TV Review: USA’s “Common Law”

Friday night at 10/9 Central, the USA Network premieres its new drama, “Common Law.”  Despite the name, the show has nothing to do with judicial precedent.  Rather, “Common Law” centers around the comically dysfunctional partnership of LAPD detectives Travis Marks (Michael Ealy) and Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole).  We here at Abnormal Use obtained an advance screener of tomorrow night’s pilot episode.  Written by husband and wife screenwriting team Cormac and Marianne Wibberly, the pilot is widely-entertaining and makes a great introduction to the new series.

With only a few minor, minor spoilers, the basic premise is as follows:  Marks is the product of 18 different foster homes.  Mitchell is a former partner in a law firm.  Together, they are now the top detectives in the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division.  Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?  Unfortunately, their relationship is problematic at best, even leading to physical combat at times.  In order to maintain their professional partnership, the two are forced into couples therapy by their police captain (Jack McGee). Despite the hostility, the duo is able to effectively solve crimes and save the day.  We were a little skeptical when we learned of the show’s therapy gimmick.  From its outset, however, “Common Law” adds some zing to the tired police procedural television marketplace.

Despite the unbelievable premises, the leads, Ealy and Kole, make it work seamlessly.  The pilot’s opening scene finds the duo bickering in a couples therapy class.  Like a well-seasoned married couple,the pair is obviously better together than apart.  With each zinger, the two actors play off of each other and actually advance the plot line while doing so.  Indeed, the show does not feel bogged down by its clever banter, which is to the credit of both the writers and the actors.

Standing alone, the odd-couple relationship of Marks and Mitchell probably wouldn’t be enough to warrant a second season.  Couple that relationship with an intriguing criminal investigation, however, and you have the makings of a potentially great series.  The pilot is a microcosm of this point.  In it, the partners investigate the murder of the son of a federal judge. Sound familiar?  It has been the plot line of “Law and Order” at least a dozen times.  Unlike “Law and Order,” however, “Common Law” tells the story from the standpoint of two dysfunctional detectives trying to get out of the doghouse of a district attorney for getting into a heated argument among themselves during an earlier trial.  Surprisingly, this new spin on the crime dramedy works, at least in the pilot.

We have written several mildly favorable reviews of USA legal dramas in the past (“Suits,” “Fairly Legal”).  We couldn’t give our complete blessing to those shows, however, because their legal inaccuracies were irksome to attorneys.  While  “Common Law” may share those flaws, our criminal background is limited, to say the least.  As such, when watching this show, we aren’t burdened by the potential for misrepresentation of our profession.  Sure, we know most detectives don’t fire their guns during an informal witness interview.  But we can leave that critique for those involved in criminal justice.

Our only criticism of the show has nothing to do with the plot or the acting.  While we found the writing superb, we did take exception to one line.  When speaking of his former legal career, Mitchell stated, “People need a good cop more than they need a good lawyer.”  Ouch.  And here we were thinking we worked in the noblest of professions.

To maintain the good will, we will just assume Mitchell’s assertion was limited to criminal lawyers, not civil litigators.

For viewers looking for a new take on the crime genre, “Common Law” offers a great blend of comedy and suspense.  At a time when most of our television “stars” are of the reality TV variety, the acting of Ealy and Kole is a breath of fresh air.  Don’t expect “Common Law” to sweep the awards shows this year, but expect an entertaining episode each week, and that’s good enough for us.