A Castle Community
Monday 10:00 PM on ABC

Hey everyone; I have a metaphor for you. Imagine there's a restaurant you like. It's one of your favorite places to eat. And the reason you like it is because of their signature dish. Fish and chips, we'll say for the sake of adding detail. They make really good fish and chips. Like, really good.

There's just one problem though: it's practically the only thing they make. Sure, they have some pretty good chicken strips, and occasionally there will be clam chowder on the menu. But that's it. And it's not like this is the only restaurant out there. In fact, there are a lot of them. And pretty much all of these restaurants have full, varied menus, complete with desserts and starters. They even give you free bread and butter. So, while you really like going to your favorite restaurant for fish and chips, you can't help noticing that they could be doing a lot better. And you can't help wondering when one of these other, full-service restaurants will start making fish and chips that are just as good. Or who knows, you may even grow tired of seafood.

I imagine most of you can see where this is going. You hear the tremors of a rant coming on, don't you? Well you're right. Over the month-long hiatus, I've been thinking a lot about Castle. Okay, so it was only an hour or so (five minutes for the restaurant bit), but you know what I mean. And the thing is...Castle is kind of a bad show? IN COMPARISON, I should probably add as quickly as possible. Look, don't hate me or anything, but it's true. Because compared to just about every single show of its kind out there, Castle doesn't put in nearly as much effort.

I know I've said this before, but this time I really mean it. There are so many things that Castle just doesn't do, especially lately. It doesn't do arcs, character development, recurring characters, and it doesn't treat half of its main cast all that well. Sure, our beloved show brings a lot to the table, but he proportions are way off. It's all Caskett, is what I'm saying. Caskett, Ryan, Esposito, wacky/fun cases, and... Yeah, that's it. And while I like all of these things, there's a lot more that I'd like to see. Some of them are parts of the show that have been prevalent in the past, but sadly are no more. And some of them are things that this show has never done, ever.

I'd like to give a shout-out to someone who commented a couple of reviews ago. xubxerox (this feels like it should be a palindrome, but it sadly isn't) said that Castle seems to be "falling behind when compared to a TV landscape that is producing better and better serialized television." He/she went on to say that while she/he still watches and enjoys the show, there are other shows that he/she looks forward to more and follows more closely. Essentially, there a lot more offerings of high caliber television out there than there have been in years past.

I completely agree with xubxerox, since I've been thinking exactly the same for a while now. I like Castle; I always have. But there are so many other shows out there that I enjoy more. And they all offer so many other things than just fish and chips. They have recurring characters, multiple plot arcs, twists that are actually shocking and have lasting implications. And it kind of goes without saying that main characters are actually main characters.

I mean, damn there are so many television shows out there. When the History Channel starts doing its own scripted series, you know that the market is flooded. Castle used to be somewhat unique with its premise of a civilian with specific and unique skills assisting the authorities in investigations. But now you've got Psych (well...yeah...not so much anymore), The Mentalist, Hannibal and The Blacklist, just to name a few. And The Blacklist airs at the exact same time as Castle. The Blacklist itself happens to be a rookie show that has already given each and every single one of its characters a healthy dose of back-story and development, had numerous arcs as well as a steady season arc, has a steady stream of recurring characters, and has delivered a number of genuinely shocking twists. Let's just say that it's a good thing we don't have to choose between TV shows airing at the same time like we used to.

The truth is that Castle entered this world at a time when the television landscape was very different. There were a lot less shows, and there was a lot less scrutiny. I mean, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has gotten a lot of flak for not giving some of its main roles enough character development and backstory. Now, all of these characters had backstory and development, apparently just not enough of it. And this criticism was put forth before the first season hit the half-way mark. Can you imagine how much harsher it would be if that same criticism was leveled at Castle? I mean, just look at Gates. This is her third season as a main character and I can still count everything I know about her on one hand: she used to work in Internal Affairs, she has a sister named Elizabeth, she likes dolls, and she likes to dance. And that last one we only got in this week's episode.

Speaking of this week's episode, I bet a lot of you would like me to stop saying bad things about Castle and start saying good things. Fair enough, because "That '70s Show" was one of the best episodes of all time. Seriously, it was thoroughly enjoyable and fun throughout. I don't know about you, but I had a blast. So in the interests of keeping at least some of my readership, let's turn away from the big bad realities of how Castle is lazy compared to other shows, and instead talk about "That '70s Show," an episode that is now securely nestled in my Top 10 list.

The zany, wacky, lovely craziness of this episode all started when some construction/demolition workers unearthed a time capsule from 1978. They found a bunch of cool stuff there, including a ring, a necklace, and part of an old suit. Oh yeah, and a skeleton. At first I thought they were going to have to confront whoever had buried the capsule to tell them that slipping a skeleton in there isn't really how it's done. But as it turns out it wasn't a time capsule after all. Someone had buried a dead body in concrete back in 1978. I guess I should have seen that coming; since there wasn't even a capsule present. Just time.

Castle being Castle, he immediately identified the skeleton as belonging to Vince Bianchi, former Mafia Don of the Bianchi family. He'd gone missing way back in, you guessed it, 1978, and until now no one had found the body. And even though Beckett and her team aren't the cold case unit or anything, they thought: "Sure, why not? Let's solve a thirty six year old mob hit in a couple of days."

So the next thing we knew our heroes were getting a briefing from this guy.

As if the writers really wanted to remind me of one of the major issues I have with this show, they threw this guy into the works. Who the hell was he? I mean, if Castle still exists in a world that contains even a shred of logic and order, then this guy would have been a police officer in the organized crime unit back in 1978. Very likely the person currently to be considered lead on said case. And I assume that's who he was. But all we got canonically was Beckett calling him Detective Boyle. I mean, instead of being all vague about back in the day we all wanted him taken down, and all that, couldn't he have said "I headed up the Bianchi case but unfortunately we got nowhere" or something like that? For all we know, he could be the only cop they could find who looked old enough to be around back then (all the extras in the precinct look relatively young). I realize that characters like these are mainly vehicles for exposition, but you don't have to make it that obvious. I mean, I'd like to think that Laney isn't just a vehicle for exposition, even though that's basically what she is these days.

Anyway, there was one person who could have information that would lead them to the killer. Back in the day, he was the consigliere to the Bianchi family. He was Vince's closest advisor, and potentially could blow the case wide open. There was just one problem: due to an extremely convenient (to the plot) mental disorder, he still thought he was living in the 70's. So this is essentially how we got to meet this week's guest star.

Harold Leone (played by Jon Polito of Miller's Crossing and many others) came on very hard. He was loud, proud, and sexist. Now, I'm glad that the writers didn't try and whitewash over the unpleasant aspects of the 70's. Because damn did they make this guy excessive. I mean, I can't even imagine what it must have been like for the black woman working for him all these years.

Anyway, once we met Harold, "That 70's Show" really started to earn its name. Because the rest of the episode essentially consisted of our heroes creating elaborate reproductions of the 70's so that Harold would give them information. And while you'd think he'd go into seizures every time they drove from somewhere (this show takes place in modern day New York City, let's not forget), they seemed to only have to worry about him losing it whenever they were inside buildings. So it was at this point in the episode when Castle called upon someone just as delusional as Harold. Someone who lived in her own world, and who depended on everyone playing along with her delusions. You know who I'm talking about.

Now, Castle has always been the kind of cop show where our heroes do just about anything to solve whichever case happens to have fallen on their lap. But while I realize this isn't The Wire or anything, the lengths they went to this week were pretty darn excessive. I mean, the thing at the morgue was very doable. And it was nice to see Laney doing something different for a change.

But spending who knows how much money to seventify the entire NYPD precinct? What? How? I mean, first of all it's not like the Bianchi murder was the only case those people were working on, right? I mean, the entire Homicide Division must be collectively working on a number of other murders that presumably happened recently, right? I mean, there are killers that could strike again and family members of victims who want justice sooner rather than later. And second of all, this is the thirty six year old murder of a mob boss we're talking about here. I mean, this guy must have killed, and ordered the killings of, several people. Why did they go to so much trouble to solve the decades old murder of someone who kind of had it coming?

Buy hey, that's the voice of grumpy logic talking. Even though it was really hard for me to swallow the premise of this episode (more than time travel, just saying), I was happy to do it because awesome things happened. The whole 70's precinct scene was gold. Literally everyone on the show except Laney was there having fun. Even Alexis dropped by to wear a halter top (Incidentally, was I the only one who at first thought she was only wearing a bra when she showed up?). But the best part of that whole scene, and probably the whole episode, was this:

Wow that whole thing was hilarious. It's a shame that Ryan and Esposito don't often get to have this much fun. Considering the fact that Ryan's gone undercover in the past, and him and Esposito dressing up this episode worked so well, why don't they just do this more often? Seriously, I would happily swallow any pathetically contrived justifications to see Ryan and Esposito dress up in ridiculous costumes and put on voices each episode.

Anyway, the only clue they were able to get out of that whole charade was that some place named Glitteroti was involved. And, as luck would have it, that place was currently a disco club. So Ryan and Esposito headed down there with Harold to see if the fortune Castle spent on the most elaborate themed day at work paid off.

Meanwhile, Castle and Beckett had been utilizing more orthodox police methods throughout this episode. Anyone tied to Vince Bianchi back in the day were considered a suspect. Except for all the cops, oddly enough. I mean, you'd think that whenever a mafia don gets killed, at least one of the boys in blue is suspected a little bit (and at that time they were all boys, because, you know, sexism). Regardless, the writers had some fun giving us some washed up mobsters. Like Louie "The Lip" Maneri, who back in the day must have been some wise-cracking wise-guy, but in the harsh light of the 21st Century couldn't even talk.

There was also Michael "Mickey The Blade" Carcano (Larry Joshua of NYPD Blue). Unlike poor Louie, Carcano still had it going on, being the head of his own family both then and now. And while there was a good deal of missing backstory on him, like why he was called "Mickey the Blade" (I realize he probably killed people a lot with a knife, but still writers, don't make me fill in the blanks on everything myself), he handled himself well in the interrogation room without admitting to everything. It's more than most suspects on this show have been capable of.

Back at the disco club, it turned out that Harold had been playing the cops ever since the morgue. He was fully aware that the 70's had long since passed, and he had been using them to get to the man he thought had murdered Vince: Frank Russo (Ray Abruzzo from The Sopranos). Russo had been a lieutenant in the Bianchi family when Vince was murdered. Shortly afterward he took over. After having a gun aimed at him for a bit, and being questioned by the NYPD, Russo admitted that Bianchi requested the private use of the club that night. Apparently he was meeting with someone, and whoever that was killed him.

Now, this was where things got painfully awkward for those of us trying to guess who the killer was. Russo was certain that Vince had met with a girl at the club that night. Now, there were only two female characters in this episode who were tied to the mafia world of the 70's, presumably. The wife of Frank Russo, and the wife of Louie the Lip. Both of them had only a few lines apiece, and neither of them were given any backstory. So if a woman did kill Bianchi, you had a 50/50 chance of guessing who it was. It wasn't until literally seconds before the killer was revealed that Castle and Beckett learned that 1. Vince was going to marry Michael Carcano's sister in order to formerly merge the families, and 2. Russo's wife was that sister. It was also seconds before the killer was revealed that we learned Harold and Vince had been having a secret romance, and it was a man that Vince had planned on meeting that night. But again, by that point they had already begun unwrapping the packaging on the killer's identity.

Oh, did I mention that Castle, Beckett, and Harold were totally shot at by an assassin at the morgue? Yeah, that happened a while back, and it turned out that our heroes essentially wrapped this case up by finding the hitman and getting him to confess. Russo's wife hired him to kill Harold because she thought he knew too much. It was a mistake that cost her one last session with her meditation teacher.

So the case was over, but the episode had one last hurrah to give us before the end. Everyone went back to Glitteroti to disco like women had only been allowed to vote for a decade. This was probably one of the best scenes in the entire series, as it did something that I don't think has ever happened, ever. Every single main character appeared in the same place, at the same time. I may be wrong, but I don't think all of the main characters have been in the same room before; not even in the same episode, for that matter. It was certainly a breath of fresh air for me to see them all grooving as one. And that's how the episode ended, with them all dancing together. And with Harold gently swaying to and fro, as if he were dancing with Vince Bianchi.

Anyway, the best part of "That 70's Show" is that the entire cast not only showed up, but each had a fun part to play. At first I thought this was going to be a Martha episode, and it sort of was, what with her coordinating and directing the elaborate 70's make-over at the precinct. But in reality, it was an everyone episode. Gates was fabulous as she walked in on the mayhem that the Castles had ushered into her kingdom. Ryan and Esposito got to dress up and fall off of car hoods. Laney got to wear something other than scrubs and appear in a place that wasn't the morgue or a crime scene. And while Alexis has had a large impact on this season (having her own episode no less), we haven't seen her that much lately; so it was nice to see her in multiple scenes again. Even Tory Ellis got to dress up in 70's garb and show up in that final scene. I mean, she didn't have any lines, but we saw her somewhere other than that computer room. I was starting to think she wasn't allowed to leave or something.

Overall, "That 70's Show" was arguably the best episode of the season because it created a fun world in which every single one of our main characters got to play in. Sure, the whodunit was incidental, but the path our heroes took towards discovering the murderer more than made up for it. But the thing is, all the aspects I liked about this episode shines a larger spotlight on the problems I've been having with Castle in general. I was thoroughly pumped to see this episode utilize all of its characters in a fun, creative way. But honestly, this should be the norm, not the extreme exception. While good shows don't necessarily have all of their main characters appear in every episode, they all show up most of the time, and when they do they're given a spotlight at least half the time. The fact that "That 70's Show" is the only episode in the past two seasons to actually do this is maddening. As much as I loved this episode, it annoyed me how I practically felt like giving the writers a standing ovation for something they should be doing all the time.

Essentially, "That 70's Show" serves as a number of things for the series. First of all, it is a reminder of what Castle is capable of. It can have all of its main characters show up and have a purpose for being there. And it can create mini worlds in which these characters thrive. Second of all, it highlights a lot of things that Castle hasn't been doing in any other episode. Right now, the show feels like it has no forward momentum. I realize that the wedding is a big deal, and that it will presumably happen in the finale. But where is this show heading? It doesn't feel like it's going anywhere new or exciting. We had that episode with two seconds of Bracken a while back, but literally nothing has come from that. I don't know about you, but I want to feel as if this show is going somewhere, and that all of its main characters are moving, growing, and going through something.

Right now, Castle feels like an anthology show of episodes. For the most part, the same things are always happening, and each character is doing the same thing. Castle, Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito solve crimes. Gates asks them questions and tells them to do things they were already going to do. Laney examines dead bodies and tells them specific clues that incidentally all turn out to be relevant to the case. Alexis goes to college and occasionally stops in to say hi. And Martha...yeah...never mind. Especially now that Castle and Beckett are committed to each other, nothing ever changes on this show. And for some people, I guess that's comforting.

However, I like and respect these characters enough to want to see them continue to grow and develop. I want to see Laney out of the morgue more often. I want to know more than a handful of facts about Gates. And I want every scene with Martha and Alexis to contain some purpose other than "Hey, we're in the main credits so we should probably show up once in a while." Because these are honestly the minimum expectations of a show these days. I don't care just how incredibly amazing the chemistry because Castle and Beckett is; fish and chips tastes a lot better in a restaurant that happens to have condiments. I like my Caskett with ketchup, is what I guess I'm saying.

Anyway, I think it's pretty clear that 1. "That 70's Show" was an exceptional episode, and 2. It would be nice if this episode weren't so exceptional for the show. Like the powerful exit of Montgomery, this episode was a taste of how much better Castle can be than what it normally is. Now, it could be that this wasn't just one of those "it's been a month so we'll make an extra effort with this one" deals; and in fact, every single episode from now on will be this good. But I doubt it. I guess I just wish that Castle stepped up to the plate more often, like it did so well in "That 70's Show." Because even if you miss, it's better than never swinging at all.


Notes From the Bloody Fountain Pen:

1. Did you like the character of Harold Leone? Is it awkward that they attempted to have a loveable sexist? I mean, it would have been a very different situation if they tried to make him a loveable racist. It's not like this is The Walking Dead. And who knows, he could have been racist as well. It's not like he and Captain Gates interacted in any significant way whatsoever. Can you imagine what his reaction would have been upon discovering that a black woman was the head of an entire precinct/division? I have a feeling that Gates wouldn't have been nearly as silent about his reaction as Beckett was.

2. So...the fact that Vinci Bianchi was a mafia don means what I think it means, right? He had to have been a serial killer. And since Harold Leone was his closest advisor, he must have advised him on who and who not to kill. So why were we supposed to be rooting for these people?

3. If you could, would you go back in time to live in the 70's? Personally, I wouldn't. I think Esposito said it best: the "70's is a cool place to visit, but I would not want to live here."

4. Umm...there are only three episodes left in the season. Forget about Bracken and whether or not he'll actually show up in any capacity, I'm worried about this wedding that is going absolutely nowhere. I mean, they haven't even picked the flowers, much less who they're inviting, where it will be, etc. Is there going to be a montage in the penultimate episode where they just get everything done?

5. Where would you like this show to go? Is there anywhere you'd like to see the characters go, for that matter? Or do you just want everything to stay put where it is? You know, never moving, ever.

6. What did you think of "That 70's Show?" Was it groovy and hip or did it feel like a rerun of bad memories?

7. Yeah...this review was late. Sorry about that. It's been a very busy week; even the punster was out of town at a conference and couldn't even stop by.
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