August 11, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A return to COMMON LAW for its season finale didn’t show any appreciable improvement from its unimpressive early episodes.  Standards at USA Network aren’t exactly at the level of Sunday night on HBO, but Common Law is below par even for USA, a mix of very routine cop show with shticky comedy that’s only barely grounded in believable characterization.

The finale, written by Executive Producer Craig Sweeny and directed by John Behring, went the origin story/flashback route.  Our squabbling detective heroes, loose-cannon Travis Marks (Michael Ealy) and buttoned-down Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole) had been expelled from their couples therapy group with Dr. Ryan (Sonya Walger), and after a prologue with a wacky substitute therapist (guest Ed Begley Jr), they returned to Dr. Ryan to plead for readmission.  Their bait:  the story, finally, of why Wes had pulled his service revolver on Travis, resulting in the pair being put into therapy in the first place.

The explanation turned out to be uninteresting on every level.  Our pair felt responsible for the death of the third cop (known as “Pac-Man”) who had been their mutual friend and who had introduced the two of them.  When Pac-Man was gunned down, apparently by his own SIS colleagues, they were determined to expose the villains.  Ultimately, the head SIS baddie (guest Dominic Purcell, from Prison Break) literally told Travis that he had indeed killed Pac-Man (great detective work!), and as Travis impulsively prepared to go after him for revenge, Wes, far from wanting to harm Travis, had pulled his gun to loyally stop Travis from stepping into mortal danger.  So… really, who cares?  Nothing that was revealed shed any light on either of the two protagonists or their relation to each other, making it all just empty plot mechanics.  In the episode’s last 20 minutes, Travis and Wes went after the crooked cops as a team and of course proved them guilty of everything, leading to the end of the heroes’ suspension and forced therapy–a neat conclusion that felt so much like a series finale that the show had to add a 2-minute epilogue just so there’d be something left for a Season 2.

The chances of that 2d season coming to pass are probably 50/50.  Common Law has been earning a 0.5 rating in recent weeks (about 40% of its total audience in the 18-49 demo), passable only because it airs on low-rated Friday nights.  Anything else USA aired in that slot would likely do just about as well, and the show has generated no discernable buzz, so its survival probably depends on how the network feels about its development for next season.  Certainly there’s nothing on the creative end that’s earned renewal, as the acting has been adequate and the writing worse than that.  “Common,” sadly, is the word for the show, but in that timeslot and on this network, it could be enough to keep the series alive.

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."