Common Law: Characters Welcome; Plot, Use the Back Door

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Common Law S01E01: “Pilot”

I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be easier for everyone if detectives Wes Mitchell and Travis Marks just requested new partners. According to their co-workers, in the past, the duo have derailed cases by arguing over testimony details in court, come to physical blows with such regularity that when it happened in the office during the pilot, everyone in the immediate vicinity just kind of shrugged and went back to work, and finally, apparently, Wes once pulled a gun on Travis for reasons we haven’t been made privy to yet.

It was that last incident that prompted their boss, Captain Phil Sutton, to force them into couples counseling to mend their failing work relationship—and it was during a group therapy session that we first met Wes and Travis. The “are they or aren’t they a gay couple” joke would have been funnier if: 1.) We didn’t already know the premise of the show going into the pilot thanks to every promo for the series currently on television and 2.) those jokes about how gay couples in therapy are weird and straight couples in therapy are standard were actually, you know, funny. The introductory Dr. Phil quote also made me cringe because, well, it’s Dr. Phil.

Common Law’s pilot definitely had some issues to overcome; I won’t even try to argue that it didn’t. While I thought the commercials for the show looked awesome from the start, the premise itself—two detectives forced into couples counseling to save their careers—made me cringe, and one of my biggest concerns is that the joke the entire series rests on will get really old really fast. I was already somewhat over it by the end of their first session, but the introduction of Jack McGee as the detectives’ quirky, therapy-loving, TMI-sharing boss at least justified it. In the real world, the two clashing partners would have probably been reassigned but in USA Network’s sunny version of the LAPD, extenuating workplace circumstances made the situation somewhat believable. I mean, in the real world, White Collar’s Neal Caffrey would have been dragged back to prison at least four times by now.

USA prides itself on developing compelling characters, and everything else about a series is almost relegated to an afterthought. Common Law is no different. In the pilot, Wes and Travis had a case to solve, but it was hardly the most interesting aspect of the show. A judge’s former-heroin-addict son was found stabbed to death in an area known to be frequented by dealers. His brother’s Boy Scout knife was found nearby and witnesses claimed that the two had an argument prior to his death and the good son told the prodigal son that he wished he would just die and spare the family from his repeated rehab-related drama. All evidence pointed to the brother, but Wes and Travis are super detectives who, despite their animosity toward one another, work really well together.

You know, when one isn’t throwing the other through a window in their Captain’s office.

Michael Ealy and Warren Kole were absolutely fun to watch and their characters are, for now, enough to keep me interested. The case itself was standard cop-show stuff and could have easily been exchanged with any other case on any other procedural series, but Wes and Travis were developed quickly and efficiently during their introductory episode: Wes is an ex-lawyer who joined the police force after sending an innocent man to prison. He’s a neat freak who doesn’t like it when Travis eats in his car. He compulsively cares for his lawn when something is bugging him. Travis was left on the steps of a fire hall as an infant and the firefighter who found him named him after the Cabbage Patch doll that was left with him. Don’t say “aww.” Travis hates when people say “aww.” (I said “aww.”) He’s the chilled-out alternative to Wes’s uptight personality and the unofficial ladies' man of the partnership.

The counseling scenes were certainly the highlight of this episode, if only because they allowed Wes and Travis to pick at each other and reveal all of their fun little personality quirks without forcing it. Hopefully the cases will catch up to the rest of the show, but in the meantime, I could do with less Dr. Phil and more epic bromance.


Case Notes and Follow-up Questions

1. “Why do you work with this guy?” “One therapist says I’m attracted to abusive relationships.” It shows, Travis. It really really shows.

2. “Psychobabbling sociopaths.” Nice.

3. The Travis Marks approach to talking a suicidal individual off the ledge: “Should’ve picked a higher building. Might end up a vegetable. You’d LIVE. But you’d be a vegetable.”

4. Do you think the couples counseling angle will get old? Is it already old?

5. General thoughts and concerns? Travis’s trailer was pretty cool, right?

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