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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Castle: How Much Hitchcock is Too Much Hitchcock?

 "How Much Hitchcock is Too Much Hitchcock?" is clearly a ridiculous question--the answer is obvious. There is no such thing as too much Hitchcock.

I don't think it's plausible to not get something out of a Hitchcock film, regardless of whether you're watching it for the first time or the 22nd.

However, it is definitely possible to overuse Hitchcock allusions. Case in point? The current season of 'Castle'.

I love when television writers choose to reference other facets of popular culture and referencing old-timey popular culture is the best. But there's always a danger that the reference will distract from the plot or detract from the quality of the show because the writers are too worried about doing justice to said reference.

In the 100th episode of 'Castle' ["The Lives of Others", 5x19*] the writers chose to base the storyline around that of perhaps the best known Hitchcock movie, 'Rear Window'. The storyline was imaginative because although it followed the twists and turns of the original movie it ended with its own twist: the characters were purposefully reenacting 'Rear Window' to play a trick on Castle. It was the writers way of paying homage to Hitchcock; recognizing his influence on film (and consequently television) to the point that it existed within the world of 'Castle'.

Unfortunately it would seem that the writers got too attached to the Master of Suspense. Having one episode that joked about Hitchcock was great, but having a second one air only a few weeks later seemed a little stale.

In 5x23 "The Human Experience" Castle and Beckett solve a murder that involves free media and government drones. It also involves a scene right out of a Hitchcock movie. Beckett and Castle are in an empty field when they hear an engine in the distance. They look up and see that a drone is heading right for them and, just like Cary Grant before them, they dive into the ground at the last moment as it whizzes past their heads.

It was as though the writers had either:

a) come up with a Hitchcock trope that they wanted to include in the 100th episode but couldn't squeeze in (and/or it didn't make sense with the plot) so they decided to recycle it in "The Human Factor" or

b) they were forced to watch so much Hitchcock while prepping for the 100th episode that they just couldn't get the guy out of their heads.

Regardless, I was so distracted by the intrusion of a scene that was a clear copycat of the classic 'plane in a field' scene from 'North by Northwest' that I actually yelped, "North by Northwest" at the television, much to the enjoyment of my roommates. They laughed even harder when seconds later Castle stated the same thing on screen.

Unlike in "The Lives of Others", where I appreciated the recognition of Hitchcock as the impetus of the plot, I found myself irritated by Castle's comment. Perhaps I would have found another Hitchcock reference less jarring if it had been included more subtly, instead of being pointed out explicitly.

What was the point of making another Hitchcock reference only three weeks after a whole episode was devoted to him? Is Castle suddenly, after four years, a Hitchcock aficionado?

Also, if you want to make references to Hitchcock why not make them subtle ones? Choosing two of the most iconic parts of Hitchcock seems a tad ridiculous. What's next? Castle falling down a winding staircase while bright colors flash?

Still from Hitchock's 1958 film 'Vertigo'
Then again, Castle does have that twisted staircase behind his desk in his office. I take it back, his love of Hitchcock has always been clearly expressed onscreen.

*You don't even want to get me started on the fact that this was a reference to 'The Lives of Others', a 2006 German film that dealt with espionage in East Berlin.

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