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'Common Law' review: USA brings bromance to a police drama

May 10, 2012 | 12:00 pm

Warren Kole and Michael Ealy on "Common Law"
This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

The motto of USA is “characters welcome,” and over the years, those characters have developed something of a pattern — the women are feisty and single, the men come in mismatched pairs. “Common Law,” which premieres Friday, does little to advance the brand. It is nowhere near as smart as “White Collar” or as strangely touching as “Necessary Roughness” and seems content to hit well-worn marks, though more than occasionally with welcome style. Call it USA Lite.

That said, the central conceit of co-creators Cormac and Marianne Wibberley is the amusing and inevitable culmination of a narrative device that began with Achilles and Patroclus and made its way through Butch and Sundance to become de rigueur on modern television: When a bromance goes wrong, should the couple call it quits or try a little therapy first?

Travis Marks (Michael Ealy) and Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole) may be the best detectives to ever hit the LAPD but they spend as much time arguing as they do detecting. In a last-ditch effort to save their seven-year partnership, and their individual careers, their captain (Jack McGee) orders them into couples therapy. And not just couples therapy, but group couples therapy, which is where we meet them attempting to explain their cantankerous relationship to a handful of married folk and the sexy but take-no-prisoners psychiatrist, Dr. Ryan (Sonya Walger). So while they’re solving murders and keeping various department vultures off their backs, they’re also, reluctantly, attempting to learn something about adult communication.

It’s an almost fatally cutesy set-up, complete with the requisite opposites-attract tension — Travis is a free spirited Lothario with foster child issues and street cred while Wes is a tightly wound former lawyer carrying the weight of OCD tendencies and a torch for his ex-wife. Fortunately, like all USA shows, it is brilliantly cast. Both leads -- young (check), handsome (check, check) -- have recently done yeoman’s work on shows that did not succeed, so there is the added satisfaction of seeing them land in roles well-suited to their talents.

Ealy, fresh off last year’s “Flash Forward” (and this year’s “Think Like a Man”) has an easy comedic fierceness that may very well have been born by his character’s complicated childhood, and Kole (“The Chicago Code” ) embodies a more buttoned-down but no less potent (or banter-ready) type anger.

Although the show clearly does not take the therapy angle too seriously — surely a group session is not the best solution for these guys — neither does it dismiss its worth, using the more traditional guidelines of marriage to prove that there can be not trust without honest understanding.

Oh, and they catch some bad guys, too. Though it’s tough to keep track of the work when there’s so much going on at home.

[Updated at 4:40 p.m.:  This post originally stated that "Common Law" premiered on Sunday rather than Friday and has been corrected.]

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 -- Mary McNamara

Photo: Warren Kole and Michael Ealy in "Common Law." Credit: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle / USA Network

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