Monday, October 10, 2016

New Season Review: Lethal Weapon

Every time I looked at the new shows this year, my first thought was "Oh good God in Heaven, why are they rebooting that?"

Rebooting Rush Hour as a tv show?

The Exorcist as a tv show.

Training Day? MacGyver? 24? CBS threatening to bring back Star Trek.

And Lethal Weapon? I don't know if you've seen Lethal Weapon lately, but it lacks ... depth. Substance. Yes, it created a lot of the tropes for buddy cop movies, but looking back, it creaks. I don't mean that some of the insane stunts they pull are outlandish, but the plots feel contrived. It feels dated, and not in the "Let's watch Commando because it's an insane 80s action film" sort of way. I still watch Commando. 

This is more like, "Wow, this fight scene is poorly choreographed, and this decision making process is poorly thought out."

So, I consider the idea of a TV show around this and go, "What were they thinking?"

They were thinking that they could do better.

And they have.

Our first episode opens with Martin Riggs, ex-SEAL, and Texas cop. He's already a little crazy. He gets a call from his pregnant wife, who's about to head for the hospital to give birth to their first child. He stops the car, pulls out a sniper rifle, shoots the car he's pursuing, and drives straight for the hospital, leaving the backup to clear up the mess.

And then we see his wife's car get t-boned by a truck.

So, yeah, the first three minutes were more gut wrenching than the entire Lethal Weapon franchise. Those three minutes still leave a mark weeks later -- on the characters, certainly, but also the audience. When Riggs is watching a commercial in episode 3, featuring a happy couple, the viewers get a heart-twisting sensation .... right before Riggs shoots the TV. There are lines of dialogue that are perfectly reasonable and natural that just stab you in the heart. (Murtaugh to Riggs: "Wow, you would make a lousy parent."  Me to screen: "Oh good God, no one told him his wife was pregnant. Ow.")

Surprisingly enough, the introduction of Riggs to Murtaugh in the pilot is even more true to the flavor of the series than the original films. (Bank robbery in progress. Riggs goes in, delivering a pizza. Riggs suggests that the bank robbers shoot a hostage, and suggests himself. He proceeds to kill all the bank robbers, including one with an explosive vest and a dead man's switch. He walks out of the bank, shakes Murtaugh's hand. Bank explodes). Heck, episode two listed the property damage of episode one (by dollar amount) on a white board...and made sure to update it. This was the same episode where they were referred to as Starsky and Hutch, Cagney and Lacy, and a few other nicknames.

These guys have the flavor of not only what the original Lethal Weapon was, but improved all the areas that the films lacked.

Before we continue, I should issue an apology. I honestly did not know that one of the Wayans brothers could act. I honestly didn't. I think he makes a better Murtaugh than Danny Glover ever did.  Of course, in the series, Murtaugh has recently had a minor heart attack, and needs to avoid stress .... enter Martin Riggs. There are plenty of nice little gags with Murtaugh's heart rate monitor.

And then there's Clayne Crawford as Riggs. I didn't know who he was at first, until I looked up his acting credits. I've actually liked this guy since his appearance as Quinn on Leverage. He's a surprisingly good actor. I don't know how much of it is his performance, and how much of it is the writing, but his Riggs is 1) More insane than Mel Gibson's ever was, and 2) more tragic. It's all fun and games, car wrecks and gun fights .... until Riggs volunteers to get killed to save Murtaugh from a sniper.

Major credit should also go to Keesha Sharp as Mrs. Trish Murtaugh. She is charming, and savvy, and fairly glows on the screen. Sharp and Wayans have a solid, Nick and Nora Charles relationship, where, "Gee. Yes. Married couples still flirt with each other."  They're adorable together.

Also, Trish's interactions with Riggs are always interesting, varying from just making sure he's fed, to serious discussions of "Bring my husband back alive." In fact, I think Trish's scenes with Riggs are some of the better dramatic interactions on the show, on par with the few scenes Riggs has with the department psychologist (played by Jordana Brewster). Though I would be really interested in seeing an episode with Trish and the department shrink locked in the same room together. That would be interesting.

And, surprisingly enough, even all of the minor characters have great moments. Riggs' shrink, their Captain, Murtaugh's kids, and even the coroner all have personality and solid character moments. Even one of the guest stars, Ted Levine (Monk, Silence of the Lambs) had a great star turn as Murtaugh's training officer. Even Tony Plana, who plays the DA, leaves a lot of impact on the screen, even though he's only had five minutes over the course of three episodes.

The writing for this show is impressive. They've got a great sense of the culture that makes LA LA, and they have a lot of fun laughing at it. It's like the better episodes of CSI: NY, where they could both grasp the key concepts behind facets of local culture, and make fun of it at the same time (EG: The Westminster Dog Show).

The writers also do a great job of setting up threats, and having touching and insane moments at the same time.  For example, they make it clear that a victim had been tortured by a cattle prod. When Murtaugh (who recently had a heart attack) notes that the voltage is worse than a defibrillator, the ME concurs, and notes "You have a pace maker, right? Do not get zapped by one of these." So, of course, Murtaugh has to face down against the cattle prod wielding killer, without his gun. Riggs comes to the rescue, jumping on top of the perp, and takes the cattle prod to the body. This is a great partner moment, right? It also qualifies as totally insane: as Riggs is getting shocked, he's laughing.

I told you this Riggs was more insane than in the films.

I'm three episodes in, and I want to buy the entire series. Give this show five out of five stars. If you're going to see a new series this season, watch this one.

Speaking of insanity, there's always my novel Sad Puppies Bite Back.  It's heavy on the insane.


  1. Declan

    I find the reboot pretty good. I find this Rigg to be very interesting as the loss of his wife has driven him to kill himself by crazy stunts.
    But I also find his interaction with the Murtaughs to be also interesting. On the one hand, Riggs wants to join his wife because the grief threatens to overwhelm him; yet when he's with the Murtaughs, he's grounded and his desire to live is revived.
    I think this tension between his melancholy and the will to live will hopefully be developed until the cliffhanger for the season finale

  2. Agreed all the way. All I can add is that this show has the strongest beginning of almost any TV show, ever. They know exactly what they want to do, and they do it from second one.

  3. Agreed all the way. All I can add is that this show has the strongest beginning of almost any TV show, ever. They know exactly what they want to do, and they do it from second one.

  4. Anyone here watch the Good Guys by Matt Nix? Totally should. It's only season is on Netflix and it seems a lot like what Declan says here only more comedy than drama.

  5. Wow. Can't say I expected such a glowing review. As a fan of the first two movies I guess I gotta check this out.


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