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Lethal Weapon - Pilot - Review + POLL

As many of the most prolific creators on TV head to cable to realise their visions for shows, broadcast TV has tried to alleviate this problem with a greater focus on brand recognition, which has manifested itself recently in the form of several TV adaptations of famous movies. Some have successfully expanded upon their premises such as the sadly cancelled Limitless, though many others such as Minority Report have quickly vanished off the map due to the difficulty inherent in translating a concept made for two hours into a sustainable weekly format. The networks have been undeterred by this inconsistent success rate, however, and the 2016-17 season is bringing a large new crop of movie adaptations with it. One of the most high profile of these has been Lethal Weapon, which adapts the basic concept and central characters of the famous 80s movie. Does Lethal Weapon manage to overcome the cynical expectations fostered on it by a questionable first trailer?

Lethal Weapon's pilot suffers from a slew of storytelling issues, some of them critical, but I found myself pleasantly surprised by this zippy and enjoyable series opener, which barrels into the premise with a refreshing sense of fun and excitement that distinguishes this show from some of the more ponderous, grittier cop shows out there.

For the first act or so, it's somewhat hard to see the potential, as the pilot suffers badly from a messy and chaotic introduction of the characters and themes that'll populate the story, which are all piled on so quickly that the show feels like it's being pulled in several different directions. The first few minutes with the presentation of Martin Riggs' back-story are particularly rough, with an attempt at juxtaposing carefree action with the tragedy of Riggs' wife's death that's far too melodramatic and emotionally manipulative (the fading in and out of Riggs' shocked reaction is a particularly clumsy way to convey his gut-wrenching reaction). Both the action and the tragedy here are painted in such broad strokes that it feels like we're being shown two opening scenes from entirely different shows at once, which makes for a very tonally uneven start to the series. 

However, to its credit, Lethal Weapon rewards viewers' patience, and as soon as Riggs is paired up with veteran cop Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) on their first case, the pilot begins to improve and sharpen its focus. A show like this lives or dies on its central pairing, and this is where Lethal Weapon comes up trumps. At this point, Riggs and Murtaugh aren't a lot more than broad archetypes, defined by a relationship of importance and a couple of noteworthy character traits, but there are certainly glimmers of nuance beneath the familiar surface. 

Riggs' death wish becomes a genuinely compelling trait once the pilot begins to examine the psychological damage it represents, and Murtaugh's tendency to throw himself into the action despite his protestations indicates a big struggle between his home life and fixation on his job to come. The basic idea that these are two men with drastically opposing world-views who come to understand that the other's differences can make them better is a timeless and compelling one, and Lethal Weapon's pilot delivers a satisfyingly compressed version of that story that leaves the door open for more ups and downs to come.

They're the kind of roles that could be very flat in the wrong hands, but Lethal Weapon's canny casting ensures that they're engaging presences both together and apart. Clayne Crawford is the obvious MVP here as Riggs, delivering a layered performance that really elevates the material as it strikes a delicate balance between devil-may-care charisma and a raw, frank vulnerability beneath. Damon Wayans isn't giving quite as nuanced a performance as Murtaugh, but to his credit Wayans manages to really accentuate the comedic side of Murtaugh's control-freak character while doing decent, compassionate work with the emotional scenes he shares with Crawford.

Together, they spark off each other and bond convincingly in a satisfying arc, making for a dynamic that's entertaining to watch throughout. It's a shame that Riggs and Murtaugh aren't matched by the supporting cast, who are universally blank slates here, despite the talent on display such as Jordana Brewster as the LAPD psychologist - let's hope their lack of characterisation is merely a creative choice so the pilot can focus on the central pairing, rather than a sign of things to come.

Lethal Weapon also delivers in the action department with a handful of set pieces that may not be the most ambitious or original you'll ever see, but nonetheless really work as a mechanism to flesh the central characters out a little by exploring how they react in hostile situations, as well as constituting solid pieces of action filmmaking in their own right thanks to the enjoyably stylised direction of McG. 

Each set piece feels distinctive and reflective of a particular tonal aspect of the show from the madcap car chase on a race track which acts as a trial by fire for the Riggs-Murtaugh pairing to the more intimate and serious final showdown with the sniper at the port that acts as a means to bring the pilot's brief character arcs to a close, so they're effective at actually indicating what kind of show Lethal Weapon wants to be going forward.

While the pilot begins to click as it goes on, the episode is still rife with issues, some of which are typical pilot problems (it almost goes without saying that the case of the week is extremely thin, and only afforded substantial attention in the final act), and some of which are a little more concerning. For one, the tonal issues are never really sorted out, and the pilot struggles to balance the heartfelt sentimentality of the dramatic scenes with the zippier tone of the police work throughout. Both sides of the narrative work fine on their own, but the two competing tones cause Lethal Weapon to trip over itself every now and then. 

For instance, the pilot, especially in the first half, has a general tendency to handle its sensitive and provocative subjects such as suicide and PTSD somewhat flippantly - I can see the intent in making Riggs' death wish into an object of dark humour early on, but the execution has all the delicacy of a sledgehammer. Later on, that becomes a problem as we're supposed to take Riggs' death wish entirely seriously as the episode's big emotional climax because Lethal Weapon spends far too much time beforehand making light of it in ways that are a little glib and insensitive. There's an experimental feel to this pilot as it tries out numerous ways to handle the same ideas - and while it's great to see Lethal Weapon trying to be the best version of itself, the show will need to settle on a coherent approach going forward for the heavier sides of its narrative.

On the whole, however, it's a start that shows general promise. Certainly, Lethal Weapon has got a long way to go until it reaches the thematic richness of some of its peers and the more mature elements of the narrative are handled poorly. However, taken on its own merits, the pilot is pure popcorn television that's pleasingly unafraid to be a fun, even occasionally silly bit of action that doesn't have to be weighted in ponderous grittiness. This was a flawed start, but Lethal Weapon has built a promising foundation to build upon in future episodes, and I can only hope it really evolves and deepens into something truly great.

Episode Grade: B

+ Riggs and Murtaugh
+ Fun action

- Uneven tone
- Poor handling of sensitive themes

Over to you now! What did you think of Lethal Weapon's debut? Have you seen the movies, and if so, how did this reboot stack up to the originals? Make sure to leave a comment down below to share your opinion, and check back each week for continuing weekly Lethal Weapon reviews!

About the Author - Louis Rabinowitz
Louis is a British online writer who enjoys a huge variety of TV, especially all things superhero and sci-fi. His favourite show is, and probably always will be, Doctor Who, and other favourite shows include The Flash, The Walking Dead, Mr Robot, Breaking Bad, Fargo, Prison Break and a whole lot more, all of which he is probably emotionally invested in a bit too much. He'll be reviewing Lethal Weapon in the fall!
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