The 80s aren’t just fodder for big screen remakes this fall. Alongside MacGuyver and the announcement of a Magnum, P.I. sequel, the silver screen is being mined for new TV series. Among the offerings is Lethal Weapon.
The original Lethal Weapon, released in 1987, starred Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs and Danny Glover as Roger Murtaugh, detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department. They were an odd couple, except instead of one being a neat-freak and the other an utter slob, Murtaugh was a dedicated family man counting the years until retirement and Riggs was so deep in mourning his dead wife and child that he had a death wish. Combined, they solved a difficult case, albeit with extensive and expensive collateral damage in their wake. Lethal Weapon spawned three sequels and introduced Joe Pesci as Leo Getz, providing a break-out role for the actor. As the movies progressed, Riggs found a reason to keep living but still was reckless. Murtaugh loosened up a bit. Together, they fought crime and got the blame for the more expensive happenings in L.A.
This TV season, Lethal Weapon returned as a TV series. Its biggest challenge is to recapture the onscreen chemistry between Riggs and Murtaugh without shying away from the problems each of them have. Gibson and Glover as Riggs and Murtaugh took the buddy cop genre and turned it on its ear. They are a tough act to follow. The new Riggs and Murtaugh, Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans, are up to the challenge.
One benefit television has over movies is that there is more time to explore a character. The first episode shows how Riggs’ life is shattered and shows Murtaugh as a family man, contrasting them before they even meet. The contrast between them sets up the series. That the pilot takes its plot from the original movies isn’t a problem; adaptations bring a set of expectations and the Lethal Weapon movie series did change buddy cop films*. The pilot keeps the tone of the movies, not altogether serious but also not a comedy. Crawford portrays the loss and pain of Riggs, especially when he’s alone. Wayans fills in Glover’s shoes well, being the family man who has to worry about not just himself but his family if something should happen to him.
The Lethal Weapon TV series hit the mark running, capturing the feel of the movies and taking advantage of the change in format to delve deeper into the character’s lives without changing what made Riggs and Murtaugh an audience draw.
* Arguably, so did 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy, but Murphy’s Axel Foley was just visiting when he was paired with Judge Reinhold’s Billy Rosewood and John Ashton’s John Taggert, who were already a more conventional set of partners.