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September 23, 2016

Review: Lethal Weapon 1x1 (US: Fox; UK: ITV)

Posted on September 23, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Lethal Weapon

In the US: Wednesdays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by ITV. Will air this autumn

I love Lethal Weapon. I really do. Despite the constant repeats of Die Hard at Christmas and a general moving by society away from movies associated with Mel Gibsonsince his 'incidents', to me, it's the best and most important of the 80s action movies.

I could probably even write a thesis about it, it's so important. Written by Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3), ostensibly it's a buddy-buddy cop movie in which the 'lethal weapon' of the piece - Gibson, a former special forces soldier who's now suicidal following the death of his wife - is partnered with the soon-to-retire Danny Glover, eventually becoming friends after fighting drug smugglers. In actuality, it sees aimless American men wondering what their purpose in society is, now that the Vietnam War is over, with Gibson's burn-out on one side, Mitchell Ryan and Gary Busey's amoral army of mercenaries on the other. It debates the nature of the 'new man' and whether unreconstructed men should aspire to be what society needs, and eventually crafts out a purpose for the left-behind: Gibson's trailer park trash who was 'only ever good at one thing' (killing) is able to put aside his suicidal tendencies by using those skills to help others when needed. 

Of course, that was the 80s and the debate has now evolved. So did Lethal Weapon, itself evolving from a semi-serious piece into an almost outright family comedy that could comfortably accommodate Chris Rock, Joe Pesci and Rene Russo in its ranks.

It's this latter incarnation of the franchise that Fox's new TV adaptation is largely channelling, but pleasingly, there are still traces of that original darker tone to the show. Based loosely on Shane Black's original script, it sees Clay Crawford (Rectify) take on the Gibson role, Riggs now being a Texan former Navy SEAL sniper turned cop who's on the verge of becoming a father when his pregnant wife is killed in a car crash.

Relocating back to his wife's home town of Los Angeles, he's partnered with Damon Wayans (In Living Color), an older cop just returned to work after having a heart attack. Neither's keen to work with the other at first, particularly once Wayans learns that Crawford has a death wish, but through various developments and stunt scenes directed by series exec producer McG (Charlie's Angels), they slowly forge a bond together.

Although the Lethal Weapon movies eventually became one big family with a continuing ensemble, don't be too surprised that for a series, that ensemble becomes even larger. The Murtaugh family comes through the transition intact, albeit with different ages. Jordana Brewster (Dallas, Fast & Furious) takes on the late Mary Ellen Trainor's role as Crawford's psychiatrist, while Tony Plana (Ugly Betty, Madam Secretary) takes on the new role of Crawford's father-in-law. 

Given that Wayans is largely known for comedy, you might be expecting the show to be nothing but buddy-buddy laughs. However, Crawford is the main focus of the show. As well as capitalising on Riggs' sharpshooting and martial arts skills, the TV adaptation still puts his death wish high on the show's feature list. 

As you might expect, given the 30 years' time difference, there are tonal differences, particularly in the attitudes to former military. Special forces aren't as mysterious as they were and attitudes to the armed forces are different - the wounds of the Vietnam War to the American psyche are different to those from Iraq. Wayans' son wants to enlist 'for the experience', and Crawford is 'happy' to point out that's a great idea if the experience you want is seeing your best friend shot in the head.

Also new is the culture gap between California and Texas, with Crawford a more well spoken Southern gentleman than Gibson. Meanwhile, Wayans' comedy talents are instead used most when dealing with his wife (Keesha Sharp) and family, rather than with Crawford. 

All the same, despite death wishes, a dead pregnant wife in the first five minutes and the copious number of car chases and shootouts, Lethal Weapon the TV series is a decidedly lighter affair than it probably should be and is nowhere near as compelling as it should be, either. Crawford, who is still undoubtedly the show's biggest asset and does fine at both the dark and the light, doesn't have the same manic energy that Gibson had once he had a target in his sights. The script is all over the place, despite the fine template, and its reinventions of old scenes are virtually nonsense.

And despite McG's presence behind the camera, the action is mostly badly choreographed, underwhelming and empty, other than a couple of fight scenes. Indeed, among all the other damage he undergoes in the episode, one of the lead characters is shot twice and the only trace of injury at the end is his arm in a sling. This is action because it can look cool, rather than because it has any real meaning.

Crawford is good enough and the character still Riggs enough that I'll tune in for episode two, at least, in the hope the show pulls itself together in later episodes. But this feels like an adaptation that either only loosely understands its original material or doesn't feel it can fully exploit it in a primetime show. Whichever it is, it also can't create something of its own that's as good or even half as engaging.

September 22, 2016

Review: Designated Survivor 1x1 (US: ABC; UK: Netflix)

Posted on September 22, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Designated Survivor

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Netflix. New episode every Thursday

Like most people in Britain, I get virtually all my knowledge about how the US government works via The West Wing. Screw Newsnight - I'll tell you the first five amendments to the US Constitution and the episodes in which they featured right now, if you want.

So when I heard about Designated Survivor, no explanation was needed: after all, not only had the Mayor from Buffy The Vampire Slayer been President Barlett's 'designated survivor' in He Shall, From Time To Time…, Laura Roslin would never have become President of the 12 Colonies in Battlestar Galactica were it not for a constitution specifying the exact list of people who would assume the position in the event of some terrible tragedy.

Designated Survivor is neither of those two shows. Instead, it's roughly half-Dave (that delightful movie in which ordinary punter Kevin Kline becomes President and behaves very nicely and decently, unlike the other politicians), half-24 (that less delightful TV series in which highly trained anti-terrorist agents have a very limited amount of time to shoot and torture lots of people to prevent terrible atrocities taking place).

It sees the lowly Secretary of Housing, who's just about to be fired by the sitting President, accepting the duty of 'designated survivor' during the State of the Union. Except then Congress gets blown up and this decent - possibly too decent - pushover family man and educator instantly propelled to the top job, where he has not only to bring the country together and keep it stable, he has to prevent all out war with other nations, find out who was responsible for the bombing and what they intend to do next, and avoid a coup d'êtat from people who think he's just not up to the job or even eligible for it, given he was unelected.

Can he do all that? Hell yeah. Because that man is Kiefer Sutherland. Yes, boys and girls, Jack Bauer is finally President.

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September 21, 2016

Review: This is Us 1x1 (US: NBC)

Posted on September 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

This is Us

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, NBC

Calling your show This is Us is a bold move. It implies a certain universality of the human experience, which in an age of identity politics is hard enough in a single city of the US, without TV producers having to think about how much of the New York City cultural experience transfers to South Africa, for example. 

Yet that's what This is Us is going for. You probably have to look back to Parenthood and before that thirtysomething to find shows that were so convinced of their universal applicability and smartness.

This is Us - or perhaps that should be This is US, given it's American focus - tries to demonstrate its pancosmic thesis through the conceit of three storylines, each involving one or more people who all have the same birthday: a married couple (Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore) who are about to have triplets; an actor brother and a love-lorn sister (Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz); and a rich trader (Sterling K Brown) whose drug-addict father (Ron Cephas Kones) abandoned him as a baby after his mother died.

A title card preceding the drama says that according to Wikipedia, people who share the same birthday aren't guaranteed to have anything else in common. But how much do you want to bet that it's hinting at a "universality of the human spirit", that universality being love, predominantly for family, predominantly in an American way? And that on top of that, that there's a secret link between the three storylines that will become immediately obvious by about two-thirds of the way through? One that involves a bit of cheating involving Milo Ventimiglia's physique?

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Lethal Weapon

A review of the first episode of Fox/ITV's Lethal Weapon