The Light from the TV Shows: Sneaking a Look at USA’s “Common Law”

When you’re a TV critic, sometimes the coolest opportunities come up at the very last second, and you’re put in a position where you have to scramble to take advantage of them. Such was the case on Monday of last week, when the boss-man of Bullz-Eye forwarded me an email and asked, “Is this something you would be interested in?”

In this instance, I was being offered the opportunity to fly to New Orleans, visit the set of the upcoming new USA series, “Common Law,” be among the first people to view the pilot for the series, and meet and participate in roundtable interviews with a few of the cast members. The only catch: the trip was taking place on Thursday.

Rationalizing that I could surely finish up all of the assignments on my plate before my departure, I said, “Sign me up!”

As it turned out, I could not finish up all of the assignments on my plate before my departure. In fact, I didn’t even come close. I ended up having to finish one of them late on Thursday night, after having had a couple of Abitas, a couple of glasses of wine, a bourbon and ginger ale, and a Pimm’s Cup. That was possibly not my best work. Then I woke up Friday morning and finished two more assignments. And in the midst of the set visit, between roundtable interviews, I finished the last of the deadlines that had to be completed before the weekend. Of course, I still had two more that had to be finished by Sunday night, but I finally just had to say, “Screw it, I’m in New Orleans, that shit’s gonna have to wait ‘til I get home on Saturday.”

But I digress.

So you’re possibly wondering exactly what “Common Law” is all about. I don’t blame you. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that, until I received the offer to attend the set visit, I hadn’t even been aware that the show was in the works. But, really, how much do you need to know beyond the fact that it’s on the USA Network? Those guys have a general feel to their shows, and although they’re far from identical, if you like one show, there’s at least a fighting chance that you’re going to like the other shows as well.

If you’re curious, though, here’s what the show’s page on the USA website has to say:

“‘Common Law’ centers on Travis Marks (Michael Ealy) and Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole), two cops with a problem… each other. Wes, a methodical former lawyer with a passion for cars, gardening, and his ex-wife, and Travis, a maverick ladies’ man who served time in juvenile hall, can’t stand each other. As partners, they were LAPD’s dream team on the homicide squad, but constant bickering got in the way of their work, and the two ended up on probation. To revive their flagging professional relationship, their Captain (Jack McGee) sends them to Dr. Ryan (Sonya Walger), a couples therapist who will help them try to understand and resolve their conflicts. We soon learn that a successful relationship or partnership doesn’t mean you have to like the same things; you just have to hate the same things.”

Okay, so maybe you’re sold at this point. Possibly you’re not…and that’s okay, too. Based on this general description, I’m not going to tell you that it was particularly blowing my skirt up, either. But having seen a rough cut of the pilot – which, we were assured, no one else outside of the USA Network family of employees had yet seen – I can tell you that Ealy and Kole have an easy chemistry together that goes a long way toward keeping you interested in the goings-on of the show. Plus, you’ve got ever-dependable character actor Jack McGee, who you probably know best from his work as Chief Jerry Reilly on FX’s “Rescue Me,” as your go-to guy whenever you need a bit of in-your-face attitude.

Oh, and there’s also Sonya Walger, with whom we had dinner on Thursday night after screening the pilot. You remember Ms. Walger, don’t you? She played Penelope Widmore on “Lost,” Dr. Olivia Benford on “FlashForward,” she’s been in a bunch of HBO series (“In Treatment,” “Tell Me You Love Me,” “The Mind of a Married Man,” and – God help her – she was one of the regular cast members of the short-lived American adaptation of “Coupling.”

More importantly, though, she looks like this:

Now that’s what I call must-see TV.

I can’t really tell you too much more about the pilot at the moment, especially since I’ve only seen it once and, more importantly, it’s a rough cut that’s not intended for us critic-type folk to actually review. But per executive producer Karim Zreik, the show is taking its cue from ’80s buddy comedies to the point where the writers room is plastered with posters for such films, and in terms of a frame of reference, “Running Scared” was mentioned at one point.

Hey, if Ealy and Kole think they’ve got it in them to be the Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines of the 21st century, I’m all for letting them show me what they’ve got.

“Common Law” premieres on January 26th. In addition to the gradual roll-out of info about the show from the roundtable interviews we did during the set visit, I’ll also be in Pasadena for the TCA press tour starting on January 3, and I know some of the folks from the show will be there. Don’t worry, more info will be forthcoming. For now, though, just know that if you like the partner camaraderie that tends to exist on USA’s series, then from what I’ve seen, you’ll find “Common Law” to be a solid addition to the network’s lineup.

Of course, all I’ve seen is a rough cut of the pilot. It could suck. We’ll just have to see what happens. But I’m cautiously optimistic…and maybe you will be, too, after you’ve watched this trailer:

UPDATE (12/9/11): I’ve just gotten word that the show’s premiere date is being shifted. Instead of January 26th, USA has decided to hold off the premiere of “Common Law” until the summer, as they believe it’ll draw a bigger audience then. Sometimes you get skeptical about the reasons behind schedule changes like these, but given that everyone on the junket seemed to enjoy the pilot, I’ll buy what they’re selling as the real deal. Sorry about the additional wait. Let’s hope it’s worth it.

  

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