Lethal Weapon

3 out of 5

Developed by: Matt Miller

In the perpetual march forward to find another exploitable avenue for ratings-grabbing media, a minor 2015/2016 television trend has seen networks cannibalizing the film world for their ongoing TV needs.  It’s not a bad plan actually, given how effectively television can now apply its budgets and production to often offer a very movie-like experience, but the question, of course, remains: How does this 90-minute plot translate into a weekly show?  And furthermore, if you’re dealing with source material that featured some recognizable actors, can that association be overcome?

Most of the adaptation attempts have varied between being scattershot and average.  Appearing at the same time as an update of MacGyver, both shows could conquer the second question above (memory of the original) simply by dint of timeline distance: It’s been long enough that our memories aren’t fresh.  Although there is the further niggle of Mel Gibson’s tie to the series, which (using my parents’ opinion as an example) give it an immediate unpalatable note.  However, you’ve still got a foot forward in that some of your audience may have never seen the originals by this point.

The former question remained for Lethal Weapon: How does this translate into a show?  And then you realize the Duh answer: Really well.  The films are essentially just buddy cop flicks, and with events that are now capably reproduced on the small screen.  So spread your subplots out over a season and shrink your cases down to an hour and you’re pretty much in line with any buddy cop serial.

So that’s what developer Matt Miller did.  Sealing the deal, the show was cast ridiculously well: These actors fully put their own stamps on the characters, imbuing them with personalities that make them unique to the series.  And color me surprised on all fronts: Damon Wayans doesn’t have the grizzle-voiced edge-of-retirement vibe of Danny Glover, but Murtaugh is an active cop in this take, and he ends up being an excellent straight man to his partner’s antics, while also believable as a solid family man and detective.  Clayne Crawford, after his dour turn in Rectify, is amazing as Riggs, all accent and mustache and swagger, hanging on the edge of Crazy Cop recklessness in the wake of his wife’s death.  The rest of the cast gets effectively filled out as well, with Kevin Rahm’s captain entertainingly terse when needed and amusingly what-did-Riggs-do-now? at others, and Jordana Brewster as the police department-provided therapist wrangling her new client with patience and professionalism.  One-offs or minor characters are sprinkled throughout, highlighted by Thomas Lennon’s take on Leo Getz.

Of course, hitching the wagon to the Crazy Cop train presents a limitation: Riggs can’t always be suicidal, and so they edge him toward betterment over the course of the season, with some predictable relapses.  The show settles into an easy chemistry for week to week crime-solving.  And there’s the three star rub: This is a really fun cop show, but despite some conspiracy churnings in the background, it’s essentially disposable serial viewing.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all, as TV needs shows you just look forward to tuning in to to tune out, and Lethal Weapon ends up being a really solid version of that, successfully remolding and recasting a film franchise to make perfect sense for its new weekly format.