The Bonus “Something”: Consistently well-shot action scenes
What’s a little less noticeable about “Lethal Weapon” is its elevated action scenes. From the pilot onward, the visual grandeur of the knock-down, drag-out chase scenes, fights, and general cops-and-robbers mayhem is very well done, especially for broadcast TV. Unlike other action-driven series — like, say, “The Defenders” — I find myself staring, unblinking, at the TV set when Riggs pulls a grenade from his pocket, tosses it to his partner, and then Roger ping-pongs it into the hallway to gleefully blow up the drug lords coming after them.
There’s a shootout later in the episode that calls back to the giddy grenade use from earlier, but the best part is the jokes. “Lethal Weapon” doesn’t force a ton of action into episodes (because too many stock action scenes eventually get old), so when there’s a lengthy scene, you know it’s going to be worth admiring. The series also makes good use of real Los Angeles locales, giving even the silliest shootouts an authentic edge.
The Hidden “Something”: Sneaky — and Relevant — Serialization
“Lethal Weapon” is very much an episodic series with a typical case-of-the-week structure, but what little progression they have feels weightier than similar procedurals. For instance, the climax of the Season 2 premiere centers on Murtaugh tellings Riggs, “I love you.” Riggs’ (a.k.a. Crawford’s) reaction is immaculate, but the moment actually carries significance outside of the comedy.
They’ve been building up to this kind of admission all along, both in their classically masculine inability to discuss platonic love between friends — you know, like when Riggs makes fun of Roger for having feelings — and in the very real sense of building a successful partnership. These two cops who can’t get along found a groove in Season 1, went through a lot together, and the year culminated with a break-up.
Thus, Season 2 demands a grand gesture from the offending party (Roger, who asked for a new partner) and a prolonged denial of feelings from the offended (Riggs, who mocks Roger for saying, “I love you”). It’s a tried-and-true romantic structure (and yet another reason I, a rom-com junkie, love this show), and one that’s slowly, steadily, and successfully built throughout the series.
One could argue the developing mystery surrounding Riggs’ wife’s death is also integral to the satisfying serialization in “Lethal Weapon,” but it’s really this love story that puts it over the top — and provides one more shameless reason to unabashedly appreciate the show.
“Ballers” is a little more complicated. There are lots of easily identifiable “somethings” to admire — which is likely why the HBO comedy is so well-rated, despite middling reviews — but none of these allures apply to this viewer.
Despite an admiration for his performances in “Be Cool,” “Fast Five,” and “Pain & Gain,” I’m not going to watch a show just because Dwayne Johnson is in it. Nor do the glamorous lives of professional football players appeal to me, especially when chronicled in the style of “Entourage” (a show that holds zero interest).
Rob Corddry is the “bonus something” here, as he’s better far better in this role than his character deserves, but he’s not reason alone to keep coming back. (Corddry rarely gets a significant story arc, instead subtly stealing the show with quick joke buttons or a well-timed eye raise.) What may come as even more of a surprise to those who don’t watch weekly is that there’s no on-the-field drama. The episodes don’t center around or even remotely care about who wins or loses football games; it’s only the contracts, endorsement deals, and big financial plays that matter.
“Ballers” makes for easy viewing because there’s no real risk. Spencer (Johnson) and his group of agents and financial managers exist in worlds of such incredible wealth, the worst outcome is selling a vacation home or maybe losing a little pride. But what clicked when watching the Season 3 finale, Episode 10, “Yay Arena,” was how the show’s casual relationship toward money is part of a wealthy world I’ll never understand and one that, apparently, I’m quite fascinated by; so much so, that the last episode didn’t really work.
The “Ballers” finale tried to have it all: Spencer gave a great pitch to build a new football stadium in Oakland; the NFL owners bought it, despite a very competitive alternate offer; he screwed over Candace (Emayatzy Corinealdi), the woman working against him all season; his latest crush, Chloe (Serinda Swan) is going to become his latest employee (rather than have his baby, which is odd, but probably a win by “Ballers” standards); and he not only saved his company, but it’s expanding around the world.
The problem came with how, exactly, this went down. Spencer sold his pitch to the owners, but they added a wrinkle: Rather than build his stadium in Oakland, they decided to build it in Las Vegas. That violated Spencer’s promise to the people of Oakland, and he walked away from the deal. Viewers are meant to believe he’s a better person for it; that he learned from Joe (Corddry), when he was called out for being too greedy.
That would be true except he also promised Las Vegas fans a football team, so he was screwing over one city either way. But that’s not the problem when it comes to enjoying the “Ballers” finale. The show doesn’t have to be 100 percent morally sound; not when it celebrates frat boy culture and a sport that’s destroying the lives of its players. It was when Spencer announced the expansion of his company, ASM, that things fell apart. After screwing over his bosses repeatedly, for some reason, they’re still willing to fund a massive expansion.
Huh? Why? Are they so happy he brought them a football team that they’re eager to spend more money on a guy who drops in and out of commitments at the drop of a hat? And why would they want to do that when they’re personally investing all of their own money into the Las Vegas stadium?
This is exactly the kind of disconnect “Ballers” can’t have when it’s selling a lavish lifestyle to people who don’t experience it themselves. There’s got to be an easier way to believe Spencer can expand his business, especially after spending all season worrying about funding, backers, and loopholes to access even more money. This viewer doesn’t need a business plan printed out, but I do need a reasonable explanation so I can appreciate what these guys have accomplished. “Ballers” doesn’t work if they’re falling ass-backwards into more money; it only works if their savvy — or even very basic — skills are being rewarded.
That’s the show I signed up for, and it’s not what was delivered in the finale. So, will I watch Season 4? Probably. After all, its “something” still fascinates me. I should probably feel guilty, but I don’t. And I can live with that.