The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…
THE PILOT PROJECT (2016 Edition)
Lethal Weapon (Wednesdays on FOX)
I’ve got a confession to make: I haven’t actually seen Lethal Weapon. Or Lethal Weapon 2. Or Lethal Weapon 3. Or Lethal Weapon 4. The point I’m trying to make is, I haven’t seen any of them, so I’m coming into this series as fresh as the babies born in This Is Us. That being said, this pilot was not at all what I expected.
I have a view of the Lethal Weapon series as being a typical buddy-cop action movie. Silly characters and silly action; entertainment without substance. Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh, considering the involvement of Shane Black, a director and writer whom I greatly respect, but there it is. So I came into this pilot expecting more of the same – two guys who come from different worlds who have different approaches to law enforcement who find a way to get past their differences to catch the bad guys while blowing things up in the process. And that’s not that far away from what I got. What I didn’t expect from this show was its surprising poignancy.
The pilot opens with Martin Riggs (played by an excellent Clayne Crawford) chasing down a criminal in El Paso. Trucks are speeding through the desert, criminals are firing machine guns out the window, Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” is pumping. Then Riggs gets a phone call from his wife notifying him that she’s about to go into labour. Riggs brings the truck to a screeching halt, hops out, grabs a sniper rifle, and takes out the tire of the other truck from over 800 yards out. The car flips over, Riggs hollers, then hops into the truck and speeds off to the hospital. Cut to an absolutely devastating scene of new daddy Riggs showing up to the hospital to find out that his wife and child were killed in an accident on the way there. Riggs crumbles to the ground, tears streaming down his face as “This Will Destroy You” by The Mighty Rio Grande plays. It’s no This Is Us, but it’s close. It was then that I knew that this show might be a bit more than I was expecting.
6 months later, Martin Riggs has transferred to the LAPD and is partnered up with Roger Murtaugh (played by Damon Wayans). They’re introduced when Riggs single-handedly ends a hostage situation at a bank by walking in uninvited with some pizza, being taken hostage himself, asking the robbers to shoot him, and then grabbing a gun and killing them all before they can react. He calmly evacuates all the hostages as one of the robbers suicide vests slowly ticks down from 30 seconds. Riggs saunters out of the bank, eating a slice of pizza, and introduces himself to Murtaugh as the bank explodes behind him. So yeah, it’s still Lethal Weapon. Riggs is still an alcoholic, suicidal thrill-seeker, and while Murtaugh is no longer “too old for this shit”, he HAS recently suffered a heart attack and has been advised to avoid any excess stress. Good luck with that Murtaugh.
It probably sounds like I’ve described two very different shows here, but director McG deftly handles the shifts in tone, balancing the drama, action, and humor in a way that feels natural. And yes, I realize that this is the first time anyone has paired the word “deftly” with McG. I’m as surprised as you are. It’s a show that’s better than it has any right to be, especially considering all of the recent failed film-to-TV adaptations (Limitless, Minority Report, Damien, Rush Hour, etc.).
Apparently Clayne Crawford turned down the role of Martin Riggs four times before finally deciding to give the show a shot. Maybe you should as well.