Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Have fun storming the castle."

Today on Must See TV - How 4th grade reading class prepared me for writing this blog.  Say what?  We'll get there.  I didn't try any new shows this week but I have upgraded my assessment of Castle.  The first season was good.  I have no problem recommending it.

But Jon, what does 4th grade have to do with this?  I'm getting to that.  Chill, man.  First let me share a great tip I just learned for recognizing passive and active usage.  That's important because when you are writing a screenplay you are supposed to use active voice.  The simple test, concocted by someone else's 4th grade teacher, is that if you are able to add "by zombies" at the end of the sentence and it still makes sense, you are using passive voice.  It goes something like this:

The chips were eaten by zombies  - passive
They ate the chips by zombies - active

Sure, some of you will think that any sentence with a zombie in it doesn't make sense and others will think that any sentence with a zombie must make sense, but for most of us, this works well.  And just because this is Must See TV Thursday, don't assume that when I wrote chips up there I was talking about Erik Estrada or Larry Wilcox.

Now back to my 4th grade story (by zombies).  Every page in our 4th grade reading workbook had at least one "compare and contrast" question.  Today I will compare and contrast the relationships between the single fathers in "Lie to Me" and "Castle" with their daughters and how those relationships impact the show.

Just to be upfront, I think the writing is much better for the relationship between Richard Castle and his daughter Alexis; she is a more believable character than Emily who is inconsistent in her behavior and interaction with Cal Lightman between episodes.

What's the same?  Both men are single fathers of teenage daughters living comfortably in a major U.S. city fighting crime without actually being a law enforcement officer and have strong emotional ties to a female coworker - there is also an ex-wife that can show up at any minute.  The daughters are set-up to be independent, smart, and confident; often telling their fathers about the way things should be and providing advice for interacting with the world socially - outside of the crime fighting milieu.

The differences, of course, are what set the shows apart.  The relationship is used by both shows for character development of the main protagonist but while LTM uses it to show how inept and self-centered Cal is, Castle uses the relationship to show there is a tender, nurturing side to the playboy image on the outside of Richard.  Of course we see Cal trying hard to be a good father and Richard constantly throws himself into harm's way with little regard for his daughter, but the engines of the shows revolve around these portrayals.

In LTM, the relationship is superficial to the plot in all but a few exceptions where the plot is specifically about Emily.  You could remove all references to the daughter and still have the main story intact.  No interaction at all between the A and B stories.  Castle, on the other hand, makes a father/daughter chat (usually around minute 23) a key aspect to solving the mystery in every episode.  Often it showcases that the cops, with all of the training, miss something important because they don't have families.  Forget the feel good part of showing a healthy relationship for a moment (this isn't a blog about family issues) and think about the writing - that's really good.  It ties everything together - you have scenes that are fun, develop the characters, and advance the story.  You can't take them out because then the crime isn't solved.  It isn't always handled neatly, but structurally it is very sound.

The final contrast I’ll point out here, is in the consistency of the characters.  In LTM, Emily is introduced as strong and independent, yet repeatedly she is shown as the victim or comes crying home to a Daddy that she spends every other episode disregarding.  She goes from fighter to victim without being knocked unconscious and that just doesn't jive.  The evil of the world has not invaded the Castle apartment in any of the episodes I've seen yet so I can't comment on Alexis under pressure, but she has real conversations with her father about things other than boys and parties - I believe a Castle movie would pass the Bechdel Test.  Neither my wife nor I have stopped and said, "That doesn't fit" in a scene between Richard and Alexis.

While it may seem clear that I prefer Castle to LTM, that's not quite true.  I believe that the relationship between the main protagonist and his daughter is better written and utilized in Castle, certainly, but that is just one part of the engine that drives the show.  LTM has a lot going for it, including pretty good writing for the A story - most of the time.  It's also a little less predictable than Castle, I mean, how long does it take to get there?  S/he's wearing a shirt that says, "I did it.  I'm the killer."

What are you watching?  I'm always interested in new leads, as good as the Magnum re-runs are, and, since I didn't make the cut for the Quest Initiative, I've got some time...

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