This review of Lethal Weapon contains spoilers.
Lethal Weapon Season 3 Episode 1
“First car chase?”
“I’m okay. It’s just been a while…”
Lethal Weapon enters its third season facing the difficult task of replacing a main character. This would be a lofty endeavor for any series, but Lethal Weapon lives and dies off its buddy cop chemistry between Riggs and Murtaugh. The whole reason that Lethal Weapon was even adapted onto television in the first place is because that Riggs/Murtaugh dynamic is so appealing and infectious. On top of this, there’s a large portion of Lethal Weapon’s audience who thought that Clayne Crawford was the show and will find any replacement a tough pill to swallow. Many people even said that they’d have preferred no third season at all than one that eliminates Riggs from the Murtaugh and Riggs equation. “In the Same Boat” is definitely an episode that finds the show in transition, but it absolutely puts its best foot forward here and confidently tells its audience that things are going to be just fine.
Martin Riggs is dead and gone, but his presence heavily hangs over this premiere in a way that’s cathartic and necessary for the series. Believe it or not, the death of Riggs might actually be the best thing that could have happened to the show and Murtaugh’s character. It wakes Lethal Weapon up and pushes it to make some challenging decisions. For instance, Murtaugh’s grief spiral over Riggs’ death ostensibly turns him into the Riggs of the show. He becomes uncommunicative, he begins to camp out on his boat just like Riggs in his mobile home, and he’s seeing Riggs’ workplace therapist to talk through his grief. There’s even an extremely melodramatic scene where Murtaugh throws his badge in the fire and it feels like a Riggs-style rebellion tactic.
Even six months after Riggs’ death, Murtaugh is still very messed up and can’t bring himself to go back to work. This direction makes for a dark premiere, but it’s an angle that works for the show and will hopefully push the series into some riskier storytelling. He’s hopelessly lost in conspiracy theories over what “really” happened to Riggs. The bulk of this premiere focuses on Murtaugh’s conspiracies as he tries to find a way to bring some justice to Riggs’ death, even though it’s a lost cause. So much of this show in the past has explored Riggs’ grief and how he handles it, but this is the closure that Murtaugh is desperate for in order to move on.
Accordingly, it’s a strong move to have this painful material comprise the majority of the premiere rather than have Murtaugh divide his time over some random case of the week. The show fully understands the importance of Riggs and tries to put Murtaugh through a grieving process that actually feels realistic and messy. He even tearfully apologizes to a disturbing makeshift puppet of Riggs after he’s had enough to drink. It’s not until Murtaugh watches Garrett Riggs’ confession video and his wife talks some sense into him that he’s finally able to move on. This is still a better explanation than if Murtaugh actually made some headway in the Riggs non-case and retconning the events of season two’s finale. His clarity about it all afterwards is also surprisingly mature.
Murtaugh is stuck trying to get over Riggs, but to not forget him. However the other half of this episode begins to shove its Riggs replacement in everyone’s faces. After one episode it still may be too soon to make this call, but Seann William Scott brings a hungry new energy to the series as Wesley Cole that absolutely works for the show. Cole is designed to be charming, reckless, and fearless in the same way that Riggs could be, but he’s also immediately shown bonding with a child and fighting for his safety. Lethal Weapon very clearly positions Cole as a hero, but he becomes flawed in a very familiar way when his actions lead to the death of this child. After an operation goes south in Syria, the former CIA agent finds himself back in Los Angeles and on the police force. Cole definitely has growing pains as he attempts to re-adjust to life in Los Angeles after his angsty tenure overseas, but he’s no more bitter about the city than Riggs.
Cole gets a lot of fun, snappy action set pieces where he mixes competency with an aw shucks playfulness that Scott is able to believably sell. That being said, with an episode that initially revolves around missing vehicles so much, they missed the chance for a perfectly natural, “Dude, where’s my car?” I could point out that Wesley’s last name is the same as Renee Russo’s character, Lorna Cole, who was Riggs’ love interest in the Lethal Weapon film series, but it’s such a tangential, unnecessary connection to the series’ “canon.” I’d be highly surprised if his name amounts to anything other than a cute nod to the diehard fans. At that point though, why not just give him the same name as Chris Rock’s Lee Butters from Lethal Weapon 4?
“In the Same Boat” highlights how Cole is also the same variety of absentee, struggling guardian as Riggs was, and we get to meet both his daughter, Maya, and his ex-wife, Natalie (Maggie Lawson), who will apparently play a sizable role in this season, too (sorry, Molly and Ben, hope you’re chill somewhere!). It definitely looks like Cole’s rough life with his family will be something that this season consistently checks in on. Natalie is all fire in this episode and at one point she tells her ex-husband, “Wherever you go, chaos follows,” which might literally be dialogue that’s been said to Riggs at one point. There’s another intentional moment where Cole cavalierly stumbles upon Murtaugh in trouble and you’d swear that his accompanying, “Hey Rog’!” is actually coming from out of Riggs.
As Murtaugh powers through conspiracy theories and Cole handles meter person duties, they inadvertently find their interests intersect with each other and they wind up in pursuit of the same criminal. This premiere deliberately only gives the audience a taste of these two as team, but they work very well together, not that I think anyone had any real doubts of that. Their first real scene together where a miscommunication results in them both on the top of a speeding truck establishes a perfect baseline for these two. It’s satisfying to see that at least in terms of the quality of the show’s banter and silliness, it doesn’t seem like it will miss a beat. When these two are together, it’s also satisfying to see Cole play by the book and take things like a suspension seriously, whereas Riggs is now the devil on his shoulder that tells him to blow it all off.
This premiere boldly doesn’t even officially make Murtaugh and Cole partners and there’s not really much of an actual case in play either. There’s a minor case that involves dangerous, over the top explosives, but it takes place in the background of the episode’s many other interests. It does become the catalyst that brings everything together, including Avery’s campaign efforts, but it’s more so the story’s connective tissue rather than the story itself. It’s an ambitious move for the show.
While viewers probably could have handled if this timeline was accelerated a little bit and this premiere actually allowed Murtaugh and Cole to fully bounce off of each other as partners, but it’s also understandable to give the character of Riggs the proper grace period before moving on. While the circumstances behind Clayne Crawford’s exit from the show were rather messy, there’s no denying that Martin Riggs was an essential pillar of the program. It wouldn’t be fair to just treat him like some random fatality and immediately have Seann William Scott cracking jokes. Whichever approach Lethal Weapon took with this premiere would likely alienate some sect of the audience, and while this may be the easier, schmaltzier version, it’s also the one that makes the most sense.
Finally, outside of the crime shenanigans, Avery continues to make an honest go at his bid for city council. While this is hardly as exciting material, it’s nice to see that the show hasn’t just completely forgotten about this storyline between seasons. Trish’s bond with Avery also remains strong this year and it’s comforting to see the two of them use each other as sounding boards over how Murtaugh is doing with his grief. As Avery heads closer to becoming mayor, it still only seems natural for Murtaugh’s eventual progression to end up in his former captain’s seat. With the dismissal of Riggs and addition of Cole, Murtaugh may now have a slightly different future ahead of him, but it should be interesting to see where all of these characters ultimately end up by the end of the season.
Lethal Weapon’s premiere has plenty on its plate with Murtaugh in mourning and Cole’s acclimation to the police force, but the show doesn’t forget that people still expect some of the most bonkers action on a procedural cop show here. “In the Same Boat” goes for broke and fires away with plenty of series staples like shootouts, car chases, and multiple explosions. However, this premiere also fits in grenades, freaking knife fights, subway electrocutions, and a gnarly use of a power drill as a torture device. In other words, there’s plenty of “I’m getting too old for this shit,” material. Evidently, just because people are sad doesn’t mean that there still can’t be explosions and chaos.
Furthermore, even though this first episode of the season literally has its cast grieve over the death of a central character, it still finds ways to tap into Lethal Weapon’s distinct sense of humor. The ridiculous gag where a car falls from the sky, conveniently into Murtaugh’s lap, is exactly the kind of bizarre action visuals that this show can reliably turn out. The way in which the universe seems to perpetually screw over Avery is also very much still present.
“In the Same Boat” is a very strong premiere that finds the right balance between grief and action. It’s a very encouraging start to the season and it handles the difficult task of not only introducing a new cast member, but also putting an old one to rest with extreme skill. “In the Same Boat” hints at what’s to come between Murtaugh and Cole, but at this point it feels like both characters are the Riggs of the group, which will have to be something that’s balanced and figured out as the series goes on. For this premiere though, it gives the show a wild, reckless energy that works for it. In the episode’s closing moments Cole tells Murtaugh that he doesn’t want to replace Riggs, he just wants to make this work. Everyone in the audience is saying the exact same thing, so let’s not screw this up, Lethal Weapon.
Oh, and if there was ever a time to promote Thomas Lennon’s Leo Getz to a series regular, it’s now during this time of change…
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.