time).
There have been more silly episodes than ever before: there was the episode where the guys headed to Atlantic City, the one where Det Ryan was a suspect because his old gun was used, the double-episode where yet another of Castle's old girlfriends (conveniently working for the CIA) gets involved, last week's "hey, look, we're up with current events" episode set at a Takeover Wall Street riot ... it's like the television equivalent of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers' output since 1999.
Then there is the handling of the Castle-Beckett love story. Last week, Castle found out that Beckett remembered everything from her shooting - including the moment that he admitted that he loved her. Did he suddenly realise that he had been foolish to keep his feelings hidden? Did he try to talk to her about their relationship, both at work and (potentially) at home?
Of course not! Instead, Castle decides that she has been lying to him all this time, has a moan to his mum, and parades a string of floozies in front of Beckett before looking stunned when she goes out with some guy.
Hey, I'm an unashamed fan of having Castle & Beckett hook up at some point - I even wrote about it once - but not like this. Just get them together already. Don't have them acting like a pair of awkward teenagers.
I'm actually getting angry about Castle, even as I sit on my couch writing this.
My point is that the show has got worse and worse as the fourth season has moved along, and nowhere near the same level of quality as the second and third seasons. It disappoints me that I've lost one of my favourite shows, a simple and fun watch every week. I wonder what Fillion and Katic think about their show right now.
How are you feeling about the latest season of Castle? As disappointed as I am?
(*) I'm not linking to the interview as it contains major, major spoilers for a show currently airing on Four.
(**) Some actors are more involved at a production or writing level, but that is far from normal.
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