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TELEVISION REVIEW

Crime-solving, with a lite touch

Stana Katic (left) is a police detective and Nathan Fillion is a best-selling mystery novelist who is working with the New York cops on homicide cases. Stana Katic (left) is a police detective and Nathan Fillion is a best-selling mystery novelist who is working with the New York cops on homicide cases. (Eric liebowitz/abc)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / March 9, 2009
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Exactly how far away from the "CSI" shows can you get and still be a police procedural? This far. ABC's "Castle" is a crime dramedy that stands at the intersection of breezy and cutesy. There's no lab gore or existential darkness here, no crispy, twisted cadavers. Starring Nathan Fillion from "Firefly" and, briefly, "Desperate Housewives," "Castle" is light-hearted crime-solving on the verge of being merely lite.

Fillion plays a best-selling mystery novelist who, in one of those artificial TV concepts, is working with New York cops on homicide cases. Essentially, it's "Murder, He Wrote," with Fillion's Richard Castle using his storyteller's logic to figure out exactly whodunit before the paid professionals do. But then Castle is also a randy, wisecracking guy with a record of disorderly-conduct arrests, and he is flirting madly with the cool Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). So "Moonlighting," too, must be cited.

With "Moonlighting" and "Murder, She Wrote" as the dominant influences, "Castle" is predisposed to be formulaic and stale. The show tries to get by on charm, hoping that we'll enjoy Fillion as a bad boy enough to overlook the half-baked plots and thin characters. Susan Sullivan - she was Greg's uptight mother on "Dharma & Greg" - is on hand as Castle's eccentric, hot-to-trot mother, to steal a few scenes and further distract us. And, as an insider tweak, Castle's poker buddies are played by real-life mystery writers James Patterson and Stephen J. Cannell (who, among his many TV credits, wrote and produced "The Rockford Files"). But at the end of the day - or at the end of the hour - all the finesse rings hollow.

Fillion brings a little too much charisma along, if that's possible, as the wealthy, divorced father of teen daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn). You can feel him forcing the star quality. On "Californication," David Duchovny plays a similar role - a self-absorbed writer and immature dad who acts like a rock star - but he adds on a pathological streak that makes the character fascinating. Fillion also recalls Simon Baker on "The Mentalist," with his almost supernatural powers of deduction - but Baker mutes his magnetism where Fillion blares it.

Castle and Kate engage in textbook sexually-charged TV bickering. "Do you ever have fun?" he teases; "You do know I'm wearing a gun," she stiffly retorts. This pair make the more pleasingly bantering Booth and Brennan on "Bones" look like a strikingly original creation. Kate is guarded and, even though she's a closet fan of Castle's work, reluctant to work with him. And her businesslike attitude only makes Castle more enamored.

You can see the entire arc of their relationship the minute they lay eyes on each other.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

CASTLE Starring: Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Susan Sullivan, Molly Quinn

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Tonight, 10-11

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