Pilot written by Andrew W. Marlowe
First Rev. Draft February 29, 2008
Read the Pilot here.
Read some of the other season 1 castle scripts here.
So today I decided to mix things up and review a TV pilot. I’m not a fan of crime show procedurals, but I love the heart and humor in this show. The best episodes, however, are the darker ones. I’ve seen the two most recent seasons, but not the pilot. Thus why I was excited for this script!
PREMISE: Rick Castle is a murder mystery writer who follows around Kate Beckett, a NYPD police officer, in order to come up with new ideas for his books. Through the seasons, he falls for her, and a ridiculous amount of sexual tension ensues.
THE PILOT SCRIPT:
So apparently “Rick Castle” used to be “Nick Castle.” I’m curious to figure out why the change was made. Anyways, the pilot opens on a dead body. A killer scatters rose petals over the body and walks away. There’s this really awkward voiceover that’s pretty much the cheesiest thing I’ve ever read: a woman’s voice whispering things like “the macabre…” as we see Rick Castle hosting a publishing party on top of a rooftop.
But the script really picked up with the conflict between Gina, the head of the publishing house, and Rick, the famous author:
Ladies and gentlemen, the Master of the Macabre… Nick Castle.
Nick Castle trots up onstage to the applause of the audience. He and Gina exchange a kiss.
GINA (CONT’D) (sotto)
The smile never leaves either of their faces.
Gina Cowell everyone. President of Black Pawn Publishing.
Another round of applause. “
Two people who hate each other having to pretend otherwise is always a great dynamic. As it turns out, Gina’s his EX-WIFE. More fun is to be had with these two!
Rick’s flaws are also set up very quickly in the first ten pages, which is always a good sign. He’s a womanizer whose been married a few times before, and he’s an author who hasn’t written in months. I think the current seasons falter because they’ve lost sight of these great flaws that make Rick such a complex, interesting character.
The Beckett character is introduced well. The other minor cops remark that it’s no wonder she’s here. “Why?” Beckett asked. “‘cuz you like the freaky ones.” Remarks Esposito. This shows the audience that Beckett is a cop who isn’t afraid of the grisly murders. We see the cops assess the murder, and then we cut to Castle’s apartment.
Martha, his mother/Broadway actress who thinks she’s more famous than she is, and Alexis, his fifteen year old daughter who is an intellectual old soul, are preparing for a party. I really liked this line of dialog from Martha, though, in response to why Rick is seeming down:
He killed off his main character. Doesn’t take Freud to see he’s. working through the five stages of grief. Anger, denial, booze, blondes, and rehab. Good news is he’s up to blondes. “
It’s a memorable line that also paints our character in a light about what needs to be fixed. This guy has problems! He’s not truly happy, and he’s filling that gaping void with superficial pleasures. This one line of dialog accomplishes a lot in an entertaining, organic way.
One aspect of the script that I really liked (yet got changed in the actual show!) is that his mother has her own vices, not unlike his: sex and alcohol. She’s disapproving of Rick’s work, and believes that Alexis could go further in the real world by learning how to apply makeup as opposed to studying for school. In the show, they really softened her character up. She’s insufferably boring not only because is she supportive of everybody, but she’s doesn’t create any tension! She’s just there. Not for any real purpose. If the writers would have stuck to this original view of Martha, the family dynamic could have been more interesting in these current seasons. But no, they sacrificed “interesting and complex” for “likable and boring”.
But here’s the thing — for new viewers, these safe, softened characters aren’t enough to keep them watching. Just take a look at House! He’s a druggie and enjoys toying with others, but, in a twisted way, we root for this guy! Why? Because his struggles are organic. There’s conflict at every turn. We see his pain and sympathize.
Another interesting characterization is at the party when Castle offers his 15 year old daughter a flute of champagne, telling her she’s an old soul and she can handle it. She says that her and her old soul can wait, and she refuses the champagne. This speaks VOLUMES about the characters — a perfect “show don’t tell” moment. Alexis is responsible, Castle is an immoral wreck. But that’s what makes him INTERESTING! Once again, I think the current seasons have tried to hard to make him “lovable, responsible Dad”. I think that has hurt the quality of the show. Anyone can write a passable character that’s “lovable” and “responsible”, but it takes REAL talent to write a character that is immoral or unethical yet STILL make us root for him. This is KEY for television, because we are going to following these characters around for a long, long time.
Act One ends with Castle complaining women always come up to him with the same questions. Enter KATE BECKETT, who asks him to come with her for questioning. Alexis remarks, “that’s new.” Which is a clever way to transition into the next scene.
So Kate Beckett and Rick Castle have a verbal sparring match over the crime scene that appears to be taken right out of one of Castle’s books. Their dynamic appears to be the only one left unchanged in the actual show, and it’s the most effective. This makes me wonder how much better the show might be in the current season if the other dynamics had been left unchanged.
Also, Alexis has a bit more sass in this script:
Not if your Dad’s escorted away by cops. How was the slammer? Anyone make you their bitch?
The Alexis of the current season would never say anything like that. Her character turned out a bit more straight laced and a little less edgy, which I’m not sure is a good thing or a bad thing. In the Castle household, it’s almost to be expected to be a little different. However, the Alexis/Castle relationship is a compelling one, and really shines in both the script and the actual show.
So they solve the crime and the real killer is found. Nothing groundbreaking in the world of crime procedurals. But at the end, Rick Castle, at the mayor’s request, will be shadowing Kate Beckett for his next novel.
People do not watch this show necessarily for the murders or the mystery: these mysteries are usually run of the mill and a little boring. However, there are episodes that REALLY stand out, and those tend to be the ones that do NOT follow the procedural crime format. However, the Beckett/Castle dynamic propels the entire show forward, and the two leads are the reason people keep coming back. I dread the day that the sexual tension dissipates, because the show does not currently have anything else to fall back on.
WHAT I LEARNED:
- DO NOT OPT FOR “SOFT” CHARACTERS. I put this point in all caps not only because as a screenwriter, I’m obligated to use caps for important things, but because if you take anything from this script, it’s that by FORCING your characters to be LIKEABLE, you actually make them BORING. And the golden rule is always DO NOT BORE YOUR AUDIENCE. A bunch of great opportunities to up the conflict appears to have been missed in the page-to-screen transition due to the fact that the characters of Alexis and Martha have been sugarcoated.
- Conflicts are critical for long-running television shows. Beckett/Castle works because she’s a control freak and he’s the one variable she can’t control. They have a wonderful will they/won’t they chemistry going on that the fans support with cult-like enthusiasm. This conflict is still running strong at the current season, however it is beginning to lose steam because this is the ONLY LONG STANDING CONFLICT of the show. Why couldn’t Martha be more of an obstacle, maybe causing strife as she tries to make Alexis more ladylike by dissuading her from a career in science. In the current season, Gina’s gone, so that conflict is gone, too. Who is his current publisher? Doesn’t he have deadlines? I’d love to see some more strife coming from the publishing side of the story. Could there be a story arc featuring a multi-episode rivalry between him and another mystery writer? Because of the strength of the original characters, this show has so much to build on.
- Make your characters relapse. I mention the television show House often here because the main character is perhaps the most mean-spirited addict on television. He’s so cynical and caustic that if we met him in real life, we’d most likely hate him. But through the wonderful viewing lens of the television, we get to see the reason behind his vices, the motives behind his insults. He’s so human, that when he suffers, we feel for him. He’s a druggie, but we understand why. And his drug addiction doesn’t just go away permanently. At the current season of Castle, Rick Castle has been reduced to a puppy dog following Kate around. The dynamic lost a bit of it’s freshness — only to be revamped by a few noteworthy episodes — but his edge is gone. He’s straight laced now. Not the womanizer he used to be. His inability to write was fixed BY THE END OF THE PILOT EPISODE! That’s too soon. These flaws DO NOT JUST GO AWAY. Just look at House! He’s addicted to Vicodin, so he’s prone to relapses. Your characters should relapse into old behaviors because that’s how people are! This ain’t the movies. In television, characters desperately hold on to their flaws. They improve, they change, and then they often times regress back to old habits. Rick isn’t relapsing, so there’s very little inner turmoil.
- Break away from the format. The BEST episodes of Castle occur when the Procedural murder-per-episode format is broken. Rick and Kate wake up handcuffed on a mattress in a pitch black cell, with no idea how they got there. Meanwhile, the NYPD is trying to track them down, working backwards with what little information they’ve got. It’s exciting, hilarious, filled with tension, and filled with surprises. THESE are the episodes I love to watch, because they’re so character driven and creative.