So Which One Is the Crazy One?
Lethal Weapon: Series Overview + Season 3 Premiere
Growing up I remember enjoying the Lethal Weapon movies. The first couple of films were pretty darn good (which makes sense, considering Shane Black, writing in his prime, penned both scripts even if Hollywood did mangle the second one) and while, yes, the films dropped off in quality, ending with the pretty atrocious and bloated fourth entry, there were fun little action-comedy films. Of course, then Mel Gibson went right off the deep end, revealing his true colors and making anything he's even made (or even will make) painful to watch.
That's why a reboot of the series seemed like a great idea: "Gibson without Gibson," if you will. They could relaunch the franchise, remove the problematic element, but still keep the core structure that worked -- buddy cops where one of them is an absolutely insane madman. Putting on a broadcast TV channel seemed a little weird (considering the language and nudity inherent to the original films, Showtime or Starz seemed like a better choice), but it was a series I was willing to watch just to see how it all worked out.
As a viewer, the first couple of seasons of the show were actually pretty good. First season was the stronger of the two, but that's common enough -- once a show gets past the growing pains of it's pilot, the creative forces behind the series can dump every idea they have into the series, usually making the first season the most interesting creatively. Its usually in season two or three that most shows start to feel the bloat, drifting into formula and getting a bit stale.
And this was the case with the Lethal Weapon series. By the mid-point of second season, the formula was starting to really show its seams. Riggs (Clayne Crawford) would do something crazy, nearly getting himself killed, and would have to be talked down and learn a lesson by the episode's end. Meanwhile, Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) would do something stupid at home, either in relation to his wife or one of his kids, and then would get mired in a family sitcom plot line that was already stale in the 1980s. Somehow the two plot lines would link up, and everything would work out by story's end. Rinse and repeat for much of second season.
Despite this flaw, the cast seemed game and the show was at least amusing enough. Crawford certainly nailed his version of the Riggs character, playing someone with obvious depression (stemming from the death of his wife and unborn child before the series first episode, give him a "tragic back-story") while, at the same time, bringing out a good bit of Texas good ol' boy charm. There was a lot to like about his performance, and the actor clearly outperformed his co-star. Murtaugh isn't exactly an interesting character, the straight man in this duo, but Wayans never really seemed to find any nuance in his character. He certainly played the sitcom style dad, going broad and bringing on the "aw shucks" face whenever he got caught being stupid. I'd say he modeled his character after sitcom dads of the 1980s like Bill Cosby, but no one should ever make that comparison again.
What interesting about the series isn't really what happened on screen (which, as noted, was fun but pretty safe and not very interesting creatively) but the behind the scenes issues the series was having. Apparently Crawford and Wayans were having difficulties working together with eventually resulted in a couple of blow ups from Crawford, Wayans refusing to share many scenes with the actor, and Crawford eventually getting fired from the series for his attitude and his actions. Since I wasn't on the set for this (Hollywood has yet to invite me to any of their productions), I can't speak to exactly how this all went down and who was in the right (or the wrong). Suffice it to say the wealth of evidence suggests that much of the blame resides on Crawford, making his firing easy to justify (whether his fans think it was fair or not).
The series, though, is a buddy comedy which meant that someone new had to be brought it to play off of Wayans. Since the producers decided not to recast Riggs, but, instead, write the character out of the show (quite permanently, in fact), a new character had to be created for the series. With the third season premiere just airing, we can now see just how the producers decided to tackle this problem. At the start of the third season, Wesley Cole (Seann William Scott) is introduced. He's a CIA agent who, a few months before, suffered an incident that shook him and made him decide to head home and take a quieter job as a beat cop. His motivation now is to focus on his estranged wife and daughter, show he can stick around and be a proper family man. Oh, and he's not crazy (even if he does get mixed up on chaotic situations) and he doesn't even like to use guns. He's, essentially, the anti-Riggs.
There were a few qualms I had with the premiere, but none of them were with Scott. Although he became famous for playing a giant douchebag, the character Stifler in the various American Pie films, Scott is actually a pretty good natured dude from everything I've seen. There's a weirdly sweet core to his performances, and when he's allowed to bring that out he's about as far from Stifler as he can get. Even in a dumb movie like Dude, Where's My Car?, he was about as far from Stifler as he could get (and also that movie is hilarious and I won't listen to anyone that says otherwise). Bringing him into the show to play the anti-Riggs, such as his character is, was a smart choice and I think he's the best part of this first new episode.
Sadly, despite getting pretty equal screen time with Cole, Murtaugh still just isn't a very interesting character. Although his plot this episode -- trying to figure out what really happened to Riggs despite all the evidence saying otherwise (which we won't spoil since the episode just aired at the time of this writing) -- is at least not a family sitcom plot. Wayans, though, still hasn't managed to find a way to make his character interesting. He's the bland half of the duo and changing out the actor he's playing against isn't going to change that until Wayans decide to play the character differently on his own.
And, let's be honest here, the first new episode of the season was pretty bad. The parts focusing solely on Cole were great, but the case just wasn't there to carry the episode. There was something about Chechen terrorists that were actually trying to plant a bomb to steal from a bank and somehow this ties into Rigg's case except not really. It was all sloppily put together and felt like a half-assed way to get Murtaugh and Cole to work together as partners. There had to be any other plot they could have done instead that would have worked better, even if it meant drawing out the Rigg's case further. This just felt rushed, an attempt to force the show past the Rigg's era was quickly and messily as possible.
I'm hopeful now that Riggs is completely out of the picture the series can focus on its new duo and really flesh out their story lines. There were still great moments in this episode and if the series can find a way, with this new injection of blood, to reinvent itself creatively it could once again be great TV. I have less hope, though, that the series is going to make it past this year (its rating were abysmally bad for a premiere). More than likely this will be the last batch of episodes for the series so they better make it count while they can and go out on a high note.