• Category: TV Reviews
  • Written by Rick Ellis

Review: The Season One Finale Of 'Lethal Weapon'

Loving someone is a transformative act. It opens our heart, it expands our horizons and it gives us a glimpse of the person we were meant to be. There is nothing more magical than that moment when you feel yourself falling in love. And nothing in this world can rip apart your soul as easily as having that joy taken away from you by a violent act.

I grew up in Southern Indiana in a town I used to joke made "Hee Haw look like a documentary." Growing up in a place like that in the age before the Internet meant that for most teens, their horizons extended only as far as the nearest Whirlpool plant or community college. But somehow I ended up in Southern California, majoring in political science and dipping my toes ever so carefully into the world of stand-up comedy. That's where I met Susan, the first great love of my life.

I was a gangly Midwestern boy who had spent much of his life wrapped in books and his own head. Susan was a lanky blonde goddess who grew up orphaned in a foster home. She didn't just turn heads, her casual confidence dominated every room she walked into. And for some reason I still can't comprehend, she decided that she loved me.

We shared an small apartment in a neighborhood that was at that point best described as "transitional." She was the stereotypical waitress trying to be an actress and I was a PolySci student who spent his free time writing. It's funny how you never realize you're living a magical life until after it's gone.

One evening I was running late and as I walked down the hallway leading up to our apartment, I was running down the list of the excuses in my head. I knew I was going to ask forgiveness. The only question was how long she'd playfully make me suffer until she laughed and kissed me. And as I walked towards the door, I noticed it was ever-so-slightly ajar. And when I opened the door, my world tilted and then changed forever.

The police later told me that it looked as if Susan had come home in the middle of an attempted robbery. Our TV was on the floor and not far away from it was her body, bloodied and battered. She might have had a sweet soul, but she was a fighter and apparently she hadn't died easily.

I honestly don't remember much about the following months. It wasn't just that Susan was lost that day. It was that the entire life we had imagined for ourselves died with her. Her acting career, those memories we'd make together as we worked our way up the Hollywood ladder. Growing old together, ending our days sharing some wine as we looked out on the beach. And our kids, spoiled a bit by show business, but still normal enough to be lovable. 

That's why I've always admired the first "Lethal Weapon" movie. The "cop's wife murdered by bad guys" is an overused movie/TV trope, but that movie is one of the few that truly nails the nuances of such a loss. The temptation is to play Martin Riggs as simply suicidal or reckless and there is a touch of that in Mel Gibson's performance. But he also captures the manic anger and depression of someone who simultaneously wants to die and is afraid to stop living. I can recall feeling as if I couldn't stand to live another day and hurt so much and you can see that conflict play out across Gibson's face. It's hard to let go and the truth no one ever talks about is that closure is some cruel joke. You can move on, you can eventually carve out a great life. But you never forget the pain.

The perfection of the original movie (and the increasingly inept movie sequels) is the primary reason why I wasn't looking forward to the television reboot when it was announced last year. It's not that I don't think it should have been remade - the dynamics of Riggs and the chaotic relationship with his reluctant police partner Murtaugh provides a lot of inspiration for any writer. My primary concern was that the constraints of broadcast television would make it difficult to effectively portray such a complex and nuanced character while still servicing the need to crank out a season's worth of procedural episodes.

And indeed that creative tension was an issue for "Lethal Weapon" all season. I didn't particularly enjoy the pilot, but stuck around early on because of Damon Wayans. He's an underrated actor who is capable of delivering a multi-dimensional character consistently week after week. While he's a very different kind of actor than Danny Glover (who played Roger Murtaugh in the movies), Wayans found his own unique take on the character. As the season progressed, you could see him slide into the role like he was shrugging on an old comfortable sports coat. Even better, his relationship with his family became a defining part of the role. Wayans has an excellent chemistry with Keesha Sharp (who plays wife Trish) and while the show still hasn't quite dialed in kids Rianne and Roger, Chandler Kinney and Dante Brown have done a solid job despite not having much to work with.

But the ultimate success of "Lethal Weapon" rises or falls on the ability of Clayne Crawford to capture the multi-faceted complexity of Martin Riggs. It's a daunting task, but for the show to work, Riggs has to be more than just a hard-drinking guy who has dark thoughts. He needs to be a man who is mentally living on a knife's edge. Viewer's need to occasionally see that look in his eyes that says "I'm not crazy. I just can't live through another day feeling this way."

From the outside, it's hard to know how much of Crawford's take on Riggs was on the page and how much of it was a reflection of his acting choices. But the first half of the season was frustrating, as Riggs was too often the procedural stereotype of a hard-drinking wiseass who seemed to be more a policeman that doesn't care about rules than a man who isn't sure he wants to keep living. But the role evolved throughout the season and the forced humor was dialed back. The often pointless scenes with police psychologist Maureen Cahill (Jordana Brewster) were less frequent and slowly the show introduced an uneasy possible relationship for Riggs.

In a way, the tweaking of the characters served a creative purpose greater than just improving the overall show. It set the framework for the last two episodes of the season, which were as good as anything I've seen from a procedural show all year. When Riggs discovers the truth about the death of his wife Miranda, it sets him down a dark and vindictive path that finally gives Crawford to be the Martin Riggs of the "Lethal Weapon" movies. Everything about the season finale works, from the twists and turns of the storyline to the exceptional relationship between Riggs & Murtaugh, And in the midst of all the chaos, the show still remembers the small Murtaugh family touches. It's a perfectly balanced hour of television and it made me happy I stuck with the show throughout the season.

"Lethal Weapon" has already been picked up for a second season and the cliffhanger leaves Riggs in Mexico stalking the man who ordered his wife's death. I hope they don't rush the resolution of that storyline and give the arc a chance to play out with the darkness and loss it deserves. There's a temptation in network television to want to wrap things up quickly. But revenge deserves the chance to play out on its own schedule.

Generally when a showrunner or network executive argues that a show needs a number of episodes to find itself, that claim is driven more by unrelenting optimism than the real possibility things will improve. "Lethal Weapon" beat those odds and became a show that lives up to it name and the legacy of the original "Lethal Weapon" movie.