It’s too bad “Common Law,” USA’s latest cop-comedy hybrid, isn’t as cute or clever as its title, which represents a sort-of triple meaning in coyly referring to a quarrelsome professional marriage between two LAPD homicide detectives. That third iteration, alas, is just how common the extended pilot feels, leaving the enterprise’s future to rest on the uninspiring appeal and chemistry of leads Michael Ealy and Warren Kole. While the network has a genuine knack for wringing maximum effect from such light-hearted concepts, this one ought to come with a prenup.
One suspects the opening sequence — as the two partners uncomfortably fidget through group couples counseling alongside a bunch of married pairs, before revealing they’re not gay but rather partners in crimefighting — was instrumental in selling the show, because any ingenuity fizzles almost immediately thereafter.
Travis (“Sleeper Cell’s” Ealy) is a smooth ladies man who complicates their lives by bedding most of the females he encounters in the course of his work, which can make even a routine trip to the coroner uncomfortable. Wes (Kole, featured in “The Chicago Code”) is still pining for his ex-wife, and gave up a lucrative legal career to become a cop, which nobody is apt to understand except perhaps the writers (the show was created by “National Treasure” husband-and-wife team Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, reunited with director Jon Turtletaub).
The headaches notwithstanding, their gnarled boss (Jack McGee) — a late-in-life convert to the merits of counseling — keeps repeating they’re the best detectives he’s got. This apparently explains the extraordinary lengths to which the department will go to keep them together, even if that means enlisting a therapist (an underemployed Sonya Walger) in these cash-strapped times to help them work through their issues.
Actually, the squabbling-buddy concept is hardly new (think “48 HRs.”), except the goal here is for a more open-ended engagement. The problem is by thrusting the duo almost immediately into what amounts to a highly straightforward procedural, the dynamic meant to distinguish “Common Law” from every other copshow — including several existing ones in the basic-cable universe — feels flimsy at best.
Given its enviable track record, USA has scant incentive to mess with its blue-sky formula, but as the other couples can attest, even happy marriages can benefit from livening things up once in awhile.
By contrast, “Common Law” possesses all the pizzazz and romance of sitting around watching TV on a Friday night — in separate bedrooms.