May 20, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on COMMON LAW:  Wes (Warren Kole) and Travis (Michael Ealy) couldn’t be more different as human beings–Wes is a by-the-book control freak, Travis is an unreliable rebel–but they make a great team as homicide detectives.  In an effort to keep them together without killing each other, their Captain (Jack MeGee) has them attend group therapy with Dr. Ryan (Sonya Walger) while they solve crimes.

Episode 2:  At a normal 1-hour length (compared to the 90-minute pilot), Common Law‘s first regular episode was less tedious than the pilot had been, but it’s still the least distinctive show USA has put on the air in memory.  The episode, written by series creators Cormac and Marianne Wibberley–excuse me, by “The Wibberleys”–and directed by Dermot Downs, had barely enough plot to fill the hour, and the story was thoroughly routine (yet another seeming suicide that wasn’t), with an especially ludicrous ending, where our heroes managed to get the drop on a car full of armed, experienced gangsters by pretending to be a quarreling–gay?–couple who had randomly driven into the middle of the money drop, in need of directions.  It’s also clear that a regular feature of the show will be Travis using some member of his extended foster families to provide a critical clue, a lazy writing short-cut that doesn’t make him either multi-faceted or a better cop.

The half-hearted plotting wouldn’t matter so much if there was anything even the slightest bit interesting about the characters, but after another hour, we learned nothing about Wes or Travis that we didn’t know already, and since the show has virtually no supporting cast, the two of them get on your nerves quickly.  This episode had the opportunity to be a bit different, because Dr. Ryan was present for half the running time doing a “ride-along” with the guys, in order to see them interact on the job, but all she did was repeatedly tell them with fond sternness not to pay attention to her.  (The episode’s coda did give her one more bit of character, but via one of the least interesting possible ways to make her interesting, adding a disgruntled–but, you know, not really bad–teen boy, her boyfriend’s son, for whom she’s surrogate mother.)  Ealy and Kole are OK together as the co-star team, no more than that, with no ability to elevate the dismal material.

Common Law had an OK debut in the ratings, around the same level as the canceled In Plain Sight, which it replaced (it’s alarmingly less compatible, though, with night-mate Fairly Legal, which plunged–too bad, because Legal is much improved from its first season).  This week’s rating, now that the marketing boost is over, will be more telling.  The show faces little competition now that network TV is done until fall, and if it succeeds, it’ll be only because people are desperate for some new programming.


ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  Even In Summer, Viewers Deserve Better.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."