It's risky business to try to make a TV series out of a popular film franchise. It doesn't work more times than it does, but Warner Bros. rolled the dice on a couple movie-to-TV series recently, with failed attempts at expanding on 90's hits, like Rush Hour and Frequency. Quality varied between the two, with the latter being an interesting concept to expand on, but they also just didn't quite have the necessary ingredients to succeed for the long haul. However, a full-on TV series reboot of 80's action franchise Lethal Weapon not only was the riskiest property to update for the small screen, but it proved to have the most potential. Comedic actor Damon Wayans was practically in retirement when the show's producers invited him to join the cast. He read the script and quickly said "yes," but while they had found their Roger Murtaugh, their search for Martin Riggs proved to be incredibly more difficult. Little-known indie actor Clayne Crawford is a surprising choice for Riggs, but after an episode or two of watching Crawford juggle the high emotions between putting on the charm and struggling with the loss of his wife -- and buddying up with Wayans -- it's quick to see there's something really special here.
If I analyzed action and comedies that I really gravitate toward, I soon realize I just love a really good buddy team-up. There's no exact science, but a big part of it is that there needs to be real, tangible chemistry between the two buddies. From the aforementioned Rush Hour to Shanghai Noon, Men In Black, and even Dumb and Dumber, there's just something to be said for a really great buddy team-up. I don't think the main promo art (which is used for the season 1 cover) screams that Crawford and Wayans are a perfect pair, but they really are. Most of what makes Lethal Weapon work as a show is their chemistry. They're so fun to watch together, and because the concept has been given the television series treatment, we can really watch it stretch and grow over the course of 18 episodes. And they make you want to keep watching.
For the sake of full disclosure, I admit I haven't actually seen more than a handful of scenes from the original four films when they've been shown on TV (they're pretty rough R-rated flicks, which I try to avoid), but I've definitely enjoyed Mel Gibson's and Danny Glover's work through the years (I mean, Maverick... c'mon. So good! And Pure Luck is a guilty pleasure). With that said, I'm a bit fuzzy on the drama in the theatrical Riggs' life or even Murtaugh's, but it's interesting to see the show delve into their lives in detail from episode to episode. In the Lethal Weapon TV pilot, we see a flashback where Riggs' wife dies in a car accident. It then flashes forward 6 months to where Riggs and Murtaugh first meet and are paired up. Murtaugh has just recovered from a heart attack and is looking to keep his heart rate steady and his stress level minimal... which clearly becomes a challenge once Riggs comes into his life. But what ensues is a lot of action, humor, and heart. A great deal of season one revolves around Riggs' mental state. One of the other main characters is Dr. Maureen Cahill (played wonderfully by Jordana Brewster), who is the precinct's therapist, and she regularly helps Riggs try to confront his inner demons. Riggs abuses alcohol and is seen even smoking weed at times, all in a vain effort to cope with his loss. His brokenness doesn't stop him from helping others and doing his job, however, but it enables him to risk his life on a regular basis in often crazy ways to ensure the safety of others. Seeing Riggs at such extreme highs and lows can be jarring at times, and it makes the show a bit of a rollercoaster ride of emotions (especially if you're prone to empathizing with characters).
While the original films were all rated R, the show is definitely more of the PG-13 variety. Sometimes, the episodes feel surprisingly "tame," but they often include characters getting shot, with a quick view of a spurt of blood or a puff/mist on impact. Episode "Best Buds" may have the most graphically violent murder aftermath (although "As Good as It Getz" has a pretty grisly shootout crime scene), where Roger and Riggs find two decapitated heads mounted on a wooden piece of art with blood dripping down from them. Later, there's a brief morgue scene where we see the heads laying on a table next to the bodies and we can see the torso where the cut happened. It's at a distance and rather brief, but it's still visible. Otherwise, the show also frequently addresses alcohol abuse and depression as Riggs is dealing with his loss, and struggling to find a reason to keep living. There's some sexual content, like cryptic references to husband/wife oral sex in the pilot (played for laughs, and it never happens), or a scene later in the season where a main character sleeps with a woman and later regrets it. There's also more casual representations of sex between characters outside of marriage, and the episode "Ties That Bind" actually has a lot to do, thematically, with S&M sexual acts. One scene has Roger walking in on a couple where a scantily clad woman is standing, tied to a bed frame, and is being flogged for pleasure. The odd scene (and Murtaugh's reaction) are played for laughs, but it's a little disturbing too. Later in the episode, our heroes find themselves trying to rescue a woman from a sort of sex party, where women are only wearing undergarments and everyone is wearing a mask for anonymity (we see women kissing each other in a couple shots too). A man is also seen about to force himself on a woman before she hits him and escapes (This episode even opens with an overhead shot of a car slamming a woman into a tree, killing her, and a close-up of blood dripping down her face). Interestingly enough, there are some deep moments in the episode that address Roger's teenage daughter Riana having sent a picture of herself in her underwear to a guy (which causes her parents to freak out), and Roger has a heart-to-heart talk with her about it before the episode's finish which, given everything that precedes it, makes for an impactful moment. So while the show isn't always as intense thematically as it is in "Ties That Bind," it's safe to say that it's not age appropriate for the family, nor is it for everyone. But it's definitely nice to see a strong marital example on TV in Roger and Trish (even if their parental methods may be questionable at times).
The occasional rough content is the only thing holding back a higher rating from me. It's a solid action-comedy buddy cop show with some deeper, dramatic themes for the viewers to sink their teeth into. It's entertaining, fun, and even relatable. And it's tough to not get wrapped up in the heartache Riggs wrestles with and the everyday drama of the Murtaugh family. As you probably can expect from a show of this nature, there isn't any spiritual meat to it (and Heaven knows Riggs needs Jesus as much as the rest of us), but there aren't really any anti-Christian themes either. Diehard fans of the films may have the hardest time accepting these new players, but otherwise, it's a great television series and Season 1 has me eagelry awaiting Season 2 this fall!
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 9/24/17)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Lethal Weapon: The Complete First Season is available with all 18 episodes in a 3-disc Blu-Ray set (without Digital HD this time, unfortunately) or a 4-disc DVD set. The special features are pretty thin for this set, which really surprises me. It proved to be a successful show, so it seems a little odd that there isn't even an interview segment from the show's two main stars. I'd imagine, though, if it continues to be successful, the Season 2 set will have more to offer.
Uncensored Pilot - The "uncensored" pilot is a few minutes longer, but I was a bit nervous about the "uncensored" aspect of it. However, before you go to play it, there's basically a warning that states there's language inappropriate for younger viewers. So it sounds like it's mostly just a few uses of the "S" and "F" words most likely. With that in mind, I decided to pass on watching it.
Deleted Scenes - The only other extras on Disc One are Deleted Scenes, separated by episode. "Pilot" (4:03) features a scene showing Riggs thinking about his wife and contemplating suicide. Another scene shows Roger calling his wife to tell her he loves her. The next scene shows Dr. Cahill talking with Roger and then Riggs holding his broken cell phone and thinking about Miranda. From "Best Buds" (1:54), we have Roger asking Martin if he smoked up, and then the chief talks to Roger. In the next scene, Roger and Martin get in a car and Roger sneaks a breakfast sandwich for himself. In "Spilt Milk" (0:40), Cruz apologizes to Riggs and then Riggs gives Cruz a tip to follow Roger's lead (They probably should have left this one in, given the context).
Deleted Scenes - For "Can I Get a Witness?" (3:22), Roger talks to the chief about suspects, and then the chief talks to Roger about adopting a foster child with his male partner (?!). In the next scene, Roger argues briefly with the chief. Lastly, Roger finds a blood trail on the ground that leads to a dead body sitting in a car. In "Homebodies" (1:55), we see Roger and his family at home talking about Riggs and case stuff. For "Lawmen" (1:29), we see Riggs drinking alone in his trailer and blowing on bottles to make different sounds. In the next scene, RJ and Roger talk about RJ being rejected while asking a girl out.
Deleted Scenes - For "As Good as It Getz" (1:45), Leo thinks he saved Agent Palmer's life, and then he begs the police to keep him safe. In "Unnecessary Roughness" (0:54), we see Roger talking to Bailey about the victim. For "A Problem Like Maria" (1:09), the chief tells the bullpen he needs a team. He then talks to Bailey about Roger. For the season finale, "Commencement" (8:49), we have the biggest batch of deleted scenes. First is a really great scene that shows Martin and Miranda's father in a flashback when Roger asks to marry her. Next is a short scene with Riggs and Dr. Cahill as she tells him it's their 36th session and that was all that he's required to do. Next shows Riggs talking to the killer in his trailer, taunting him. Then there's a short snippet of a scene that shows the killer using a hot poker to break the bonds on his wrists. Lastly, we have scenes where Roger and Bailey talk about Delgado, and then Roger, Dr. Cahill and the chief talking about Riggs leaving.
Reloading Lethal Weapon (15:41) - The only behind-the-scenes featurette shows Johnathan Fernandez, who plays Scorsese, sitting with the show's producers to discuss how the show came together. One of them had actually worked on Lethal Weapon 4 before moving to work on TV, while the other was a huge fan of the film series. Here they talk about the similarities between the show and films, key locations making cameos, how Thomas Lennon appears as the Joe Pesci character, how the producers met with director Richard Donner to talk about the project, etc. They then tell how they cast Damon Wayans in the part but had a really hard time finding the right Riggs. They then reveal that when they found Clayne Crawford, he was mowing his lawn at home in Alabama! This fun featurette concludes with a focus on the locations they shot in, shooting in Los Angeles, and more.
Gag Reel (2:53) - Lastly we have a short gag reel that features some line mess-ups and goofing off on set (with any language being bleeped out). It's fun, but it seems pretty short for a full season's worth of material.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.