In yet another network retread of what’s already going on with a slight twist comes ABC’s newest midseason offering, Castle (Mondays, 10pm), a show that riffs on the buddy formula, splices in a bit of romantic comedy and drops it amidst a police procedural. Having been dicked around at Fox with the likes of Firefly and Drive (canceled after two episodes. Two!) Nathan Fillion trys his luck next door and their loss is our gain. Dubbed by some as a “seventeen percenter,” in that his involvement with something automatically makes whatever that something is seventeen percent better, Fillion is the television equivalent of something shiny and his megawatt charisma should ensure this one’s a keeper.

Fillion stars as author Rick Castle, a best-selling crime novelist and man child who has the mayor on speed dial, the press eating out of his hand, and adoring fans lining up for him to sign their breasts. But it’s not all roses. Rick can’t write and having just killed off his long running cash cow character needs some inspiration. His agent who is also his ex-wife says publishers are threatening to reclaim his advance. His live-in mother has a nasty habit of airing his dirty laundry to anyone within earshot and his daughter (a part so ripped out of Californication they should just give her a black wig and call her Becca) just looks on and sighs an oh so precocious sigh. So far, so formula.

Then as luck would have it a killer strikes, staging gruesome murders in exactly the manner of a character from one of Castle’s books. Detective Beckett (Stana Katic) naturally interviews Becket and finds him instantly obnoxious, so naturally the show wastes no time shackling them together as investigator and special advisor on her captains orders. He’s intrigued by her, she’s repelled by him and we’re off and running.

It’s smart and it’s engaging and really quite, quite juvenile. Change the sets around and this could so easily be a teen movie where the uptight chick is forced to work with the badboy on editing the yearbook. Imagine Law & Order meets Ten Things I Hate About You and you’re in the ballpark. Of course, this is TV, so “special advisor” means he gets to tour the crime scenes and sit in on the interviews and generally annoy Beckett with his uncanny analysis of forensic psychology. He can also unlock doors she can’t because, conveniently, everyone is a fan and a thousand favors of every kind imaginable are only a phone call away. Of course the kicker at the end of the pilot comes in the form of Castle’s brand new character, a feisty female detective modeled on guess who that he must do research on before her story can begin. This is spectacularly flattering to any woman alive, but as far as Beckett is concerned, it’s just annoying. Cue a 48 hours that never ends.

While both Fillion and Katic inhabit their roles suitably well, Castle played just the right side of smug and the two spark some genuine chemistry, it’s all achingly familiar; Someone gets killed, Castle and Beckett investigate, they argue, they flirt, there is an obvious suspect who is eventually cleared leading them to the last person you’d expect as the real killer, and blah, blah, blah. It’s also just a little too nudge-nudge, wink-wink, with Castle constantly pointing out that his spot-on observation derives simply from what would make the best story. Clues for the cases are picked over at a writer’s poker game. His crime-fiction buff daughter is a one-woman focus group. Other characters actually go far as to speak the subtext with one of Beckett’s colleagues remarking to her; “a control freak like you with something you can’t control. Boy, this is going to be more fun than shark week.” It’s a fine line between being playful and just beating your audience over the head. But for the most part it gets there and the macabre is actually refreshing. Not many network shows would take a dead body stuffed in a dryer and play it for giggles it has to be said.

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Jon Huertas, Seamus Dever, Tamal Jones, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, molly C. Quinn, Susan Sullivan

Created By: Andrew W. Marlowe

Network: ABC