For anyone who’s seen “Rectify,” Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” TV series is exactly what you’re expecting.
Developer and showrunner Matthew Miller translates the precedent-setting film franchise for wise-cracking buddy cops into a precedent-citing police procedural on wise-cracking buddy cops. The name “Lethal Weapon” still packs a punch, even 18 years removed from the last film entry, as do partners Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. But — aside from some impressive action honorably shot on the streets of L.A. — only Clayne Crawford elevates himself to the heights of the original “Lethal Weapon” films (1 and 2), while the rest of the series ably settles, quality-wise, somewhere around No. 4.
In terms of plot summary, “Lethal Weapon” largely sticks to the original script — two new partners in the LAPD must come to terms with opposing lifestyles through top-notch detective work and sheer lunacy — but one of the most cringe-worthy alterations arrives within the first few minutes. Instead of picking up with Riggs (Crawford) already in mourning over his deceased wife, we witness her devastating death in shocking fashion.
The choice seems motivated by the need to ground Riggs in his insanity, as his suicidal tendencies are prevalent in the first two episodes. But Miller should’ve trusted Crawford to convey the nuances of Riggs’ delicate mental state, much like director Richard Donner and writer Shane Black trusted Mel Gibson with the same task in the original film. Granted, Gibson may very well be an actual lunatic, making the trust easier to establish, but if anyone making “Lethal Weapon” had seen “Rectify,” they’d know the kind of talent they were working with.
While Mrs. Riggs’ death scene — which is repeated in the follow-up episode — is tacky and unnecessary, it does introduce the series’ strongest element: Crawford. Most critics were shaking with fear and/or anger when it was announced the “Rectify” discovery would be moving to a Fox remake, but no one doubted he could handle the role. He takes to every side of Riggs’ fracturing psyche with great care and casual magnetism. His appealing Southern twang subtly adds to the characters’ deranged nature, but it’s in the quiet (yet still overdramatized) moments when Riggs embraces his own demise that Crawford truly excels. Acutely in-the-moment and utterly entrenched, the Alabama native is easily the most endearing and convincing element of “Lethal Weapon.”
He should quickly become a beloved figure — should fans take to the series in general. The pilot features a few elaborate action scenes (as does the follow-up episode), and the laughs are consistent enough to sustain the comparably boring case work. That should be enough to keep ratings up and Fox executives happy. So as long as Damon Wayans stops wearing goofy hats (and running so strangely), “Lethal Weapon” could suitably serve as the network’s best police procedural — unless you count “Gotham.” Heck, it could even make you question why you’re watching “Rosewood” and “Lucifer,” two adequate but less committed cuts of a similar jib.
In other words, if we have to live in a world where our action classics are repurposed to fit the broadcast mold — and it seems like we do — we’ll take this great cop, average show routine.
“Lethal Weapon” airs Wednesdays on Fox at 8pm.