Who is Clayne Crawford? Having never watched Rectify, I didn’t have a clue who this up-and-coming actor was until the first episode of Lethal Weapon, a reboot of Richard Donner’s buddy-cop movie from 1987, which premiered just about a month ago.
In my experience, reboots and remakes have been utterly disappointing. V, Dallas, Charlie’s Angels, Knight Rider, 90210 (don’t judge me, I grew up watching the original), The Firm, Bionic Woman … the list of shows that just failed to live up to the originals seems endless and even though there have been a few good ones (Hannibal and Bates Motel were quite well done), I was convinced that Lethal Weapon would fall into the same pile.
While the action sequences were exciting, the best part about the movies (well, at least the first two) was the relationship between the two leads – Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson). The two were on fire (remember the tagline “pity the bad guys”) – a match made in entertainment heaven, surely.
You can recreate or even improve on action sequences but can the TV version of this beloved classic conjure up the same synergy between its leads? And let’s not forget the humour too – there were certainly some big laughs to be had from the movies.
Amazingly (and thankfully), the series does retain some of the magic of the big-screen hit. Well, there is promise at least, and that’s a start.
To his credit, series creator Matthew Miller (Chuck) has managed to retain the essence of the movies and, most importantly, the great friendship between the lead characters. He also ports over the original story pretty much wholesale.
Crawford is Riggs, an ex-soldier turned cop who becomes unhinged after the tragic death of his pregnant wife in a car accident. He loses his reason to live and starts behaving in a self-destructive manner – jumping into dangerous situations, drinking heavily to cut through his pain, and staying away from his family and friends. He’s still a good cop and he focuses all his energy and grief on catching the bad guys.
Murtaugh (Damon Wayans), on the other hand, is a seasoned cop – he recently turned 50, is recovering from a heart attack, and has two teenage children as well as a newborn. An accident or a miracle child, or both. Given all that, he is about ready to take things a little easy – which means that staying away from dangerous situations is key to his plans.
But when he meets his new partner, all Murtaugh’s best-laid plains go out the window.
I’m not a huge fan of Wayans (although he was funny in My Wife And Kids in a dopey-dad kind of way) and it’s obvious from the opening moments of the series that he sure isn’t Glover. But he isn’t bad, really, and seems to grow into his role in subsequent episodes. Most importantly though, he and Crawford seem to have some genuine chemistry which is what Lethal Weapon is all about, after all.
But it is Crawford who stands out, clearly. His performance is especially admirable because he has pretty big shoes to fill. Gibson’s Riggs was and remains one of the most memorable characters in action cinema (dare I say). He’s right up there with Bruce Willis’ John McClane from the Die Hard franchise if we’re talking about cop shows per se.
It’s not just because Gibson’s character was batshit crazy (or at least he came across that way) and gave new meaning to the phrase “throwing caution to the wind”. He was more than that. So much more. He was a three-dimensional character and his pain was relatable. Sure, he was a daredevil because he didn’t think he had reason to live. But he wasn’t a complete ass – he cared about people and he was a good cop, after all. People could relate to this man and rooted for him.
Crawford seems to be able to elicit a similar vibe, albeit in a more controlled manner (probably to suit the TV medium). And funnily enough, although Wayans is the comedian of the duo, it is Crawford who pulls off most of the comedic moments successfully. Now here’s an actor to look out for.
Having successfully established that crucial relationship in the pilot (I actually wished they took a little longer to allow the characters to connect and form a bond – seemed a bit rushed to achieve that in one episode and after working on just one case), the series goes on in the vein of a police procedural from the second episode onwards.
The cases are entertaining enough but they are incidental – the focus remains on the characters and their growing friendship which gets tested time and time again, no thanks to Riggs’ risk-taking.
And the action scenes are pretty large-scale and thrilling for a TV show. It’s kind of fun.
The only misgiving I have about the series so far is the constant playing out of Riggs’ tragedy – the reliving of the scene where his wife is hit, the flashbacks of their life together.
It’s a little melodramatic and unnecessary. If anything, these moments take away from the fine job Crawford does in dramatising his pain and heartbreak, much more subtly and tastefully than the flashbacks.
Still, I’m glad the series has been given a full season order and am looking forward to seeing what else Crawford has to offer.
Lethal Weapon airs every Thursday at 9.50pm on WarnerTV HD (HyppTV Ch 613).