With its midseason finale right around the corner, Season 1 of FOX’s “Lethal Weapon” has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in our Wednesday night viewing. A lot has transpired over the first nine episodes, which delved a further into Martin Riggs’ (Clayne Crawford) backstory and the family life of Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans), all while presenting itself in a police procedural mold.
But it breaks that mold in multiple ways, and in an age where high-concept programs reign supreme, “Lethal Weapon” — with its familiar buddy cop dynamic and action movie nostalgia — has quickly become a low-key favorite.
We got a chance to speak with executive producer Matthew Miller on the challenges of adapting a classic movie franchise to the small screen. He discusses some of the challenges they’ve met along the way, the character development of Riggs and Trish (Keesha Sharp) and teases some of what’s to come in the New Year. (Hint: Leo Getz is coming!)
When I first heard a ‘Lethal Weapon’ TV show was coming to primetime, my first thought was: Why is that necessary?
Matthew Miller: Yeah! What’s going on here!?
But since then, my doubts have been squashed and I’ve completely fallen in love with the show. That being said, I have to wonder, why is this the right time for a ‘Lethal Weapon’ series?
The tone of the show, I felt, was not represented on TV right now. It’s an escapist hour of television that’s a buddy comedy that has a lot of action in it, but it also has a pretty strong emotional core. A lot of procedurals on TV today are really either on the comedic side with male/female banter and then they solve the case or, you know, straight up procedural stuff. I wanted to do something that was a little more of a character piece that was about two guys that were a little broken and kind of need each other to become whole again. So that was the initial idea of it, and that’s why I felt now would be a good time for it.
Escapism is right — but you’re also exploring some heavy issues, including Riggs’ ongoing battle with grief. The [Dec. 7] Christmas episode gives the most insight into the tragedy thus far. Will the mystery behind his wife’s death continue as a through-line this season?
Yeah, I think the idea is… We sort of tell a lot of case-of-the-week stuff, but also with Riggs and his wife’s death and the stuff with the cartel is a story that we’ll continue to tell throughout the course of Season 1 — with him getting more information and some answers that he’s been looking for.
I just want to put it out there: Clayne Crawford deserves an Emmy for his take on the Martin Riggs character.
Let’s start that campaign right now!
It must’ve been a challenge to cast this iconic role, what with the many layers to Riggs. How did you happen upon Crawford?
Clayne is an incredibly talented actor and he’s someone who’s obviously done “Rectify” — and has done a lot of stuff over the years — but I feel like this was an opportunity where an actor with an incredible skill set met a role with all of these colors he was born to play. He can be incredibly warm and empathetic. He can be incredibly strong. And then, he can be broken.
It was incredibly hard to cast this role because Mel Gibson played it so iconically, as you said. We looked in Los Angeles, New York, Canada, England, Australia… We looked everywhere and most people came in on one level or another kind of doing, whether it was conscious or not, a poor man’s Mel Gibson. They were doing a Mel Gibson imitation, even if they didn’t want to. It was impossible to not know how Mel Gibson played it.
Then Clayne came in. He’s from Alabama so he’s got this light southern twang… He’s just got this different presence and a different way of approaching things. We sat down and talked about it and said, we’re not doing a remake here. We want to forge our own path. We want to make a show that stands on its own two feet and is engaging without anyone having watched, or being aware of, the original.
Getting an actor who’s able to pull off the scene in the hospital where he finds out his wife’s dead, and really be able to sell that kind of anguish, while also being able to play the car chase through the Grand Prix or play the bank scene where he walks in and puts the gun to his head… It’s hard to find someone who has that kind of comedy, drama and sort of depth to their performance. We got very lucky with casting there.
Not only do you touch on Riggs’ backstory in Wednesday’s episode, Trish’s character also steps up even more. Will we see more scenes that give her role empowerment aside from simply being Roger’s wife?
I think what it is, is that she herself as a character is a very strong person and a very strong woman. It was important to me to flesh her out — since we’re doing a series, as opposed to a couple of movies where you’re just telling one A-story, we need something where all of our characters are well-rounded and developed, as she’s sort of the glue that keeps it all together between the two guys…
In Wednesday’s episode, we see a situation where a lot of people would cower. I mean, she’s being held hostage in her own home by a cartel assassin, essentially. And we get to see, when faced with literally her children upstairs not knowing, and the gun pointed at her, she’s able to show us what her character really is — and the strength in her character.
It’s a very engaging turn for the show, for sure.
That said, we’ll also get to see a story… in the new year that will put Murtaugh and Riggs in direct conflict with the attorney version of Trish. This happens when they arrest a former client of Trish’s. It’s a really fun episode that puts the dynamic together of Trish vs. the guys.
Season 1 has shown a number of homages and nods to the movies — the jump in the pool stands out as an example. Are there any iconic Riggs/Murtaugh moments you’re aiming to bring to the small-screen?
The basic idea, for me, is I want this show to stand on its own two feet. I’m very respectful of the original movie — you know, the first one — and I want to pay it proper homage. But I don’t think there’s any particular sequences or set pieces that we really want to reprise, necessarily.
That makes sense. The show has quickly, and successfully, stepped out of the shadow of the original films.
I will tell you, we will be bringing back the Leo Getz [Joe Pesci’s witness-protection foil, from the second and later films]…
Yeah, it’ll be later on in the season after the New Year. It’s going to be a super fun episode.
“Lethal Weapon” airs its midseason finale Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.