‘Lethal Weapon’ on Fox: New series looks like a winner

‘Lethal Weapon’ on Fox: New series looks like a winner

Strong buddy-cop chemistry between Damon Wayans and Clayne Richards recalls the Mel Gibson-Danny Glover rapport that made their “Lethal Weapons” films big hits.

It's a bomb! No, not the new "Lethal Weapons" series on Fox - the explosive device that's been set off in a local L.A. bank. (Screen capture from trailer for new Fox TV action series)

WASHINGTON, September 21, 2016 – “Lethal Weapon” is back! Well, at least the Fox Network’s 2016 reboot of that once-popular action-comedy buddy-cop film franchise is back and set to air Wednesday, September 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Judging from the pilot that Fox audiences will view tonight, this new TV series could be a real winner.

The four original “Lethal Weapon” films (1987-1998)—starring a fresh-faced, before-the-fall Mel Gibson as manic L.A. detective Martin Riggs and the down-to-earth Danny Glover as Riggs’ more-sensible partner Roger Murtaugh—were a big hit with movie fans primarily due to the great chemistry generated by this unlikely pair of leads. Each film’s action, violence, mayhem and crackpot comedy elements increased box office appeal by an order of magnitude.

Unsurprisingly, Fox’s current revival seeks to reassemble all the key elements that transformed these films into box office gold. Featuring a brand new, younger cast headed up by veteran 50-something actor Damon Wayans as Murtaugh and an unknown (at least to us) 38-year old Clayne Crawford as Riggs, the new “Lethal Weapon” pilot show crams an awful lot into its one-hour-minus-lots-of-commercials TV format, most of which works surprisingly well.

Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans reprise the roles of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Fox's reboot of "Lethal Weapon" - as a TV series. (PR image courtesy Fox Network)
Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans reprise the roles of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Fox’s reboot of “Lethal Weapon” – as a TV series. (PR image courtesy Fox Network)

The pilot’s opening sequence begins (of course) with a wild Martin Riggs car chase set in Western Texas where our over-the-top hero has been working as a very Texas-style cop. Riggs and his partner get their crook, but sadly, in a well-executed parallel sequence, Riggs loses his beloved wife—a key motivator for his future law-enforcement style.

Riggs inexplicably winds up transferred the Los Angeles police force (cheaper to film) and is partnered with an older more conventional family man, veteran detective Roger Murtaugh. Murtaugh has his own issues, though, having just recovered from a surprise heart attack and not eager to raise his blood pressure, given the surprise arrival of a new baby with his longtime wife, warmly portrayed by Keesha Sharp.

So right away, we have that oil-and-water, Gibson-Glover, opposites attract-style vibe. Riggs is rarin’ to go in his new assignment—perhaps too ready—and quickly exhibits a suicidal side to his character, eagerly putting himself in situations where he could easily get himself killed, the better to meet up with his beloved but deceased wife in the afterlife.

On the other hand, Murtaugh is instantly alarmed by his new partner’s creative methodologies, wanting only to wrap up his distinguished career on the safe side so he’ll be around for his wife and his new kid.

In the process of the pilot, however, Riggs begins to develop a sliver of domestic hope when he pays a visit to Murtaugh’s attractive family. Murtaugh, in turn, finds himself inspired, albeit reluctantly, by the crime-solving, bad-guy-bashing skills of his new partner. Yes, we can see it coming, that “strange new respect” on both sides of the crime solving aisle. The Fox pilot below will give you the flavor of this seductive brew.

In the pilot, at least, the crime solving and slam-bang action sequences, while genuinely spectacular for network TV, take a back seat to the character development between the two leads, which is actually a very good thing, given the increasingly short life that’s given these days even to the most promising of fall new series introductions.

It’s a virtual certainty that Fox’s successive “Lethal Weapon” episodes won’t have the kind of budget the pilot did. We see that kind of drop off in most action and detective series these days. It’s understandable, of course, from a budgetary standpoint. But the winding down of spectacle can often cause the Nielsens to drop precipitously after that first must-watch episode, often dooming a new series before its spring episodes are in the can.

However, if Wayans and Crawford can continue to develop their uneasy partnership and friendship in successive episodes, audiences might not totally miss the gradual loss of spectacle we’d imagine is inevitable here. Deep, well-developed characters are key to a new TV series’ chances of success, and quite promisingly, Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” is off to a good start here in Wednesday’s pilot episode.

“Lethal Weapon’s” supporting cast, of course, will be another key to developing this nearly mandatory sense of family that makes any new series a keeper. Once again, Fox casting has come up with what might very well be the perfect mix of talent.

In addition to Keesha Sharp, other nifty Episode 1 contributions are made by former “Mad Men” character Kevin Rahm as Riggs’ and Murtaugh’s captain; Jonathan Fernandez in the mandatory role of the squad’s resident pathologist; and the attractive Jordana Brewster as an LAPD shrinkologist, whose most challenging patient will just happen to be Martin Riggs.

With regard to Wednesday’s Pilot/Episode 1, we’d give it a big two thumbs-up. You can watch it as a compact, made-for-TV movie before heading elsewhere with a warm fuzzy sense that you’ve been thoroughly entertained by an ensemble of pros and have not wasted your time. Or, you can be intrigued enough to put Episode 2 on your calendar and consider making this show an important part of your 2016-2017 viewing agenda.

Yep. It’s up to you. But as far as we’re concerned, this pilot episode of Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” is a hands-down winner.

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17