‘High Class Comfort Food’
Castle creator Andrew W. Marlowe and executive producer Terri Edda Miller (the TV-show-mastermind married couple both affectionately and professionally known as “MilMar”) recently announced that they’ve paired up with Tandem Productions for a new television project, Take Two.
Castle, which ended its eight season run in May, was a crime procedural centered around mystery novelist Rick Castle and NYPD detective Kate Beckett, along with his family and her police squad. The show, while based on weekly murders and intricate “character mythology,” was ultimately about the love story (as friends, partners, and finally lovers), which was why there was so much backlash when Stana Katic (the notably kind and talented actress who portrayed Beckett) was not asked to return should the show get picked up for a ninth season (which it didn’t). This was not a reflection on Marlowe and Miller, as they departed from their advisory positions on the show the year before (which is arguably when it should have ended).
With Take Two, MilMar Productions takes crime to the West Coast, pairing L.A. private investigator Eddie Valetik with former cop show star Emma Swift. The unlikely duo pairs up after Valetik has Swift do an advertisement with him, and people call to hire him under the condition that Swift also be on their case. Begrudgingly, Valetik acquiesces and hires Swift, who can’t get hired anywhere else after her epic flameout post TV show and stint in rehab. While this may sound like a gender-swapped Castle, Take Two already has a different structural edge in that it’s not just a squad of homicide detectives, so the crimes will be varied and allow for several different interpretations of the law.
One of the coolest things about “MilMar” is that each of their projects, each couple that they center a story around, is basically just an AU version of their own love story. Marlowe, like Castle with Beckett, often refers to Miller as his muse. On tumblr, the user deimosluna once said, “the point of [the same stories] set in alternative universes are to show that no matter what setting or circumstance, these two people will always find each other. I will find you. Every me loves every you.”
In one of the duo’s first interviews about Take Two with C21TV, Marlowe and Miller even appear to be “building theory” as they share the preliminary details about Take Two. Miller excitedly explains that Valetik is “the best P.I. in Los Angeles” and Marlowe later adds on a laugh that Swift’s former detective on ‘Hot Suspects’ “at one time was voted ‘The Most Trusted Cop In America’, even though [she] was a fictional character.” These are the kind of details that made Castle so great.
The excellence isn’t a surprise, though, since Miller and Marlowe are both wordsmiths and master storytellers. Together they’ve written the screenplays for some of the most memorable Castle episodes, like “Always” and “Hollander’s Woods.” I’ve mentioned before how even Marlowe’s writing in the very first scene of the Castle pilot (2009) is a masterpiece (“reading the script is like reading a brilliant prose piece”), with an opening visual description of: “A landscape. Sand colored, stretching to a horizon of black. Very serene. And then we see a bead of red, rolling like a teardrop, and we realize this is no landscape. It’s a body.”
MilMar’s understanding, passion, and experience is also evident as they discuss the logistics of their new project in the interview, and explain why they’ve partnered with Tandem, a German company. “There’s been a shift in the U.S. market where they’ve gone to the darker, serialized dramas and we feel like that’s left a gap in both domestic and international, because the U.S. is no longer supplying that product to the international, but we know from our experience on Castle and certainly our conversations with Tandem that people in the international market are really looking for this kind of material, and it’s something that we love to write, that we have a good handle on,” says Marlowe. “So we were excited to be able to forge this partnership and try and bring this—well, we call it ‘high class comfort food’ for the audience—to bring it to a wider audience and then bring it back to the United States.”
This “high class comfort food” television is probably the best description for this hybrid sub-genre of TV. Despite the fact that most of the programs that fulfill all of the promises of “high class comfort food” are thrown into the umbrella category of “dramedy,” I shy away from the term because I feel like it undercuts the credibility and power of what these shows can actually do. Binge watching is okay (MilMar even said that they do it), but the idea behind these kinds of shows is that you can fall into them in just one random episode if you’d like. Castle, for example, is very “bingeable” and I’ve now seen the entire series, but the first episodes I watched were probably part of a Season 3 rerun on TNT. The same can be said for a lot of people, in that you don’t have to sit down and take notes for each episode just so that you can keep up; rather, audiences can actually enjoy themselves and find comfort in repetition. Sure, there’s the season (even series long) arcs that are wonderful and compelling in their own way, but the shows also have the promise of familiarity in character and storytelling that makes them so appealing and so different from “the darker, serialized dramas” (which are great in their own way) that seem to be taking over the U.S. small screens.
This “high class comfort food” isn’t automatically confined to crime shows, but forty-two/sixty minute long crime procedurals are some of the most structured programs on television, which makes them the leading bones for this kind of TV. Once showrunners add the characters and their relationships, they’ve got the heart of the production. Prime examples of “high class comfort food” include Castle, The X-Files, The Mentalist, Blindspot, Moonlighting, Bones, Burn Notice, Alias, Covert Affairs, Forever, Chuck, and the NCIS franchise, among others. Some of the greatest ships have come out of these shows, like Castle and Beckett (Caskett), Mulder and Scully (MSR), Jane and Lisbon (Jisbon), Kurt Weller and Jane Doe (Jeller), and Tony and Ziva (Tiva), to name a few.
I love Homeland, Scandal, and Game of Thrones, among other dark, cable-style dramas as much as the next TV addict, but there’s something to be said for the calming and almost familial essence provided by the “high class comfort food” shows out there. Happiness, especially in visual entertainment like television, has become very underrated in the past few years, as people have started investing more in the traditionally dramatic productions that rely on pain and evil to thread the story together. While these are fascinating and complex and completely addictive, the type of shows (the servings of “high class comfort food”) that let me go to bed with my heart just a little bit lighter or inspire me to stay up excitedly talking on the phone with a friend deserve to not just coexist with their darker counterparts, but thrive.