Duty demanded I watch the Tuesday season premiere of Lethal Weapon, the winksplosive Fox procedural about cops destroying Los Angeles to save Los Angeles. In May, the network rather cheekily renewed the series but let go star Clayne Crawford, who had played Martin Riggs across two seasons of steadily Deadwoodier facial hair and ever-more-undercut sidebangs.
Then June brought the surreptitious audio recording of Crawford on-set-incidenting with fellow lead Damon Wayans. Nasty show business, no doubt, though the kerfuffle invited a deep reading of the whole Lethal Weapon mythos: What if Riggs and Murtaugh secretly hated each other all along?
Previously, this seemed like the kind of show that could run smoothly through to the end of broadcast television (currently slated for year 202X). It felt like a solid performer, a going concern scoring last-minute renewals off good-enough ratings, a not-for-nothing weekly reminder that supporting players Keesha Sharp and Kevin Rahm are great actors. The drama behind the scenes was wilder than anything the show itself had produced. So tuning in to the season 3 premiere had a certain eerie appeal, rubbernecking if not outright TV-critical ambulance chasing.
But I was genuinely intrigued by the decision to cast Seann William Scott as the new not-Riggs-but-kinda-Riggs. Scott holds a special place in my cruel heart. He was magnificent in Goon. He was two of the best things about Southland Tales. “Seann William Scott is actually really funny in American Reunion” is a sentence I said aloud at various bars from late spring through early summer 2012.
The Lethal Weapon premiere gives Scott a big introduction, because nothing about network procedurals in 2018 can be small. We meet “Wesley Cole” someplace Middle Eastern, in the middle of one of those murder-y spy ops that video games use for tutorial segments. He silencer-pistols his way through a cluster of bad guys, precise sociopolitical context shall we say “unclear.” It’s a big demo for Seann William Scott, Badass, all sweaty tattoos and casual gunkata. At one point, he grabs a pin-pulled grenade from a bad guy’s hand, stuffs the grenade behind the dude’s bulletproof vest, then kicks him to the floor, where the explosive lightly BAMFs the poor fellow’s organs.
You feel Lethal Weapon‘s coming on a bit strong with its replacement hero. We find out that Cole worked in the CIA, has friends in the State Department, speaks seven languages. The prologue grants him one tragic backstory (he lost a young friend on his last tour!) and the episode establishes an ongoing emotional wound (a broken marriage, a cute daughter he spent years ignoring). And everyone around Cole keeps talking about how he brings chaos everywhere he goes.
Ironically, there’s nothing chaotic about Scott’s charming performance. He’s got the very particular set of skills of the modern Government-Trained Assassin Type, but he’s also relentlessly friendly. So Scott’s a swell new addition to the cast, with the specific charisma of a little kid who just got mindswapped into the body of some kind of action hero, like let’s say for argument’s sake some sort of monk who is bulletproof. Things really take off when Cole partners up with Murtaugh. They meet-cute mid-car chase; they’re both chasing the same Chechen gangsters. They’re a not-so-dynamic duo, jumping off their truck before it crashes, run-and-jumping away from two big explosions in one episode.
At one point, Murtaugh’s been taken captive by the baddies, lying on a cellar floor all tied up, explosive gas filling the house upstairs. Cole walks in, having just bashed a couple Chechens with kitchenware. “Hey, Rodge!” he says, all break-room casual. The Lethal Weapon premiere has a lot of those moments, Wayans and Scott peddling the ridiculousness with low-key humor. The cops jump off an exploding train, then stand up to dust themselves off. “Hey, Cole, you’re on fire!” says Murtaugh. “No, we both crushed it,” says Cole, not noticing the giant flame leaping off his upper arm.
Elsewhere, the premiere works hard to honor the absence of its main, franchise-iconic costar. Riggs appears in flashback and via Crawfordian body double. And he actually dies, offscreen, from a gunshot wound. Murtaugh mourns, wears sweatpants for months, seeks a conspiracy-minded explanation for his partner’s death.
In fact, Riggs was murdered by his own brother, after Riggs himself almost killed his criminal father. The addition of, like, Riggs Family Mythology to the Lethal Weapon canon must have appealed to someone, but it added to a bummer vibe underpinning this show’s good-times buzz.
That vibe feels banished by episode’s end. The script, written by creator Matt Miller and Joe Smith, even treats Riggs’ death with good humor, emotional trauma played for Wayans-in-a-sweatsuit sight gaggery. Murtaugh has a final conversation with Riggs… posthumously played by a hat, sunglasses, one crushed red solo cup, and a Post-it note with a mustache and lips drawn on. (Presumably, the Post-it note was professional and easy to work with.) Meanwhile, all of one week after joining the LAPD, Cole’s been promoted up the chain to become Murtaugh’s new partner.
Will neo-Weapon last? Fox ordered a shortened 13-episode run this sesaon, according to Deadline. Very few shows survive the loss of a central character. But I dig the energy Scott brings to the series. After Cole taps out the flames on his upper arm, he marvels at the charred burn mark left behind. With childlike enthusiasm and can’t-believe awe, he exclaims: “I was on fire!” He was, man, he really was.