[05/11/12 - 08:20 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Common Law" (USA)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Fridays at 10:00/9:00c beginning tonight)

The network's description: "USA Network's newest original series COMMON LAW, about two ace detectives who are forced into couples' therapy to save their work relationship, will premiere Friday, May 11 at 10/9c, following an all-new FAIRLY LEGAL, which returns on Friday, March 16 at 9/8c for its sophomore season. The 12 episode one-hour series stars Michael Ealy ("The Good Wife," "Californication"), Warren Kole ("The Chicago Code," "24"), Jack McGee ("The Fighter," "Rescue Me") and Sonya Walger ("Lost," "In Treatment") and will run through Friday, August 10. The return to Friday is a homecoming for USA, having successfully launched three of the network's most popular original series (MONK, PSYCH, WHITE COLLAR) on that night."

What did they leave out? Amy Acker played Elyse Ryan in the original pilot, a role that subsequently went to Sonya Walger. Plus like most USA pilots, it runs just under 75 minutes.

The plot in a nutshell: Some couples reach breaking points. For LAPD detectives Travis Marks (Michael Ealy) and Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole), it's when Wes pulled a gun on him. You see, after seven years the frustration over their respective "quirks" - Travis sleeps with anything that moves and is blissfully unapologetic in general; Wes is obsessive-compulsive about everything and keeps everyone at arm's length (including Elizabeth Chomko as his still caring ex-wife) - has escalated to the point they can't be around each other for more than a few minutes without breaking into a fight.

And so they've been sentenced to couples therapy with Dr. Elyse Ryan (Sonya Walger) at the behest of their captain, Phil Sutton (the always great Jack McGee), who's had his own success in said arena. There they reluctantly participate in various exercises designed to help them reconnect, not to mention be a part of a support group with actual couples looking for help. Nevertheless, there's still crimes to be solved and Sutton, much to the chagrin of the skeptical DA (Andrea Parker), assigns them the squad's latest high profile case: the addict son of a judge has been found murdered in MacArthur Park. After all, despite their foibles, Travis and Wes are still two of the best the LAPD has to offer. Or as Ryan aptly puts: they both hate bad guys getting away.

From here it's down the usual procedural rabbit hole - obvious suspects prove to be dead ends, motives slowly come to the forefront and the responsible party ultimately emerges - all of which is designed to amp up the stress between the two. Through said process we learn a little more about our heroes - whether it's Travis's hardscrabble life as a foster child that has inadvertently produced a helpful network of informants; or Wes's previous career as a lawyer, a path he found had little to do with justice - as well as discover glimpses of the true friendship between them that's been buried over the years. Perhaps they can be partners, if they put in the work at group.

What works: Ealy and Kole have a nice rapport the helps gives some dimension to the usual buddy cop cliches. Certainly arguing about door dings and hand sanitizer are like shooting fish in the proverbial mismatched detective barrel, but there's an exasperation to their back-and-forth that gives you the sense they're a few steps away from full on losing it. There's also a welcome nobility to their pursuits: these aren't adrenaline junkies or overgrown kids, they genuinely want to do good even at the cost of their personal lives. All in all, I genuinely want to enjoy the show and the more I turn off my brain the more I seem to be able to.

What doesn't: Nevertheless, there's still a heavy cloud of "only on TV" to the proceedings in general. From the comically high number of times they brandish or discharge their guns in public to the mere fact its premise sounds like a rejected Martin Lawrence/Owen Wilson vehicle from the early aughts, nary a moment passes without a reminder of just how artificially their foibles are constructed. (Even if you can forgive the usual cop/suspect shenanigans, the mere fact they're still allowed to by the department or even themselves want to be partners strains credulity.)

It doesn't help that the pilot's valiant attempts to tie the case to their own internal turmoil ring false while title cards featuring quotes about relationships from the likes of Dr. Phil come across as unnecessarily cute. That's not to say it can't make for entertaining television, nor that there isn't potential for some dramatic heft. Somewhere in here is a legitimate show, it just has a lot of digging to do to get there.

The bottom line: A solid summer entry... if you can just enjoy it for what it is.

  [may 2012]  


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