USA's Common Law is funny, formulaic

Common Law follows the cable net's typical formula, but succeeds anyway.

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The pilot, which premiered Fri., May 11 (though you can still catch it in reruns), opens with a group therapy session during which the audience, along with the other group members, are introduced to their newest couple in crisis. Dr. Ryan (Sonya Walger) starts by talking about emotional and sexual intimacy, which naturally sets up the inevitable group mistake of assuming the partners are a gay couple. It doesn’t help that Wes’ ex (a sore subject) comes up, and her name, Alex, is conveniently androgynous. When Wes clarifies that they are in fact “police partners,” one husband makes a Village People joke. Har har. Everyone gets a chuckle out of it, and after getting uncomfortably close in an intimacy exercise, the detectives are called to a crime scene and gladly leave therapy early.

More is revealed about the partners as they exit the therapist’s office. For example, we learn the reason they’ve been sentenced to couples therapy: Wes pulled his gun on Travis when he wouldn’t apologize for some unnamed slight. This fact becomes ironic throughout the episode, as it becomes clear that Travis is the one with the tendency to pull his gun unnecessarily. This — along with Travis’ more straightforward and mildly insensitive (but humorous) style of dealing with suspects — is demonstrated when he scares a kid into forking over a stolen wallet by pointing a gun at the kid and suggesting they plant evidence on him. We also learn that he’s a ladies’ man whose trouble sustaining meaningful relationships could be a result of his years in the foster care system (blah blah psychobabble...).

Wes and Travis with Dr. Ryan
  • Wes and Travis with Dr. Ryan
Wes, on the other hand, is by-the-book, serious and obsessive compulsive. It would seem, however, that Wes isn’t quite as hell-bent on following the rules as the writers would have us think. This is demonstrated several times, like when he lets Travis shoot a $750,000 vehicle stuffed with drugs, and when he crashes a car into a convenient store to save his partner from a hold-up gone wrong. It would seem that he’s not such a stickler when it comes to seeing results and saving a life. It also becomes clear throughout the episode that Wes actually used to be a lawyer, and that guilt over putting an innocent person in jail led him to join the police force. Additionally, this career change and the danger it put him in, resulted in his vaguely aforementioned divorce.

I’ll leave out the details of the case the partner's investigate throughout the episode, as individual cases are usually not an audience draw for a cop show like this. Overall, Common Law is very entertaining despite the formulaic structure. Kole and Ealy have a lot of chemistry, and though watching them argue like children for an hour might sound overdone or irritating (and perhaps it is), their relationship is compelling enough for me to set my DVR to record every week.

Ah, the old warring partners engaging in witty banter as they investigate crime on TV. It's a set-up older than the medium itself. So you'll have to forgive USA's latest original series, Common Law, which goes back to this standard format, one shared by network-mates like White Collar, Suits, and (my favorite) Psych.

What sets Common Law apart from these other shows is it's the only one whose premise centers entirely on the unstable relationship of its main characters. Detectives Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole) and Travis Marks (Michael Ealy) are such an explosive pair, that they are sent by superiors to couples therapy to work out the kinks in their dysfunctional five-year partnership.

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