Fox's Lethal Weapon Skirts The Usual Reboot Problems With A Compelling Payoff In its First Season Finale
This past fall, Fox jumped on board an increasingly annoying trend among television networks to reboot old film IPs when they unveiled to the world their version of Lethal Weapon; a remake of the Mel Gibson, Danny Glover buddy cop film franchise from the 80s and 90s that seemingly shared little with the property it came from, outside of its title and the names of its main characters.
To be honest, it's become increasingly easily to scoff this latest Hollywood trend, but from a logistical perspective, it makes sense. After eight decades of television, it's probavly impossible to come up with ideas that are legitimately original. Most things have been done, and while the networks can still surprise us with shows like The Good Place or This Is Us, some shows are just inevitably going to be based on existing ideas. Why those ideas used to be movies is simple; those properties are just sitting around in various production studios gathering dust. So if you're going to make a buddy cop show, what does it matter if it's based on Lethal Weapon? Nearly twenty years after the debut of the last film in Richard Donner's quadrulogy, I doubt another other than maybe Dennis Reynolds and Ronald McDonald actually cares about these movies, but basing them in those worlds might pique some interest.
And to be honest, following Wednesday's first season finale of the Lethal Weapon TV show, I get it, from every aspect. The show was mostly well-received by critics and despite everything riding against it in today's anti-franchise culture, it performed well in the ratings.
Much to my surprise, it also managed to have some narrative depth. While the format of the show is largely procedural in nature, with these versions of Detectives Riggs and Murtaugh taking on a new case every week, the character words was remarkable. The TV versions of Riggs and Murtaugh, played respectively by Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans, are fully formed characters who are believable in their actions. Riggs is haunted by the loss of his 9-months pregnant wife. He's lost his will to live and is borderline suicidal, but his father-in-law has him transfered from Texas to LA and partnered with the Roger Murtaugh, a family man and experienced cop with a heart condition that's more than just a plot device. Over the course of eighteen episodes, they grow to be close partners and family.
Even more surprising is that all that character development, bringing Riggs back from the brink, getting Murtaugh to come out of his shell, it all swells into a finale that pays off Riggs' mourning of his wife, when we find out that her death was a cartel hit ordered as a punishment/warning against her father, now forced to place nice with the cartel in LA. Riggs is out for revenge when he finds out what happened. He goes rogue, forcing Murtaugh to make some tough decisions about their partnership and friendship.
But that's only one episode out of 18. And honestly, some of the rest are pretty by-the-numbers and boring, outside of some notable standouts like Thomas Lennon's debut as Leo Getz, the character famously played by Joe Pesci in the movies. But what you can usually expect out of an episode of Lethal Weapon is good character development and a great, big action set piece or two usually coupled with a shootout, chase, fight scene or explosion or two that tend to look pretty great, particularly for network TV.
For me that's honestly all I really need to be invested in the show, at least on a pretty superficial level, but when you look at it compared to the movies, it actually works there too. I honestly didn't recall much about the movies when the show first aired last year, but having since watched a some of them, the format fits. The Lethal Weapon movies were similarly procedural in nature. Riggs and Murtaugh would stumble onto some new investigation about a drug cartel or weapon smuggling rig, one of their loved ones maybe got kidnapped and it all ended with a huge action sequence at the end of which they would become better friends and partners, and everything would reset. There was nothing wrong with that formula then, and nothing wrong with it now.
Unlike a lot of other reboots, be it on the small or big screen, Lethal Weapon manages to avoid the pitfalls of reintroducing an existing property, all while being entertaining, creating compelling characters and a story with a payoff. That makes its first season largely a success. Season 1 of Lethal Weapon gets 8 times we were too old for this shit out of 10.