‘Lethal Weapon’ Premiere: What Works, What Needs Work

Clayne Crawford in 'Lethal Weapon' (Richard Foreman/FOX)
Clayne Crawford in ‘Lethal Weapon’ (Richard Foreman/FOX)

Hands up, those of you who can remember the actual plot of a Lethal Weapon movie. The appeal of the franchise, which produced four films made between 1987 and 1998, always lay in watching Mel Gibson’s crazy cop playing off of Danny Glover’s uptight cop. That relationship remained intact amidst a revolving door of generic villains (drug runners in the first two movies, weapons dealers in the third and immigrant smugglers in the fourth) and attention-grabbing supporting characters (Joe Pesci, Chris Rock). And the fact that Lethal Weapon’s basic premise was so simple in theory makes it the perfect film property to port over to network television, avoiding pitfalls that have short-circuited other high-profile movie-to-TV adaptations like the notable absence of key characters (Minority Report) or tweaking the mythology to the point where it’s barely recognizable (Damien).

On the other hand, that basic premise also worked because of the two actors doing the “Good Cop/Crazy Cop” routine. These days, it’s hard to remember a time when we as a nation collectively looked forward to seeing Mel Gibson in a movie, but the beleaguered actor’s performance as Martin Riggs is still a blast, his gonzo actions playing perfectly off of Glover’s weary stoicism as Roger Murtaugh. Finding the actors who could hope to carry those badges always represented more of a challenge than coming up with bad guys for the duo to chase around Los Angeles every week.

Related: ‘Lethal Weapon’ EP Matt Miller and Star Clayne Crawford Talk Fox’s Reboot

That’s why tonight’s series premiere prioritizes the relationship between the new Riggs (Clayne Crawford) and Murtaugh (Damon Wayans), over the details of the case they’ve been partnered up to solve, which has something to do with a dead body that leads them to a gang of…what else? Drug smugglers. En route to the final shoot-out — which, in the tradition of all ‘80s action movies, goes down at an empty dockyard — they bicker and bond during high-speed car chases and family dinners. For those who like to complain that nothing happens on slow-burn series like Better Call Saul, Lethal Weapon is a show where really nothing happens. There’s a lot of moment-to-moment incident, but none of it is in service of bigger story arcs or penetrating characterizations. In that way, it’s actually the ideal adaptation of the Lethal Weapon film franchise — thrill machines that rarely slowed down to let any deep thoughts hinder the momentum.

What We Liked: Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans aren’t Mel Gibson and Danny Glover… and that’s exactly why they make a good team. With both actors committed to making these characters their own, they quickly establish a dynamic that’s reminiscent of their predecessors without being carbon copy repeats. Crawford is particularly fun to watch as a daredevil gone to seed in the wake of his wife’s sudden death; there’s genuine desperation behind his eyes, not just goofy “I’m a wild and crazy guy!” theatrics. And Wayans neatly avoids being the show’s wet blanket by making it clear that Murtaugh’s frustration with his partner amounts to more than just grumpiness. When Yahoo TV interviewed showrunner, Matt Miller, for our Fall Preview, he recalled that the main advice he received from Richard Donner–who directed all four Lethal Weapon movies — was to “Have the right guys” in the lead roles. Mission accomplished.

What Needs Work: In that same interview, Miller suggested that while the series will mainly be driven by an episodic engine, a larger season-long story arc would emerge in time. Here’s hoping it’s a lot more interesting than the case Riggs and Murtaugh solve in the pilot, because the details of the crime feel like placeholder text that they forgot to fill in after the fact. The scenes in Murtaugh’s home were also more strained than funny, particularly the running gag about he and his wife trying to find some time to get busy between the sheets. It’s great that Lethal Weapon solved the problem of replacing Glover and Gibson. Now it just has to figure out why it needs to be a TV show.

Our Burning Questions: What catchphrase will Wayans come up with that’s as instantly quotable as, “I’m too old for this s–t?” Also, which character actor will be lucky enough to land the role of the Joe Pesci surrogate? Our vote is for Kevin Pollak.

Will you watch Lethal Weapon again? Take our poll!

Lethal Weapon airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.