Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

After months of vigorous publicity, USA Network’s latest buddy cop dramedy Common Law debuted Friday night, with mixed results.  USA has long been teasing viewers with hints at the show’s premise: two quibbling homicide detectives attend couple’s counseling to work out their differences.  Starring Michael Ealy (Barbershop, Underworld: Awakening) and Warren Cole (24) and featuring veteran character actor Jack McGee as their lieutenant and Sonya Walger (Lost, The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the therapist, Common Law is an uneven mix of action, comedy, and police drama.  With the USA pedigree behind it, it has a long way to go to catch up to network winners like White Collar and Burn Notice.

Let’s start with the premise.  It’s good!  It’s funny, it’s got a great hook, and the framework of the rocky relationship is something that can easily span multiple seasons of a series (unlike, say, Prison Break).  We first meet our heroes in the middle of their first group therapy session, filling out personality questionnaires to prove how well the “partners” know each other.  The jokes initially hinge on the double entendres, but do manage to rise above the obvious, delivering a few funny moments and revealing some depth to both leads.  Therapist Walger is competent, although the pilot didn’t give her much opportunity to shine in the role; we’ll be watching to see if she becomes a memorable character in her own right like the late Stanley Kamel of Monk.

As a cop drama, the pilot was lackluster.  Again, remember twenty years of Law & Order, seven seasons of The Closer, and the short but brilliant Life.  This is a genre with savvy viewers who expect standout scripts and performances.  The murder was forgettable (literally; it’s been less than twenty-four hours, and I’m having trouble remembering it), the writing just average, and the guest performances all lacked spark.  They’ll need to raise the mystery and casting to the level of the premise for the show to keep my interest.

Strong performances by leads Travis (Ealy) and Wes (Kole) helped the pilot rise above its draggy plot and uninspired dialogue.  Both were nicely developed, with complex backstories.  Travis was raised in foster care, and Wes is a disillusioned former lawyer (although I would have liked to see those somewhat stereotypical histories reversed).  Travis is a freewheeling ladies’ man, Wes an uptight perfectionist, and the two have landed themselves in hot water when Wes drew his gun on Travis over an argument.  Enter Captain Sutton (McGee), who believes the same couple’s therapy that saved his marriage will do wonders for his best detectives.  Ealy and Kole have great chemistry (or, at the moment, an entertaining lack thereof) and set the tone for the show.  But McGee somehow feels out of step with the rest, adding an element of farce to an otherwise fairly dark humor.  There was something off there that didn’t quite work for me.

However, some standout moments give this viewer hope for the series.  A couple of really great action sequences featured clever twists on familiar police drama scenes (a convenience store holdup, the foot pursuit of a suspect).  The foot pursuit, in particular, combined great filming/editing and some truly awe-inspiring synchronized stunt work by Wes and Travis.  If Common Law features more of that in coming episodes, I will have a good reason to keep tuning in.

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