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Martial Law: Seasons 1 & 2 Review

Explosive!
4

Summary

A mostly first-rate and rather entertaining ‘90s Action TV masterpiece.

Plot: Sammo Law (Sammo Hung, Dragons Forever), a well-respected Chinese cop, is transferred to America. As he works for the police department, fighting crime in Los Angeles, he is met with a clash in culture. He is also the mentor of Grace “Pei Pei” Chen (Kelly Hu, Nash Bridges), an undercover officer. When American techniques do not work, Sammo employs some Chinese cop work to get the job done.

Review: A far superior version of the Rush Hour premise with many cast and crew from the equally fun CBS show Nash Bridges, this series is beyond memorable with its never-ending energetic fun. The show begins with Sammo, a man of few words, and sexy undercover officer Grace, being impressive at their jobs and complimenting their various adventures are the hot-headed Det. Malone (Louis Mandylor, Grace Under Fire) and the logically thinking Capt. Winship (Tom Wright, Murder at 1600), and later new Capt. Dylan (Gretchen Egolf, Quiz Show), and Lt. Parker (comedian/talk show host Arsenio Hall), as they take on the ruthless kingpin Lee Hei (Tzi Ma, Red Corner) and other deadly gangs, based in LA or internationally.

Expertly choreographed by stunt coordinator Jeff Cadiente (Star Trek: DS9) and implementing much of the same beloved Jackie Chan type comedic routines, this show was bound to be an instant TV action classic. Deserving to be compared to other martial arts fueled shows like Kung Fu, the show ran for two seasons and was not without complications. Season 1 ended on a cliffhanger only to be retooled for Season 2 due to new producers coming in; Sammo and Arsenio reportedly did not get among off-screen; Sammo had troubled adjusting to American style filming schedules; and this show took way too long to get released on home media. Despite those huge flaws, those did not detract from the intended entertainment.

The stunts were always eye-catchingly notable, the humor mostly delivered, the tone kept a neat Saturday morning fun vibe while being something kids and adults could both enjoy, and the overall premise was consistent. I will say that Season 1 was far superior in terms of flowing better but Season 2 I thought had more interesting guest stars and recurring villains. The Easy meets West influence was well injected in every episode which explains the cultural appeal of this program being syndicated everywhere. While it deserved a third season, it was probably for the better as Sammo was worn out by then and the show might’ve started sharing some of the weaknesses of the creators’ previous show Nash Bridges.

Fortunately, most of the recurring subplots either involve some other wacky guys in the police station or some cool backstory on Sammo’s training but the premise worked best because it was a basic comedy with heart and the fights drove each episode forward. The crime cases were never highly focused on as it was always about the new baddie of the week while some other amusing or dramatic reveal occurs. The crossover episodes with other CBS shows like Early Edition and Walker, Texas Ranger didn’t exactly go anywhere but they were not the worst crossovers of two entirely different shows I’ve seen (I’d give that award to loads of other CBS crud!).

By keeping its overall focus rather basic and letting the physical gags and comedy set-ups naturally unfold, the show was bound to be an easily rewatchable show to tune into. While some of the imperfections are noted, nothing overall stuck out like a sore thumb. And that’s more than we can say about any other action show past or present.