The drama surrounding FOX’s Lethal Weapon as it ended season 2 put the series’ future in question. Behind-the-scenes issues with series stars Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans spilled out into the entertainment news cycle, after it became clear the series would not be able to move forward with its current cast. Not long after, Crawford was let go, relieved of his duties of playing Martin Riggs, arguably the key ingredient to the long-running Lethal Weapon franchise. That left the series in the tricky position of either recasting Riggs, bringing in an entirely new character and actor to play him, or simply washing its hands of the whole thing and calling it a day on the series. FOX and Warner Bros., the studio that produces the series, chose option number two, bringing in Seann William Scott as former CIA agent turned LAPD officer Wesley Cole.
However, finding a replacement for Crawford was just the beginning of Lethal Weapon’s post-Martin Riggs problems. Scott is perfectly capable of stepping into the spotlight and handling both the comedy and the action, and he even has a fine onscreen rapport with Wayans, but the biggest challenge facing the series at the start of season 3 has less to do with who steps in for the dismissed Crawford and more to do with how the show chooses to handle his departure and the lingering memory of Martin Riggs. And it’s there that the series, in its attempts to move on, while also attempting to end Riggs’ story in a poignant and significant way, runs headlong into the reality of its own behind-the-scenes tumult. Try as it might, the series can’t ignore evidence of the on-set animosity between its two stars. As such, any effort to paint Riggs and Murtaugh as true partners and the best of friends will inevitably raise a few eyebrows, necessary though it may be.
In other words, the season 3 premiere has its work cut out for it — especially in terms of its emotional credibility. The attempts to acknowledge the show’s past two seasons (as well as the film franchise, which certainly has its own problems), while also cultivating a future with a brand new character that simultaneously is and is not meant to be a facsimile of Martin Riggs, are admirable, even if the results are not entirely successful.
Strangely, ‘In the Same Boat’ is as eager to let the past become the past as it is to insist Murtaugh is like really super sad Riggs is gone. The season begins with a jumbled opening sequence that replays the final moments of season 2, showing Riggs being shot by his own brother, before jumping to a hasty introduction for Cole, finding him in the Middle East, acting as a one-man army, while also befriending a young boy who is tragically caught and killed in the crossfire. A quick jump back to LA sees Murtaugh in the ER as Riggs is pronounced dead. The whole thing plays out like Baz’s death in TNT’s Animal Kingdom, though the circumstances behind the scenes are remarkably different.
In both cases, though, each series were left to question how they could move forward after losing an integral part of the show’s cast. Lethal Weapon’s answer is to put Murtaugh in his sweats for six months to process the death of his partner, while falling deeper and deeper into a faux conspiracy that goes as far as it can before being mercifully tossed like a first draft. In short, Lethal Weapon doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to the fate of Martin Riggs. The character is most certainly dead, and his death is the result of actions taken by a single person. That’s it. As far as the season 3 premiere is concerned, the case is closed and it’s time to move on.
As it turns out, moving on is tricky business. Cole ostensibly speaks for the series itself by saying, “I can’t ever replace [Riggs], so I won’t even try,” and to a certain extent that’s true, but not entirely. As archetypes go, Riggs and Cole are essentially interchangeable; the major differences being Cole doesn’t have a death wish and is actively engaged in making right certain wrongs from his past. That means repairing his relationship with is ex-wife, Natalie (Maggie Lawson), and their daughter Maya (Shay Rudolph), even if that means handing out parking tickets for the LAPD instead of being a super cool CIA agent. Of course, like Riggs, chaos seems to follow Cole wherever he goes, and that attraction to mayhem soon finds him face-to-face with the man who will be his new partner.
There’s a whole subplot about Chechens with bombs and a plot to rob a bank in what sounds like a warmed over rehash of Die Hard With a Vengeance. But none of that really matters. What matters is whether or not Scott and Wayans can make a go of it, and whether Lethal Weapon will still be Lethal Weapon if they do. For his part, Scott does what the series asks of him. He’s engaging and charming, and admirably sells the action, while convincing the audience Cole is more than a character description that will appeal to males aged 14-35. As an added bonus, he doesn’t even roll his eyes when asked to say something about “chaos” roughly one hundred times in 43 minutes.
Regardless the drama surrounding this new character, or Scott and Wayans’ onscreen chemistry, this effort is completely moot if audiences are uninterested in watching a Lethal Weapon series without Martin Riggs. The series can easily continue like this for years, and that would likely make FOX and Warner Bros. very happy. It'll be interesting, then, to see if audiences will continue to tune in so that can happen.
Lethal Weapon continues next Tuesday with ‘Need to Know’ @8pm on FOX.