Earlier this week, on Monday, Castle concluded its two-parter with “Countdown.” The first part, “Setup” had aired the previous week. Castle did a similar thing last season with “Tick, Tick, Tick…” and “Boom!”

I don’t write much about Castle. It’s a lightweight, quirky procedural that doesn’t lend itself well to extensive commentary. It’s almost always very good, but rarely excellent or mediocre. But “Setup” and “Countdown” were somewhat of a deviation from Castle’s usual formula, so it’s fitting that I write a bit about them, especially in light of what I wrote about the most recent episode of Fringe. I complained that this season’s flashback episode of Fringe was an attempt to replicate the magic of the original, and in the end, it fell short.

I feel the same way about “Setup” and “Countdown” vis-à-vis “Tick, Tick, Tick…” and “Boom!” Both pairs of episodes were built around the same framework. I understand the desire for writers to run with what has worked in the past, but attempting to relive past glory rarely produces results that compare to the original.

Season 2 and season 3’s two-parters had a lot of superficial similarities. Both featured the involvement of an external law enforcement agency. Moreover, both introduced a new character to be the face of the external agency and to “call the shots.” Season 2’s had Dana Delaney as Shaw. Season 3’s had Adrian Pasdar as Fallon. And oh yeah, both plots involved bombs.1

But even the character material underpinning both pairs of episodes was similar. Both involved Castle and Beckett getting closer together. And when I realized that, it dawned on me that Season 3’s two-parter was just a redo of season 2’s.

Redos are unfortunately quite common. I’ve discussed Fringe’s “Subject 13” at length elsewhere on this blog, but there are others too. Compare the two Ron-and-Tammy episodes of Parks and Recreation or the two Roan Montgomery episodes of Chuck. Both sequels centred around bringing a popular character back for more of the same. But that’s the problem. It’s always more of the same. It’s not different or fresh. Television writers should never underestimate the importance of novelty.

Sometimes, writers try bringing back an old joke. Consider the Robin Sparkles episodes of How I Met Your Mother, for instance. “Slap Bet,” the first one, is viewed by many fans as the pinnacle of that show’s achievement, and subsequent attempts at creating the next “Let’s Go to the Mall” have failed. Even the same type of joke can be reused. To give an example, many Community fans derided this season’s “Basic Rocket Science” as a pale of imitation of last year’s paintball episode, “Modern Warfare.”2

If trying to replicate past success doesn’t produce excellent outcomes, then why do writers continue to do it? My guess is that doing so provides viewers with some guaranteed thrills. Writers know that it’ll work, and even if it’s nowhere near as good as the original, it’s still good enough. TV is a business. Networks want viewers, so writers are under pressure to identify and deliver what viewers want.

So where does that leave Castle? Fans weren’t too pleased about “Countdown,” it seems. It’ll be interesting to see if Castle refrains from doing a two-parter next season3 because of the lukewarm fan response to this season’s two-parter. But that’s also a slippery slope. Letting fan response dictate the direction that a show takes creates a whole other mess of problems, one that I hope Castle’s writers are clever enough to avoid.

 

1 Speaking of bomb plots, the plot of “Countdown” was oddly similar to the plot of the second episode of Bones, “The Man in the S.U.V.” Heck, both episodes even featured Bahar Soomekh in similar roles!

2 I’d argue that “Epidemiology” is a better candidate for the Modern-Warfare-rip-off label and that “Basic Rocket Science” was vastly superior to it, but to each his or her own.

3 Yes, Castle has been renewed for a fourth season. I’m very happy.

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