Tuesday, September 20, 2016

TV REVIEW: FOX's 'Lethal Weapon'

FOX will debut its new original drama series Lethal Weapon on Wednesday, September 21 at 8/7c. The drama stars Damon Wayans Sr., Clayne Crawford, Keesha Sharp, Jordana Brewster, Kevin Rahm, Dante Brown, Chandler Kinney and Johnathan Fernandez.

Read on for my thoughts on the TV remake of the film franchise after screening its first two episodes.

Familiar IP has become such a defining characteristic of the development process - especially at the broadcast networks - over the past few years. The executives in charge are hoping that such familiarity will lure viewers back to their networks. It's dusting off old and memorable concepts from the past in both movies and television and updating them for new audiences. It's a solid strategy. But it has led to many more failures than actual success stories. In the past year, FOX and CBS tried series adaptations of Minority Report and Rush Hour. Both failed miserably because they didn't understand what the appeal of those original stories actually were. And yet, the networks are continuing this trend in the hopes of finally doing something right. Lethal Weapon isn't the only familiar title FOX is producing this year. It also has an adaptation of The Exorcist as well as updates on 24 and Prison Break. Original ideas are still common and stand out as well. But this is clearly a trend the networks are loving at the moment. It's just unclear if any of them are actually necessary.

Lethal Weapon is an iconic film franchise. Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs are a legendary partnership. They are have inspired a lot of character partnerships over the years in both TV and film. And now, Damon Wayans Sr. and Clayne Crawford are stepping into the roles. They are hopefully doing so with purpose and respect for the work done by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. It's not surprising at all that Lethal Weapon is getting the series adaptation treatment. It's being done by Matt Miller (who worked on NBC's Chuck and created ABC's short-lived Forever) and director McG. It boasts a solid cast with Keesha Sharp (The People v. O.J. Simpson) as Roger's wife, Jordana Brewster (the Fast and Furious franchise) as the precinct's therapist, and Kevin Rahm (Mad Men) as the precinct's captain. And yet, this show lives or dies based on the core partnership of Murtaugh and Riggs. Both Wayans and Crawford pop in these roles. They have excellent chemistry with one another. And yet, the actual storytelling is way too formulaic and broad. It basically makes this an hourlong action comedy that shows no desire to dig deep with any of the characters.

Obviously, Martin Riggs is a flawed and deeply troubled human being. In the first two films especially, the darkness surrounding his psyche was crucial to the character. The show gets at that as well. Crawford's version of the character is tormented by the sudden and tragic death of his wife and unborn baby. He served overseas as well but his military service is very rarely mentioned and holds no lingering psychological issues. The show is so adamant about Riggs being a troubled and crazy soul. It's a wild energy that is so different from Crawford's breakout and stunning work on SundanceTV's Rectify. The two shows are about as different as things can get. But Crawford shows a true range. It's just the plot goes into the some motions over and over again. Throughout two episodes, it's frustrating. He's in anguish over the death of the woman he loved. And now, everyone is worried that his crazy antics in the field will more than likely get himself or someone else killed. However, Riggs largely exists to annoy all the characters who surround him. That's the beat the show keeps hitting over and over again. His actions cause Murtaugh, Trish and Captain Avery so much stress. But it's not really played for seriousness. It's a joke that Riggs keeps doing these outlandish things and causing others some serious anxiety. That's not fun to watch.

Moreover, Roger Murtaugh is just as problematic. Yes, the show figures out a way to feature the iconic "I'm getting too old for this shit" line in the premiere. But that's not really the main definer of action or story for Murtaugh. Instead, it's all about him having recently suffered a heart attack while his wife was in the delivery room having their surprise baby. And now, he wears a watch that alerts him whenever his heart rate gets to high. It's a prop constructed for a joke that is repeated over and over again. And yet, it's never all that much of a problem once the bullets start flying and the cars start racing down the street. It's funny the first time. It affects him on this show. It provides him with a new perspective on things. But it's not a consistent character detail that helps define the unique nature of this core partnership. Again, it's the show wanting to focus on the more comedic-driven moments. That's why the creative team hired Wayans in the first place. He's known for being a comedian. He certainly adds a unique spin on things throughout these episodes. But it's not enough to overcome some serious problems with the characterizations of the two leads.

All of that is really problematic for the future. What is Lethal Weapon if Riggs and Murtaugh are just jokes? Where is the depth? Where are the real and tough issues that bring the two of them closer together? Not everything has to be fun or nihilistic. The show thinks it's important to show Riggs being reckless doing every single moment of his life. In the first episode, that means him sharing how'd he kill himself multiple times. In the second, it's him getting beat up in bar brawls. Of course, the action is solid and a lot of fun. This really is an impressive show for stunt work. Yes, a couple of those moments are silly. One moment in particularly doing the middle section of the premiere is just too ludicrous to be taken seriously. It's fantasy and wish fulfillment. The kind of crazy action that can only possibly happen on the big screen. It's escapism. That can be a good thing. It's great to just escape into a world and relax from the realities of life for a little while. Lethal Weapon will surely provide that for a strong amount of viewers. But for those wanting more depth and spark, these first two episodes are clearly lacking.