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Lethal Weapon - Gold Rush & Birdwatching & Fork-Getta-Bout It - Triple Review



It's been a busy November for TV, as Lethal Weapon has continued to steam forward apace through its second season. There haven't been any reviews in a while, so, as an Advent treat, or more accurately in the capacity of my duties as reviewer of this show, here's a catch-up of the last three episodes of the show as it heads towards the Christmas break.

Gold Rush

Season two of Lethal Weapon feels a lot different from the first. That might sound self-evident, but it's a surprise that a show that thrives upon a status quo and could easily run for years unabated has so clearly changed up its formula one season in. Perhaps the biggest change of them all has been one that I couldn't pin down until Gold Rush, which is that Martin Riggs has become Lethal Weapon's main character.

That's possibly a subjective interpretation, but it's hard to see the show any other way now after six weeks of meaty dramatic Riggs plotlines accompanied by comedic subplots with Murtaugh. In a lot of ways, this works excellently. The confident change of focus allows Lethal Weapon to sketch out storylines with a far greater emotional complexity than season one. Take the saga of Riggs' old friend, Jake, which upends the usual cops and crooks formula for a personal clash inextricably bound up with past events. It's a story that casts Riggs in a morally uncertain light as he weighs up the most basic precepts of what a cop should do versus his own sense of personal obligation, and continues to add to the creation of a richer inner life for Riggs via the deeper exploration of his home community back in Texas.


Moreover, the flashback sequences with Riggs' dad are prime evidence of Lethal Weapon's newfound ability to travel to darker emotional places. I certainly didn't expect an answer to the mystery of who killed Riggs' dad early, and it comes in a bleakly suspenseful flashback that livens up the back end of the episode considerably while leaving plenty of room for Riggs to process the trauma in subsequent episodes.

The flipside of Riggs being pushed to the centre of the show is that it creates a fundamental instability that often plagues the subplots. The strength derived from the close links between Riggs and Murtaugh's stories last episode isn't present here as Murtaugh is once again hived off in his own corner of the show when he's not investigating with Riggs, and the marijuana hunt is a superfluous and silly plotline that offers a few good laughs but nothing in the way of substance.

It's a problem writ large in the C plot with Bowman and Bailey, which is brief enough to stay out of the way of the other plotlines, but long enough to become tedious. Lethal Weapon needs to have a certain amount of comedy to have the light touch that forms such a key part of its appeal, but these subplots were a clumsy example of comic relief. With a Riggs storyline that's so strong, the differences in quality as the episode hops from one plot to another are too stark to ignore.

Gold Rush is a very good episode because it puts most of its focus onto an engrossing central storyline, but it indicates the ways in which Lethal Weapon is all to keen to rest on its laurels outside the A plots for storylines that are formulaic and unrewarding.

Episode Grade: B+

Birdwatching

Birdwatching is a textbook example of a solid, if unremarkable, episode of Lethal Weapon. It's rarely egregious in its flaws, yet fails to match the creative highs of more ambitious instalments. With its carefully calculated blend of psychological drama, lightweight mystery and knockabout comedy, it's exactly what you expect from the show, for better or for worse.

Riggs' storyline seems to be settling into the daddy issues arc for the long haul now, and it does yield some strikingly interesting results here. The nightmare sequences may unintentionally serve as a reminder of Lethal Weapon's continued inability to portray trauma with subtlety, but the unsettling visuals and dark tone of the scenes function as a welcome burst of creativity into a relatively formulaic instalment. In particular, Riggs' freakout towards the end of the showdown adds an unpredictability to the boilerplate final confrontation by liberally borrowing a handful of tropes from the horror genre. It also culminates satisfyingly by choosing to show and not tell - we don't need to see Riggs confessing to Cahill because it's the decision to seek help and open up that's far more important than the details.

Admittedly, the storyline is a touch ambiguous - it's unclear where Riggs' guilt stems from, whether it's from not having done the job himself or from his involvement in the death at all - but the intrigue the show is generating through the slow-burn revealing of information compensates for the lack of tangible details. It's not the strongest Riggs plotline the show has ever served up, as it effectively functions as table-setting for more explosive drama later on down the line, but it's successful at what it sets out to do.

Meanwhile, Murtaugh's storyline involves a very 2010s conflict with Trish involving secret texting and eggplant emojis. It's fine, and the exploration of Murtaugh and Trish's relationship is interesting enough, but Murtaugh's stories continue to feel like filler with very few thematic links to the rest of the episode - it was notable that the episode seemed to be setting up a through-line about fatherhood in the case of the week that it didn't actually follow up on elsewhere. On the bright side, the show is figuring out how to use Bowman and Bailey as a vehicle for weird running gags and minor character development, as their enjoyable C plot this work showed. I'm always up for storylines that start with the premise: "this character once punched a shark".

Birdwatching is very much a mid-season episode of Lethal Weapon, content to set up further developments and play out the typical case of the week format, and it's a testament to this show's fundamental strength that an episode by numbers is still very much enjoyable, even if it's limited by an evident lack of ambition.

Episode Grade: B+

Fork-Getta-Bout It

Fork-Getta-Bout It has me thinking. Specifically, it has me thinking about what we want from network television. Here we have a carefully crafted hour of television that knows exactly what it is and conforms with precision to a set formula that began in season one. It's fun, witty, and ably balances character and action in exactly the manner an action comedy of this kind should do. The only problem is that we've seen a lot of it before. Here's the question: is that such a bad thing, or is the repetition actually the point?

Riggs and Murtaugh's solo stories serve as a good example. As character arcs for Lethal Weapon, they're strong - they accomplish a great deal in very little time, they're lightweight but wear their heart on their sleeves, and they come to a conclusion of seemingly genuine evolution for the characters.

Riggs' story with Molly is predictable, as his late-game realisation of his feelings can be seen coming from a mile off, but the nuances of it, like the spectre of Molly's estranged husband, and the unspecified nature of the 'brother and sister' childhood friendship they had, make it interesting. Murtaugh's story is silly, but in a fun way that builds out the show's world just a little with the extended cameo from his fussy neighbour, and the sentimental conclusion works as well as RJ's farewell from earlier in the season.

Yet it's hard to not feel a sense of familiarity here. Riggs' arc is constructed in direct relation to his deceased wife, as if it's his first chance to move on; but it's not, as the Palmer arc already showed. That story didn't have the weight of 'true love' that this one seems to, but it nonetheless covered many of the beats as Molly's story. As for Murtaugh, the similarities are less specific - it's just that the show has done an awful lot of stories surrounding his protective instinct, and he seems to have moved beyond it about a dozen times. These stories simply work better if you forget past episodes, which, even for a very episodic show like Lethal Weapon, is suspect.

The cut-and-paste feel even extends to the case of the week, which is fun in a nonsensical kind of way, allowing Lethal Weapon to shamelessly riff on mob movies with its outsize villains and New Yoik accents. Yet it bears unmistakable similarities to past foes, like the Mexican cartel in season one (which the show handled in a similar manner, complete with ominous private-plane arrival for the head honcho), and the self-aware pastiche is a reminder of the equally absurd storyline in Flight Risk. These all sound like nitpicks, and maybe that's the point.

It all ultimately comes down to that starting question of what network TV should be. If it's meant to be 100% comfort food which you can dip into and out of at any point, then Fork-Getta-Bout It is a rollicking success. If it's not meant to make any storytelling concessions and shoot for the depth of bigger-budget shows over on cable, then there's something disappointing about the repetition we see here. One might say that Lethal Weapon is on the frothier side of broadcast TV, but the many occasions in which it's told genuinely dark stories contradict that.

I don't think I can answer these questions conclusively, so I won't be giving this episode a grade in the same manner as normal. This was a highly enjoyable episode that delivers all the escapist fun you could ever want, but also one that made me question just what kind of show I'm watching, and on what level I'm meant to enjoy it. Perhaps that's a cop-out.* But this was a far more complicated episode than the surface indicates.

*I think Scorsese (sorry: Bernard) would have appreciated that one.





 
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