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Fox TV gives a credible 'Lethal Weapon' a new lease on life

Fox TV gives a credible 'Lethal Weapon' a new lease on life
Clayne Crawford, left, and Damon Wayons play newly partnered LAPD detectives in "Lethal Weapon," Fox's TV revival of the 20th Century film franchise. (Richard Foreman/Fox)

It has been 30 years since the noisy arrival of "Lethal Weapon" —  the film, then the franchise — in which Mel Gibson played Martin Riggs, an LAPD detective with a death wish, and Danny Glover played his partner, Roger Murtaugh, a detective with a family.

Now, 18 years after those characters were last taken out for a spin, they have been dusted off and shrunk down for "Lethal Weapon," the TV series, which begins Wednesday on Fox.

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The series begins where the original movie did — leaving out Riggs' mullet — with some small, mostly enlivening tweaks and elaborations.  (It is surprising how little context you can create in the course of four feature films, though less so when you consider how much of that time was devoted to running, driving, shooting and things blowing up.)

Now Riggs (Clayne Crawford, 38) is newly arrived from Texas with a back story ever so slightly more horrible than his film original. To even the scales, Murtaugh (Damon Wayans, 56, can play 50) has been given a small heart attack. (Also a new baby — no connection is drawn between those events.) As we begin, he is recovered enough to return to work, though not before initiating a sad running joke in which birthday sex never happens.

Written by Matt Miller ("Forever") and directed by McG ("Charlie's Angels" movies, "The Mysteries of Laura"), the pilot ticks off the franchise-defining boxes.

Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford, left) dines in with partner Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) and family (left to right, Keesha Sharp, Chandler Kinney and Dante Brown) in Fox's new "Lethal Weapon."
Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford, left) dines in with partner Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) and family (left to right, Keesha Sharp, Chandler Kinney and Dante Brown) in Fox's new "Lethal Weapon." (Richard Foreman/Fox)

Scene in which Riggs does something to make others question his sanity? Check. Scene in which he faces an impossible number of bad guys in a warehouse? Check. Riggs and Murtaugh are pinned down by gunfire? Check. Riggs does something impulsive because it's in his nature — check. Murtaugh does something impulsive though it's against his nature — again, check. Car chase? Check. Head-butt? Check. And so on.

In between, Riggs drinks in his ratty oceanside trailer and Murtaugh checks his pulse.

Tonally, the pilot splits the difference between the original film, which offered violent action with touches of comedy, and the later films, which were comedies with more than a touch of violent action. As in the movies, the relationship between the leads is more important than the crime-fighting; the mystery here is not particularly involving. All you need to keep in mind is that these are the good guys, and those are the bad guys, and those other people are just caught in the crossfire.

Alongside the well-cast Crawford and Wayans, a solid ensemble includes Keesha Sharp as Murtaugh's missus; Jordana Brewster as the department psychologist; Johnathan Fernandez as the resident pathologist — can't have a procedural without a pathologist — nicknamed Scorsese, because he went to film school; and Kevin Rahm, Ted of "Mad Men" fame, as the captain.

"Lethal Weapon" was not the first piece of popular art to make crime-solving partners from a temperamentally mismatched duo — "Beverly Hills Cop" beat it into theaters by two years, and there were Holmes and Watson a little while before that. But there have been three more decades worth of these pairings since; there is nothing groundbreaking, sensational or spectacular here.

But it does what it does more than acceptably well, and promises to be subtler than its big-screen model —– not that subtlety is necessarily what you come for. In any case, the template shows no sign of wearing out, or wearing out its welcome.

'Lethal Weapon'

Where: Fox

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)

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On Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

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