Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 3/10/09

Watching CASTLE, the new mystery/romance on ABC, the first mystery that sprang to mind was, “Why isn’t this show called MURDER, HE WROTE?” I mean a mystery writer who solves deadly real-life mysteries? At one point, Castle laments that the reason he killed off the star of his successful string of best-sellers was because he saw no more surprises in the stories; he knew every scene that was coming up. Ironically, that’s also the problem here: CASTLE is a by-the-numbers MOONLIGHTING riff crossed with a standard sleuth storyline, ladled with standard-issue family “complications.” Rick has a hot-to-trot mother (See? Senior citizens have pep!) who behaves like she just escaped from a road production of GOLDEN GIRLS, and a snarky 15-year-old daughter with an old soul who parents her Daddy — who is nothing more than a giant child himself. Rick is paired up with a sassy lady detective who is tougher-than-nails and would look like a model if she wore lipstick and got a decent haircut. Of course they are the “Will they/won’t they?” couple, and she’s the competent authority figure who dismisses him as “a 9-year-old on a sugar rush.” CASTLE relies entirely — and I mean entirely — on Nathan Fillion’s boundless charm. Luckily, Fillion oozes charisma and cannot help commanding every scene he’s in with a personal magnetism that makes you forget he’s basically playing Jessica Fletcher. Of course, I’m sure he likes to think he’s a playing a better-behaved version of Capt. Mal Reynolds, the space rogue from FIREFLY/Serenity. Stana Katic (ex-Hanna, HEROES) is just playing a stereotype so far, so she is, by definition, “no fun,” and it will take longer to warm up to her. Does CASTLE have the time? I hope so, because Fillion should be on TV more than stopping by ONE LIFE TO LIVE every few years.

I would have thought that DANCING WITH THE STARS would have an easier time signing…y’know, stars, but the show seems content to settle for niche celebrities. Perhaps the biggest name they had, Jewel, dropped out due to injury, leaving NFL legend Lawrence Taylor as the big cheese — although the show’s target audience is unlikely to recognize the greatest linebacker who ever played the game. No, most viewers will no doubt be buzzing about emergency-replacement Melissa Rycroft, risking life, limb and self-respect fresh off her national humiliation on THE BACHELOR.

HEROES turned in another uneven episode last night — but I think that was a good thing, because the end was better than the beginning. The reappearance of Doyle at the end of last week turned out to be a false alarm, as “Rebel” had sent Doyle to Claire to be protected. Appealing to an old enemy for protection is a hoary soap cliché, but riffing on prepackaged ideas is sort of HEROES’ thing. Its narrow worldview is reflected in the way the show keeps repeating itself with visions of nuclear holocaust, time travel, obnoxious new characters, and beating to death the “How do you stop an exploding man?” trope. The latter was a key element of the show, as Matt was wired with explosives — like he had painted — and had to be saved by Nathan, who always seems to draw the short straw when an exploding man needs to be stopped.

The other key element of the night was Sylar’s search for his biological father, Samson Gray, was played by John Glover — SMALLVILLE’s bad daddy, Lionel Luthor himself. Samson the taxidermist was the kind of cancer patient who smokes and doesn’t fear the Reaper. And, naturally, Daddy has a power: He can take abilities, too. When he saw that Sylar/Gabriel possessed Claire’s healing power, he decided to steal it and cure his lung cancer. I thought it was intriguing the way Samson appeared to focus his powers by whistling. Sylar was able to turn the tables on Daddy and walked out on the man who had walked out on him all those years ago. Want to know what surprised me about the whole sequence? Sylar slaughtering the rabbit to be stuffed. When he killed that bunny, I’ll bet a lot of fangirls who were willing to forgive Sylar for cracking open the skulls of any number of people were mortified. It was a brave story choice, and perhaps the only way to restore Sylar to the bad old days when he was a faceless killer, not matinee idol Zachary Quinto. Speaking of killers, Danko made his move against Nathan, who pushed back by going directly to the president. After being fired, Danko decided the easiest way to learn whether Nathan can fly would be to just throw him out a window. (Gotta love the direct approach.) So now Danko knows Nathan has an ability. What will happen? I predict that HRG will counterpunch by discovering that Danko himself has a power, forcing the Hunter to go away while Noah takes over the Hero-hunting program.

Meanwhile, Noah’s daughter, Claire, took a job at Sam’s comic book shop in what can only be a bid to reconnect with the lapsed fanboy market. What comics geek doesn’t dream of walking into his local shop for the new Wednesday comics and seeing Hayden Panettiere behind the counter? But Claire must have another job — one that would help her get a new identity for Doyle. Where did all those false documents come from? True, Sandra showed her how to make a fake driver’s license last week; maybe the lesson also included other documentation. Or maybe Claire ordered them from the ads in the back of a comic book…

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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