Good cop, crazy cop. They don’t get along; then, they get along. Nobody asked for a Lethal Weapon remake, but we deserve one anyway. In 1987, Mel Gibson played a suicidal Goofus opposite Danny Glover’s family-man Gallant. The film has a great reputation, because anything popular becomes a classic when enough people get too old to love anything new. The first Lethal Weapon is, like, okay: an aggro-cute action film from Hollywood’s High Cocaine Era, grounded by Glover’s regular-guy professionalism, dependent on you being charmed by Mel Gibson acting crazy. It vibed clever because most action films in the ’80s — bad, good, or great — had grade-school-terrible bad dialogue. Lethal Weapon was adolescent, but even fifth graders look smart to preschoolers.
There were three more Lethal Weapon movies after that. Fans say they get better and worse; there are connoisseurs for everything nowadays. There were also endless Lethal Weapon imitators, though the lineage is shaky. 48 Hours clearly inspired Lethal Weapon — and some Lethal Weapon imitators were simultaneously inspired by Miami Vice. In 2002, Fox ran one season of a buddy-cop procedural called Fastlane about two hot cops fighting hot criminals using hot cars and terrible jokes. I think one cop was a loose cannon and one cop was a straight arrow; maybe it was the other way around. The show was co-created by McG, a director with the unique ability to make everything look like a car commercial you’re fast-forwarding through.
History flattens time. 2002 doesn’t seem as far from 1987 as it used to. A century hence, your descendants might mistake Lethal Weapon for a Fastlane rip-off. Inevitably, McG has directed the pilot for Fox’s new Lethal Weapon TV show, which features everything you loved about the Lethal Weapon movies besides Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, who were literally the only things anyone loved about the Lethal Weapon movies. In the second episode, there’s a running bad joke where everyone keeps comparing the central cop duo to other famous buddy-cop duos: Crockett and Tubbs, Tango and Cash, Starsky and Hutch. If the point was to make the new show feel more generic, mission accomplished!
Clayne Crawford plays Martin Riggs, an ex-soldier in kamikaze mourning for his dead wife. Hey, have you ever wondered what it looked like when Riggs’ wife died? Wonder no more! The pilot starts with Mrs. Riggs pregnant and on her way to the hospital; the signposting was so obvious that I briefly thought I got my reboots mixed up and someone finally made a live-action McBain.
Crawford has a tough job. He’s got the more iconic shoes to fill, and he’s restricted by the sanitized nature of broadcast television. His Riggs needs to be crazy, but not too crazy; he needs to be suicidal, but obviously redeemable. In moments when Riggs seems like a complete basket case, someone will bring up his dead wife or his dead child, at which point the sound fades away and some Explosions in the Sky-ish music rises high, proving that deep down, Riggs is just a nice dude.
As suburban cop-dad Murtaugh, Damon Wayans is on steadier ground. He’s a basically happy and normal guy, settling into comfortable middle age. Oh, he’s recovering from a heart attack — and his new partner’s heart was broken by the death of his wife, y’know? — but he’s got a perfect lawyer wife, two hip teen kids, and a new little-miracle accident-baby. There’s some potential in the pairing. Crawford’s Riggs is a Texas wildboy born again as a mournful Los Angeles beach bum; Murtaugh’s a lifer with a perfect house in the suburbs. But the show can’t ever make them too different — or too at odds. By the end of episode 1, they’re friends for life; by episode 2, they’re work-husbands.
The only thing that made Lethal Weapon work on the big screen was the pairing of Gibson and Glover. There is no mythology to the franchise besides their performances. There is nothing special about the series besides the people who aren’t starring in the TV show. But the small-screen Weapon isn’t terrible, really. Fox is on the hunt for a new quirky-cool procedural — Bones is ending, Rosewood and Lucifer are building, Backstrom got backstrom’d. The pilot weirdly honors some stray tropes from the movie series — is Los Angeles solely populated by army-vet bad guys? — but episode 2 makes the show feel like your average overpriced, undercooked cop dramedy. The strong focus on the partners’ bromance makes every other story point feel half-hearted; in the second episode, they literally stumble onto an assassination during a routine noise complaint.
Actually, the shagginess of the storytelling is the show’s best attribute. The funniest moment in the episodes released so far comes in the second episode, when the detectives’ captain (Kevin Rahm from Mad Men) chastises them for all the collateral damage they’re causing. Their first case cost the city over $1 million; by the middle of the second episode, they’re up to 3.
There were no budgetary concerns in the original Lethal Weapon. The original movie runs on a decadent cuteness that feels impossibly innocent — or just naive — today. While the credits roll on the first film, a nameless half-dressed blonde snorts a line and dives off a skyscraper before the camera lingers on her beautiful corpse, with one breast tastefully exposed. Later, a madman Vietnam vet-turned-heroin smuggler attacks a cliffside mansion in Palos Verdes with a helicopter. These are violent cartoon visions from an age of careless excess, when Hollywood’s biggest movie fear was that someone might attack our big houses and our babes, when “LAPD Officer Who Doesn’t Play By The Rules” wasn’t a pitch for a horror movie.
The new Lethal Weapon is more modest, and nicer; less offensive, thus, less interesting. The cool-but-rude assholes of the ’80s have become the tough-but-nice douchebags of the ’10s. In the most thankless role, Jordana Brewster plays Dr. Cahill, a police psychologist who keeps reminding Riggs what a bummer it is that his wife died. But the original film played that tune, too: Riggs’ dead wife was a handy tactic, a way to soften his sharp edges.
This new TV show is Easy Listening, but Lethal Weapon was never truly rock ‘n’ roll. “You’re too old for thi…” Riggs tells Murtaugh, almost quoting the most famous line from Lethal Weapon, the last couple words fading into nothing because you can kill a million people on network television as long as you don’t swear. Truthfully? We’re all a little too old for thi…