TV Roulette: Lethal Weapon

In All, Television by David

It’s been a while. The roulette wheel is still under some level of repair, but it was getting a little annoyed about the lack of attention and demanded tribute, so with that, the second edition of TV Roulette is now going to begin. The new broadcast season is in full swing, and that means a whole new set of shows can now be added into the pool for the soon-to-be fully fixed roulette wheel to choose from. One of the trends that has begun lately in television but especially seemed to hit this last pilot season is adapting movies into shows. Fox especially has jumped on the bandwagon with the release this year of The Exorcist and this week’s selection, Lethal Weapon. So, was this show worth the effort? We’ll find out right after the rundown.

Spoilers Ahead, I guess, though I don’t know how much they can really exist for a show like this.

TV Roulette 2.0 Week 1

Lethal Weapon; ‘Surf N Turf,’ Season 1, Episode 2

Air Date

September 28th 2016 

Have I Seen This Show Before?


Why not?

This is a new show, so there has only been one other episode.

My expectations for this show were rather low, if we going to be honest. I was not enthused when I heard this was a pilot Fox was considering. It felt like such a low ambition idea, and Fox’s recent spotty history with procedurals didn’t help matters. So all this means that Lethal Weapon didn’t exactly have a very high bar to clear. That said, I did find myself impressed by what I saw. Sure, the show isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly competent, and for just being its second episode, that is something a show can build on.

There are certainly specific reasons that this episode worked. Damon Wayans is a great choice to take over the Danny Glover role from the films as Roger Murtaugh. Wayans brings an excellent energy to the role, and is clearly having a hell of a lot of fun. The jury is still out on Clayne Crawford as Martin Riggs, though. Crawford is fine in the role, but it remains to be seen if he can even come close to bringing the level of charisma and acting chops that Mel Gibson embodies in the original series. Now, part of this is that Riggs is a hard role to pull off. He requires an actor to juggle being crazy, angsty, heroic, a great guy, and self-destructive–all without dwelling too much on the darkness, for fear of harshing the fun vibe. Gibson was able to pull all of this off, and to be fair, Crawford has yet to prove he can’t do the same, especially given that he will have plenty of time to grow even if the show just stays on for one full season. The rapport between the two leads is quite good, although the show doesn’t seem to have figured out the best way to balance Murtaugh’s concern about Riggs’s mental state with how much Murtaugh enjoys the excitement of having Riggs as a partner and friend. This could also be said to be a problem with the show as a whole, but that can be given a bit of pass, because, well, this show is supposed to be fun. But on a character level, it feels like the two leads skipped a couple of beats that could have led to some good television in the future, or even this episode.

Putting the leads aside for a minute, the character that is really stood out in the episode for me was Trish Murtaugh (Keesha Sharp). In what could have been simply the thankless role of the wife of one of the main characters, Trish is instead the best part of the episode, and it looks like she will drive things just as much as the two male leads. To be fair, the Lethal Weapon movies always tried at the very least to not treat Trish like a token wife character, but there simply isn’t enough time in movies to give her much to do. In television, however, she has a chance to shine, and so far it looks like she may get that chance. Now admittedly. most of what she did in this episode was the traditional worring about her husband, and if that’s all she’s allowed to do in the future it’ll eventually prove limiting. But the fact that the show positioned her as a public defender (which puts her at odds with the police department) and made it clear that she rules the Murtaugh household seems to suggest there is much more for her to do going forward. She is also part of the most poignant moment of the episode, when she makes Riggs promise to take care of her husband by way of accepting of the two men’s partnership.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how effective Jordana Brewster’s police psychologist Maureen Cahill will be, but she does at least show that she will be a good foil to Riggs going forward.

If that poor captain wasn't too old for this shit when he started, he definitely will be soon enough.

If that poor captain wasn’t too old for this shit when he started, he definitely will be soon enough.

The real strength of this episode is simply the fact that Lethal Weapon in general is a solid idea, which is something I’ll admit I refused to really consider in my initial impressions of this show. Partnering up two opposites on-screen is always a good formula for success, as it always produces a level of dramatic tension. Giving one of these partners a tragic past that he must overcome? That’s gold. There is a reason that Lethal Weapon got three sequels (admittedly the fourth one was not the best idea, but you at least understand how it got made). So this idea is perfect for television, if done right. That doesn’t change the fact that this is a show without any real degree of ambition, or that the show’s ceiling is far too low, but it does mean that this can be a perfectly solid and good show, and that can be okay sometimes–especially when, like Fox, you need to build a network schedule.

This is why networks have been looking more and more at adapting movies into television series. They are proven ideas that most of the time have a huge amount of potential to really flourish once they are released from the time constraints of movies and allowed to breathe as a television show. Of course, the problem is that networks mostly seem to think these ideas work for procedurals, even though television has been moving away from simply being about the lives of lawyers, cops, and doctors (unless you are Dick Wolf, who can do whatever the hell he wants), and this reliance on past formats continues to keep television from exploring new ideas. Even though it’s worrisome that the major networks have become so enamored by ideas like Lethal Weapon, it’s true that good ideas can lead to very watchable television, no matter where they come from.

As for the actual episode itself, it was fine. Like most second episodes, it suffers from having to shoulder the job of displaying how the show will actually work each week, after the pilot got to do whatever the hell it wanted to set up the characters. This means a lot of times it has to repeat a lot of what was done in the pilot, just to make sure the main aspects of the show are clear going forward. In this case, the show really doubled down on dwelling on Riggs’ past. If the pilot didn’t make it clear enough that Riggs is a man whose past is troubling him (and considering how integral that is to his character, I can’t imagine that to be the case), this episode sure as hell did, including the classic “main character gets into a bar fight hoping the physical pain will block out his emotional pain” trope. Add in a lot of characters talking about Riggs’ wife and unborn child dying quite a bit during the episode, and this one certainly made sure everyone knew Riggs’ starting point in this series. Murtaugh doesn’t get quite as overt a characterization, other than him literally having a watch that monitors his heart rate to make sure it doesn’t go too high (spoiler alert: he throws off the watch). The case of the week itself is pretty standard, even with its “twist,” because why else would Kristopher Poloha be the guest star in this episode? Giving Riggs a mother and unborn child to protect is a classic dramatic device, giving him even more reason to think about what he has lost. But it’s also a little early for that sort of story, as it would probably have been better for the show to have allowed its characters to develop more. Riggs’ inner turmoil would have also hit a bit better if the show wasn’t overloading on the tragic backstory. Also troubling: we’re only two episodes in, and already Riggs’ actions seem like relatively normal behavior to the other characters.

Murtaugh owns the room unless Trish shows up to remind him who the real boss is.

Murtaugh owns the room, unless Trish shows up to remind him who the real boss is.

Murtaugh’s storyline works a bit better because it is not quite as transparent. Sure, it is basically just more of Murtaugh being too old for this shit, but at the same time at least the show doesn’t hit us over the head by constant reminding us of this fact. Instead, it more just does things like Murtaugh having to eat healthier, or being warned that he has a lot to lose if he lets himself get dragged too much into Riggs’ craziness. More importantly, the episode suggests that being around Riggs will also be good for Murtaugh, as it will allow Murtaugh to have some fun. Nothing revolutionary, certainly, but it gives Wayans a chance to shine, and showcases the great chemistry between Wayans and Sharp. The action in the episode is pretty good, and the humor is okay. In general, the episode is fun, and the show seems to know what it is. Does that mean this show really needed to exist? Meh, probably not. But if it is going to exist, it is nice to know that the show will at least be a fun ride.

Notes and Observations

  • Jason Derulo appearing in the episode purely to be a red herring (as his death is an accident) is a nice touch, and a reversal from how a guest spot like this normally goes. It also helps add a little bit of shading to an otherwise rather straightforward case.
  • I don’t know how long this joke will work, but for now, the show having a running gag about all the collateral damage that Riggs and Murtaugh’s policing creates is pretty funny. I wonder if the show is actually going to keep a running tally, or if that was just to give a baseline going forward. At the very least, it adds a little bite to the constant “add that damage to my tab” jokes that are sure to come in this show.
  • Riggs and Murtaugh’s constant arguing about what classic pairings apply to each other works pretty well, especially because they both keep wanting to be the same thing in the pairings.
  • Making the police captain a younger man is a nice touch, as it adds to the comedy of him feeling like Murtaugh and Riggs are children.

Episode Grade: B; This is a solid episode, but nothing too special happens here. I expect this will be a constant description of this show.

Will I watch more?

It’s possible, but not on a regular basis, certainly. I was surprised this show was as good as it was, but that doesn’t mean it is good enough to make it into the already full rotation of TV shows I watch. This is a show you put on while you’re doing laundry, which is why it really should have just been on CBS.

That’s it for this week’s TV Roulette. There is still some set-up work to be done, but with Killtoberfest upon us, there is some time for that. So while I am not sure when the next one of these will be, it should start reappearing more frequently soon. We’ll see what the future brings, but keep checking in for more TV Roulette. Until then just remember, it’s never good to waste ribs.