Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
The new Lethal Weapon series, created by Matthew Miller, posits a few questions that its early arrival doesn’t seem equipped to answer. For one, can a primetime-friendly TV show on Fox properly adapt a feature-length buddy copy film and retain the edgy mayhem and language of the original Lethal Weapon movies?
Unfortunately, the answer is “no,” and that’s a shame, albeit unsurprising. Watching this new series, it’s easy to see that the showrunners care little about breaking new ground with Shane Black’s original screenplay or finding compelling ways to expand it. Clayne Crawford plays Martin Riggs, the same death wish LAPD detective from the movies who is paired up with the older, more careful Roger Murtaugh, played by Damon Wayans. It’s all very familiar stuff, and the writers even manage to find a way to sneak in the “too old for this” line without setting off the FCC.
The movies were never known for their deep intrigue, which makes the decision to turn Shane Black’s effortless formula into a TV show procedural all the more puzzling. It also doesn’t help that even the few viewers who stumble upon this show without ever having watched Lethal Weapon will still be able to predict just about every moment and beat. That’s partly due to the painfully obvious dialogue, scene-setting exposition, and the mere fact that the buddy cop conceit is too pervasive at this point to slip by unnoticed.
The leads are entertaining to watch, sure, but it’s the supporting characters that seems to do little more than squander Jordana Brewster, Kevin Rahm and Keesha Sharp, three solid talents who seem accordingly miscast. That’s partly due to the lack of overarching narrative for this new series beyond the specific engagement between Murtaugh and Riggs.
Because the narrative doesn’t seem as “daring” as Riggs, it’s up to the chemistry of the leads to carry the show. And though Wayans and Crawford show sparks of an interesting friendship, it’s drastically undercut by the fact that a TV show has to invade their arc as crossed-arm opposites. By the end of the pilot, both characters have already developed a rushed version of the buddy cop process: hate each other, gradually accept each other, hate each other again and then finally grow to like one another. And the writing does little to make any of this absorbing, with two lines of dialogue essentially being, “I’m not trying to judge you” and “Don’t judge me!”
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To be fair, the sequels of Lethal Weapon have proven that it’s tough to extend the buddy cop formula beyond this simplistic process, but at least they had the allowance to also entertain with visceral action. Fox’s new series has a bit of that, but not quite enough. McG is the man behind the camera for the pilot and he does include some aptly made action set pieces, including a bizarre yet colorful Grand Prix sequence. If nothing else, these spurts of fun provide, at the very least, a sanitized version of what made Lethal Weapon work as both a character drama and a breezy action movie, and act as early highlights for the series.
More importantly, Lethal Weapon does seem to have the right intentions when it comes to building a deeper dynamic between Riggs and Murtaugh, who clash over more than just tactics. Murtaugh needs to keep his stress down, while Riggs is trying to up the stakes for his own benefit. He wants to die because he’s lost the meaning to live since his wife and child were tragically killed, but he can’t just commit suicide because he thinks his wife will look down on him for it. Troubling commentary on the application of suicide aside, it’s at least prompting the audience to draw up some expectations for a more ambitious series that needs to break out of its limited Shane Black-sized shell.
Murtaugh, so far, seems to have the blueprints of an interesting character beyond wanting to sneak some love in with his wife, as it’s his existence within the family model that Riggs has always wanted and seems to be more intrigued by than he lets on. In other words, we can already see where much of this series is going, and to be honest, it’s probably nowhere new. The give-and-take between Murtaugh and Riggs is still there, somewhat, but it’s harshly muted in comparison.
Perhaps that has more to do with how tired everything feels from the get-go. LAPD detectives with mismatched personalities solving crimes offers little to get excited about, and the only hook Lethal Weapon seems to hang its hat on is having a familiar title that wants to see Jurassic World-type success for other nostalgic retreads. As you probably know by now, it didn’t work for CBS’ Rush Hour, and it definitely doesn’t look like it’s going to go over very well with Fox’s new series, either.
If you’re a big enough fan of Lethal Weapon to suffer through the show’s glaring misfires, then you might as well just revisit the films.