Monday, 4 October 2021

TV review: Castle & Castle, season 1, Netflix (2018)

This fabulous show can be sentimental, something like a drama, and sometimes hammy, something like a sitcom. The writing isn’t as sophisticated as you find with Hollywood productions: though the acting is excellent ‘Castle & Castle’ is like the Pompidou Centre since all of its superstructure is visible, with some story arcs completed within one episode though a few, like Stella’s (Anee Icha) romance, carry on over several. 

This is a refreshing and fascinating chronicle of the fortunes of a law firm in Lagos (the capital of Nigeria) that opens a view into a strange world where success is paired with the demands of such characters as a church pastor and a rapper, a corrupt judge, and tribal chiefs who, a member of the family having died, want to throw his widow out of her home. I was captured from the first ten minutes by the power of this brilliant production illustrating aspects of life in a world that is, for me, entirely Other.

Though not incomprehensible. The charm of this series lies in its fictionalisation of common situations, the types of things that might happen to anyone living in Nigeria today. 

But how do I know this to be true? The veracity of the acting tells me that such problems as employer violence, official corruption, nepotism, and unethical customary law exist in that country so that it becomes necessary to talk about them on TV. The credibility of the performances gives me confidence to think that what I’m seeing is based on fact. 

It’s questionable however who the show is for. Is it for locals or is it for the international market? For people living in countries overseas the appeal is critical as it has to give members of the Nigerian community comfort that others, those living outside, can have an opportunity to see and understand the complexities of their lives. ‘Castle & Castle’ might offer a way to helping them improve their polities as, by showing what life’s really like in a third-world country, it can divert the attention of the commentariat in a place like Australia from pursuing every political artefact as though it were evidence of another Watergate, the maxim “all news is local” corrosive because it avoids demonstrations of the system working well. A person who lives in a developed economy watching a show like this must also feel relief as it tells him or her that the stale contrivances of the major studios, the lame reruns available daily on the secondary digital channels, do not make up the totality of small-screen offerings; there is another way and ‘Castle & Castle’ provides it. They might see things that they can have imagined – a bribed judge, for instance, conforms to stereotypes – but other aspects of life in Lagos are quite conventional and have analogues in San Francisco or Sydney. 

A Nigerian can see their own society being reflected back to them in a vibrant and convincing way. As well as office politics there’s family conflict of a heart-wringing type in the dynamic established between Remi Castle (Dakore Akande), her husband Tega (Richard Mofe-Damijo) and Duke Akintola, her father (Bimbo Manuel), who harbours a strong animus against Tega that corrodes and becomes something that Remi must manage by, on occasion, physically separating the two men. Things become more difficult for Tega when his son Ben (Denola Grey) comes back from England, where he’s been studying, and Duke makes him an offer, trying to get him to take over the firm.

The tension spills over into the professional sphere as well because while Tega is gung-ho with pro bono work and is prone to taking on humanitarian causes Remi is trying to save the firm financially after a senior associate – Mike Amenechi (Daniel Etim Effiong) – jumps ship and set up his own firm in competition with Castle & Castle.

There are many minor members of the company to prove that for Nigerians everyone should be given the respect of recognition, so the receptionist Stella must decide what to do when the cleaner leaves to join Mike. Stella interviews a number of men and women until she settles on Abigail (for which character I couldn’t find the actor’s name), but her new hire has been beaten by her former boss and Stella is confronted by marks of shame.

By halfway through the series all of the foundation stones holding up the structure are in place and you wonder how season 1 is going to end. What kind of crisis will ensue? Will Castle and Castle drop that major client Tega strongly dislikes? Will Ben go back to London to live? What about Jessica (Jazzara Jaslyn), Ben’s British girlfriend? Will Captain (Jude Chukwuka) secure his heart’s desire? And what about Morenike (Ade Laoye)?

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