The Light from the TV Shows: At long last, “Common Law”

You may remember – or you may not, given how long it’s been – that way back in December I offered a sneak preview of an upcoming USA Network series called “Common Law,” the set of which I’d just returned from. Almost immediately after posting the story, however, I was forced to add the following post-script:

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.

Well, the time has finally come for the show’s premiere. “Common Law” arrives this Friday night, which makes this a perfect time to revisit that trip to New Orleans and give you a few comments offered up to us at the time from the show’s stars about their characters and the show itself.

Michael Ealy (Travis Marks) and Warren Kole (Wes Mitchell)

Michael Ealy: I think we definitely try to keep up the energy off-camera similar to the energy that’s on camera.  Like, just today we were about to do a scene, and we like to pencil-fight in between takes, so we tried to incorporate that into the scene because it’s something that we do. And now it’s something Travis and Wes. We can’t help it. We spend every day together, every day.

Warren Kole:  I’m very thankful that I’m working with an actor like Michael. He’s easy to work with every day. So we don’t end up killing each other.

ME:  I think, this whole process has felt completely unique because of the therapy component of the show.  When you get into therapy and you start talking about how we make each other feel and stuff like that…I mean, I’ve just never seen that before. Yes, we are a buddy/cop show.  That’s a component, as you can tell. That’s because we’re buddies and we’re cops. But the minute we get into therapy, I think we’re going into uncharted waters in terms of the buddy/cop dynamic.

WK: The dynamic in couples therapy, not that I’m speaking from experience, is often “I’m okay, but he or she has issues. “ There’s that, but there’s often a recognition of, y’know, “Maybe I have something to work on…”

ME:  That’s coming slowly. We’re starting to identify with our own flaws, if you want to call them that.

WK:  It’s like a sibling relationship in that way, because there’s a feeling of you’ve been so together with someone for so long and they don’t appreciate what you do and it’s their fault that they don’t appreciate what you’re doing for them. “And if you’d just respect me and recognize how much I do for you, then maybe I would swallow my pride and say the same thing back.” But we never really get there. Yet.  Haven’t got there yet.

ME:  You know, one of the things Dr. Ryan says in the pilot is, “You don’t have to like the same things, you just have to hate the same things.”  And I find that that’s actually quite true in any kind of relationship.  If it’s me and my sister and, you know, we both hate vampire movies, that’s a good thing, but if she wants to see a chick flick and I want to see Harry Potter…which I don’t, but if I did want to see Harry Potter,  that’s where we get to compromise a little bit. I think what we’re learning as detectives is there’s a need to compromise at times, but when we do…we both hate crime, we both get off on trying to try and get the bad guy, and I think you see us get along in certain moments, and then you see us not get along in certain moments, but when we don’t get along, it usually has nothing to do with the crime. It’s something personal. You know, my messiness or his tight-ass-ness.

WK:  It’s tempered well with how excellent they are individually as cops and how they come together. What is it? The sum of the parts is greater than the whole, or whatever the expression is. They’re really good professionally, so it’s, like, you have to take the good with the bad. And there’s been so many blowouts in the public or in the precinct that what’s hilarious is it’s almost as if nobody even notices anymore. They’re just the Bickersons.

ME:  You almost feel like if we didn’t argue we wouldn’t be able to solve the crime.  We almost have to do it in order to be able to be good at what we do.  The minute we start to get along all the time, we don’t need to be partners anymore.

Jack McGee (Captain Sutton)

Journalist:  Is your character a mentor to Travis and Wes?

Jack McGee:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, because they…you know, it’s, like, you guys and girls are younger.  I remember my father he said to me one time…he used to say to me, “What, do you think I was born yesterday?”  Just by the response you get – you’ve all heard that, and I used to – I remember just thinking to myself, “All right, here comes the lecture, let’s get it over with give me the last ten bucks, give me the keys to the car, go square it away with Mom, I got shit to do.”  And sure enough, somewhere in my mind I was able to, I thought, sneak around and get what I wanted…until about twenty years later. I had a nephew of mine, who’s one of the loves of my life, he’s one of the New York City firemen that made it out of 9/11, and he was about fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old, and I told him not to drive from this party. But sure enough, I came back about two hours later, then he showed up at the house and he told me he didn’t drive. I saw his car, so I went down and touched the hood, you know?  Detective work. And he told me he didn’t drive.  And I looked at him and I said…well, what do you think?  [Laughs.] I got caught right in the middle of my father’s words.  We think we know everything.

So that’s kind of how I’m approaching these guys, and it’s very easy because of the way it’s written. He’s got his own act and they can’t figure him out.  They’re the young, hip guys, and all of the sudden here’s a guy that’s doing stuff  that they won’t, that people their age aren’t doing. And in trying to guide them in the right direction…we’re doing an episode this time out where a couple of the guys come in that give my guys some shit. I’m very, I’m very, very protective and very defensive about people that are in my life,  in my family, so I figured like these two nitwits are like my sons, and I can abuse them, but don’t you come in.  So it’s kind of like a mentor or a father, and I see a lot of myself in these guys from years gone by, and I’m trying to help them not make the same mistakes that I made.

Journalist: Will your character go into therapy or join them in group therapy?

JM:  I’m sure that that’s going to happen.  There’s been a couple of scenes where I come back to Dr. Ryan and fumbling around, I sit for a few minutes, I burn some incense.  Because my guys is…he takes the easy way out, which is what he’s always done ,so he’s now in the position where he’s got to do something about a change in his life, because he’s got some suspicions about where he fits in his life and…I don’t know how it’s going to evolve down the line, but I think everybody needs to go and talk to somebody.  You know, you come from different backgrounds, and I can’t speak for you, but I think a lot of guys anyway from my background, we look at that as if it’s a defective character to ask for help, you know. Sure enough, with me in my own personal life, if I had not come to that point in my life… Because everything seemed good on the outside, but if I didn’t ask for help, I know I wouldn’t be sitting here with you today, that’s for sure. The toughest thing sometimes is to ask for help.  The toughest thing sometimes is to say, “I don’t know how to do this.”

Sonya Walger (Dr. Elyse Ryan)

Journalist:  How much research did you do into psychotherapy and couples therapy?

Sonya Walger:  I did a fair amount.  I’ve never had any experience in group therapy, and it’s very different to couples or individual therapy.  So I got hold of a group therapist, and they went into it for a few hours, and he recommended some books that I went and read.  But he also came up with this genius idea.  He said at the end of this two hour session that we had together, “I’d really love it if you could watch us at therapy session, but you can’t, because it would compromise the anonymity. But if you want to bring eight actors together, I’ll do an improvised session for you.”

So I went and pitched that to that to the creators of the show, who all agreed this would be a great idea, so a few weeks ago we went. I got hold of eight actors and we went to Manhattan Beach Studios, and we got the entire writer staff, so…we had the inner circle of the actors pretending to be in group with the therapist, and then this outer circle of all the writers observing, and we did three hours of fake group therapy.  It was intense.  [Laughs.] Very intense. I wrote everyone in under the illusion that they would just be improvising, totally made up, and then we got there and the therapist was, like, “Okay, drop the improv, let’s just have the eight of you talk.  So it got rather more revealing than anyone…well, I can’t say. It’s a comedy thing.  [Laughs.]

But it was fun. And I know it was super helpful to me to actually watch a group therapist in action and see how much they listen and how much they intervene and how much they sit back and how the situations evolve.  And I think it was really helpful to the writers to see, you know, how the dynamics work in a group, because how you think they work is not actually how they really operate.

Journalist: Can you tell us what you first thought when you read the script?

SW:  First thought was…um, well, my first thought was – as any actor, if he’s honest enough, will confess – it’s always about your role.  You rarely read the script and think, “Oh, interesting script.”  You read it and you go, “Oh, nice scenes.”  That’s what I read.  I was, like, “Blah blah, cop stuff, but, ah, interesting therapy scene.”  And, you know, I think if my work I’ve done over the years has got any common thread, it is I really like doing stuff that is essentially about relationships.  I really like playing the truth of how people talk and speak and miss each other and hurt and all of that. So I have not played a cop probably for that reason, because I’m not terribly good at that stuff.  I’m much better at the emotional side of things.  So I read the script and just loved the absurdity and brilliance of these two being sent to couples therapy.  It felt, like I say, both preposterous and wonderful and appropriate, and this huge comedy goldmine hasn’t been tapped before.  So that was how I read it.  I read it as a therapy show.  Nobody else did.  Everyone else knows it’s a cop show.


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