“It takes years to develop that level of crazy”
At this point, so many movies have been turned into TV shows (in two days a television adaptation of The Exorcist will premiere on the same network) that you almost don’t even take notice of them anymore. They just wash over you, acting as the necessary fodder needed to fill up a network’s programming schedule.
Well, I’m here to tell you that while Fox’s Lethal Weapon is hardly reinventing the wheel, it is a lot better than it has any right to be. The remake is a promising, fun entry in the movie-turned-television department. It still might not hit the heights of Always Sunny’s Lethal Weapon 5 and 6, but this is far from bad television. In fact, it’s kind of addictively fun.
I came into this pilot as a huge fan of Shane Black’s writing, a fond fan of the original films, and I believe that Murtaugh and Riggs have a genuinely fun dynamics that led to the ‘80s embracing the buddy cop genre in a real way. You can’t ignore those things or the reputation this film has, even if it’s popcorn fun instead of high art.
Riggs and Murtaugh aren’t as important of fictional characters as say Batman or Daniel Plainview, but Gibson and Glover did a damn fine job. Believe it or not, Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans Sr. absolutely beam in these roles. They have winning chemistry right from the start, and even make you begin to forget about the former actors who embodied these characters. I can easily see a series that rides off of the dynamic and chemistry of these two. Plus, with a show like this it’s pretty much the most important aspect.
With the leads in check, everything else can fall into place easily. If you eventually transplant a strong serialized arc to this show that uses these dynamic characters and the energy of the film franchise, Fox could have something really special on their hands. And from a Lethal Weapon TV show, at that. I’d say that I’m getting too old for this shit to be surprising me any more, but I won’t put you through that.
The first episode does its best job at re-telling the first Lethal Weapon film. The impulsive, brash Martin Riggs is paired up with the laconic, by-the-book Roger Murtaugh as the duo’s growing pains consume much of the pilot. Riggs is fresh to California after relocating following the death of his wife and unborn child, while Murtaugh is recently returning to the LAPD himself after suffering a heart attack. Both of these men have experienced trauma with wounds still quite raw, and yet the series realizes that doubling down on their pain is the best way to bring this team closer together.
The foundation of Lethal Weapon is built upon Riggs and Murtaugh razzing each other while simultaneously catching the bad guys. That atmosphere absolutely translates into the TV show while still remaining the priority. I’m also impressed with how well Riggs’ opening tragedy connects considering how little time we’re given with his wife. The most is made of those brief minutes and you can feel their connection.
Furthermore, other moments—like Riggs’ unconventional way of dealing with a hostage situation—act as essentially the perfect introduction. Crawford’s performance also has shades of Olyphant’s Raylan Givens too, which is never a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. Wayans is given equal opportunities to shine as the more methodical Murtaugh. Both are treated as pros of their trade. Juxtapose some small talk about over-expensive chairs with bank robberies and hostage negotiations and you’re set. Don’t overthink this.
While the continual Odd Couple routine between Riggs and Murtaugh delivers, the series also delights in a number of flashy action sequences that are also emblematic of their movie counterparts. They’re as loud and unapologetic as Riggs himself. McG is responsible for directing the pilot and his bombastic, chaotic style is certainly felt. He might not be the best showrunner or director on television, but he’s perfect for this sort of material. The show brings out the best in him rather than sinking down to his level. A car chase sequence inexplicably moves onto a grand prix race track and everyone swerves around vehicles, jumping from roofs, as if it’s business as usual. There’s also a beat that this chase sequence ends on that legitimately made me laugh out loud. When this show wants to be, it can be downright funny, just like the films.
We’re given a glimpse of the show’s supporting cast in this episode, too. There’s the quirkily-named Scorsese who feels like the usual sort of background character that helps fill out the rest of the team in a show like this. As it stands, he feels like perfectly fine supporting fodder. On the other hand though, the tacked-on love interest angle with Riggs’ therapist feels like a regrettable direction, but is an excusable fault for a pilot.
My only real complaint with this pilot is that the episode actually waits too long to pair up Riggs and Murtaugh. I can’t believe that I’m saying that a McG directed Lethal Weapon property has too much character development in it, but this thing takes its time to set things up properly. It’s all in the show’s favor, but damn if you don’t just want to see them out there and playing. All in all, I’m actually excited to see the next episode and spend more time with these characters. Lethal Weapon shines not only as a faithful adaptation of the popular action film franchise, but as one of the more fully-formed network pilots I’ve seen in a long time. Give this one your time and be surprised at how much you enjoy it.
And no one even had to get called, “Sugar Tits.”
Lethal Weapon premieres Wednesday, September 21st at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.