Lately, I find myself watching a lot of bad television.
And by “bad”, I don’t mean like “naughty” or “wrong”. I don’t even mean poor quality or stupid content. Nor do I mean guilty pleasures, like The Vampire Diaries, which I will defend as a legitimately great show until the day I die. It is seriously so great and so much better than a teen vampire drama has any right to be so just shut up and don’t judge me. Ahem.
No, by “bad”, I mean the cheesy, predictable, average shows that make up a very large portion of the TV landscape. The kind of shows where you see the plot developments coming a mile away; where each episode follows a repeated formula to the point that you could pause an episode, write down what you think will come next, start the show again and see it all play out exactly as you predicted. The type of shows where you could miss three episodes in a row and not really miss anything.
So basically, detective shows, mystery dramas, mildly amusing sitcoms, odd couple romantic dramedies. Think Murder, She Wrote (which I was watching one evening last week when Louise came home, and she could hardly hide her disdain), Miss Marple, and most recently and most problematic, Castle.
Well, so what? Nothing wrong with a little light-hearted, mindless TV, right? Right! I don’t feel ashamed of watching the odd Miss Marple here and there. Or keeping up with a police or legal procedural on a weekly basis. It’s the equivalent of easy-listening radio or comfort food: non-brain-taxing and soothingly familiar.
Yeah, I probably shouldn’t sit down on a weeknight and get sucked into the drama playing out in suspiciously dangerous Cabot Cove, but darnit, Jessica Fletcher is just so clever (and stylish (credit to my cousin Nell for finding that blog))! And yes, I don’t need to watch the second half of that Poirot I just stumbled across, but it reminds me of watching PBS dramas with my mom after church on Sunday evenings.
So the occasional episode is fine. But the problem is we live in the age of Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Instant Video and endless other means of watching TV and movies in just a few clicks, without commercial interruption, episode after episode after episode. Not to mention the endless re-runs that show on TNT, TBS, etc. in the States. [I don’t have the same volume of channels to contend with in London, so there aren’t quite as many re-runs going at once, but I can still find a random repeat on any given night. See above re: weeknight Murder, She Wrote viewing.] All of which gets to the heart of my current problem: Castle.
I can hear the protestations and huffs of offense coming from fans of the show as we speak (namely, my Mom and Rachel), and let me be clear: I am not saying that Castle is a wretched TV show. If it were, I would not find myself in my current quandary. But I think we can all admit that it is not high art. It’s formulaic, repetitive, fluffy. All of which would be okay if I were just watching it occasionally.
See, I never watched it when I was living in the States. The most I had ever seen were a few snippets or half an episode while at home over Christmas or something. In fact, I’m pretty sure I made fun of my mom this past Christmas for having a few too many episodes saved on DVR. But then I found it on Amazon Instant Video one evening when I wanted some easy-watching entertainment (we won’t get into the fact that I’d been meaning to cancel my subscription to Lovefilm Instant for ages and then it changed from Lovefilm to Amazon Instant with more selection and I was sucked back in!). So I watched a couple episodes. Big mistake. Addiction ensued. I have blitzed through basically all of seasons 1-5 over the past 5-6 weeks.
But I should have known this would happen. It’s happened before.
I’ve done this deep dive, obsessive watching before. I did it when I accidentally watched an episode of Bones once and then decided I needed to go back and watch from the start and watched the previous four seasons at a crazy rapid pace and then kept up with it for awhile and then got tired of it and seemingly woke from a fugue state and realized that it was really not worth the time and energy I was giving it. I did it right before I moved to London when I discovered they were showing re-runs of The Wonder Years on some random cable channel at like 4pm every day and I started DVRing the back-to-back episodes every day until I had watched through the whole series.
Although, really – who doesn’t love Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper? A romance for the ages.
But as I reached season five (good grief, five seasons!) of Castle, I realized my obsessive consumption of this cheesy show had deeper roots. Castle and all those other male/female odd couple detective procedurals are but a pale shadow of the first cheesy procedural romantic dramedy I discovered and loved: Remington Steele. For those of you who have not had the pleasure and delight of watching this wonderful 1980’s gem, allow me to enlighten you on the premise…
Laura Holt is a tough private investigator who can’t get any respect or clients because she’s a woman, so she creates a fictional male superior: Remington Steele. With a man’s name on the door, business starts booming (we won’t get into the gender issues here)! Then, lo and behold, along comes a con artist, played by a youthful, dashing, pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan, who discovers her secret and assumes Remington Steele’s identity (*gasp* twist!). Laura must play along or risk exposure. Hijinks – both romantic and otherwise – ensue. Bonus: Doris Roberts plays their flighty assistant, Mildred.
It is the greatest. It is so cheesy, so 80’s, so predictable, so wonderful. While I am too young to have watched it when it originally aired, I discovered a re-run one day after school when I was about 14 and became instantly obsessed. When I discovered it on DVD years later, I eagerly bought all four seasons plus the three TV movies that made up the final fifth “season”.
When I had this epiphany last night, I was almost embarrassed that I hadn’t recognized the similarities from the start. The parallels between Remington and Castle (both the shows and the characters) were glaringly obvious. Castle is so blatantly indebted to the Remington formula: a beautiful, practical, intelligent female sleuth reluctantly tolerates the presence of a handsome, charming, bumbling-yet-simultaneously-capable male partner; together they solve crimes and avoid their feelings. And that’s just the main premise; there are all sorts of smaller details that connect the two shows.
This realization opened my eyes and made me understand why I’ve been powering through Castle at an alarming rate. I had to! I couldn’t resist! It appeals to my nostalgic love for a long gone cheese-tastic detective drama! A show that I discovered in the blush of adolescence. A show that I embraced without irony. A show that requires no deep thought or analysis after viewing, but provides simple, easy enjoyment. Castle is my modern day Remington!
I set out to write this post thinking it would be a guilty kind of confession; that I would have to own up in shame to my cheesy tastes and obsessive watching habits. But as I’ve thought about it and written this post, I’ve come to the opposite conclusion. This is not a guilty confession, this is a proud confession. I will be completely honest with you, dear readers! I will not hide the embarrassing parts of myself! I present myself to you as a lover of cheesy odd couple romantic detective shows, and I am not ashamed! So there! Judge me if you must, but I’ll never change. Once a Remington Steele fan, always a Remington Steele fan.