In every healthy relationship, both parties must ask themselves what they expect out of one another. Are you really okay with her owning a ferret? Just how rad is it that he's a convicted arsonist/enjoys bebop tunes? USA's Common Law—a show about a pair of L.A. police officers forced to attend couple's therapy so that they might better nab lowlife scumbags—requires the same therapeutic examination of its viewers. Now that we're a few episodes in, do you wish Common Law would stop doing that one thing that annoys you so dang much, or are your needs being met on every possible level? Maybe Common Law is the one, but also maybe it's using you to get to your great hammock. Let's use this safe place to assess how things are going so far and see if this relationship is worth fixing, needs healing, or is destined for Splitsville, USA.
These are the traits and behaviors that make your partner absolutely wonderful, and what started this whole crazy love affair in the first place. In the case of Common Law, Wes and Travis's chemistry is undeniable. Behind all the tiffs about putting one's feet up on the dashboard or who "won the shooting competition" is a very caring energy (so say my soul-crystals). I believe these two guys get each other better than anyone else in their ramshackle lives, in only the way two broken super-cops can. Also, in a time where nearly every procedural has characters who partake in lighthearted banter over mutilated corpses full of exploded rebar, I respect CL for at least building the juxtaposition of emotions and crime into its premise. When a round of josh-offs happens in the presence of melted cadaver exit-wounds, at least we know social talk is on their mind as a result of therapy, and not just so that death can provide some conflict. Speaking of violent crime, so far the one-off mysteries have provided delightful forays into interesting worlds populated by colorful citizens that hearken back to Miss Marple suspects by way of Los Angeles. Credit where credit is due. What can I say? I loves me some perps!
Then there are the tiny faults that you'd change in your partner, like leaving the toilet seat up or eating cheese in bed (without even lifting his or her head from the pillow). The largest, reoccurring attempt at humor here is the fact that these two straight males behave as if they are in a romantic relationship, what with their spats over "listening" and "who should ask who for directions," but come on media giants (and titans of industry/powers that be), it's the '90s, can't we just quit giggling over same-sex couples? They're totally a thing. Poking fun at the idea of gay folks playing out relationship tropes is the joke version of this show's soundtrack: about as original as "Hollywood Stock Jams: Rock Riff #32" played during another high-speed foot chase. Instead of hard laughs and decent tunes, we're getting innocuous, general sounds that lazily imply something familiar rather than offer a new take. Which is not to say relationship goofs can't happen within this non-romantic couple. It's still super awkward being forced to go to therapy with your coworker, so CL, maybe play a little more with how odd it is to get personal within a professional context?
Oh yeah, also there's the weird quotes peppered throughout each episode:
There's only so much actual wisdom to spread concerning the world of love (before you realize it's 99.99% mind chess), so I imagine around Season 6 we'll see straight-up Dove-chocolate-wrapper sayings. "Dance like no one is watching..." or what have you.
Then there are the qualities in your partner that there's just no getting past. Scary dealbreakers and things you find lacking, sadly. It was only a matter of time before the premise of these two fellas working through their interpersonal issues while also solving crimes fell by the wayside, in favor of them being just sassy, well-dressed cops, but who knew it would happen so fast? Sure, each episode so far has checked in with their group therapy sessions, but there really isn't anything developmentally at stake. The psychiatry angle almost immediately settled into pure novelty—which is fine, except for you kind of hope that the part of an idea that makes it unique becomes its guiding force, and not just a quick way into viewers' living rooms. I guess that's the danger of tweaking the regular components of a procedural; most of the elements are designed to stay the same, including the central conflict that these two guys don't get along so well. So naturally, it's going to be hard to make Wes and Travis improve because of therapy while maintaining their subtle hatred for one another. But, you know, there were four Lethal Weapon films.
While the crimes offer a welcome foray into smaller worlds, the method in which Wes and Travis solve them has already become predictable as well: There's a foot/car chase of sorts, shooting, and more often than not (in only three 'sodes), the least likely suspect either turns out to be the culprit, or offCommon Law. Maybe have no crime in one episode, and then like 10 race riots that span five? Just saying.
All is not lost because luckily every relationship has its tiny, saving graces. Things that make you smile for better or for worse, and suggest that maybe, just maybe, there is hope for the two of you after all. Like how Travis lives inside of an Airstream trailer that is itself inside of a warehouse (for some reason/because he doesn't play by the book?). For my money, the show should explore this detail to its fullest extent. Like, what else is off about Travis's life as a byproduct of his loose-cannon tendencies? Does he eat breakfast for dinner? Name his shoes? Perhaps he is the Zooey Deschanel of this duo, the manic pixie dream cop who also sometimes shoots perps in the face. Here's hoping!
It is also very charming whenever Wes and Travis put aside their differences to shout down anybody – their chief, the D.A., hotel clerks (as only a reformed, troubled foster child and ex-lawyer can - also neat details I hope get explored beyond expositional dialogue). They have zero time for the underworld's shenanigans and as a unit are so casually dismissive, it's no surpise that in the end, all they have is each other.
The good news is that there's hope for this relationship; the bad news is that it's going to take some work. Through all its strengths, quibbles, flaws, and charms, Common Law has established multiple story threads that—if explored in an honest, original way—could justify keeping this show around the house. Ultimately, you the viewer will have to ask yourself what you want out of a relationship with a TV show: surprise, comfort, or both.
If you still need some help sussing out your emotions, try writing a haiku like I did:
Common Law is just
psycho-babble, suits, and crime;
waves lap at my feet
What's your current relationship status with the show?