Retro T.V. Review: Martial Law (1998)
Updated: Mar 25
Show Name: Martial Law
Created By: Carlton Cuse
Genre: Action, Adventure, and Comedy
Starring: Sammo Hung, Arsenio Hall, Kelly Hu, Louis Mandylor, Tom Wright, Gretchen Egolf, and Tammy Lauren
Number of Seasons: 2
Number of Episodes: 44
Original Release: September 26, 1998 to May 13, 2000
Hello, kind people of the internet. I am finally back after a few weeks off. I have been battling a cold and I finally feel better.
So for my return to TV shows of old, I have decided to focus on another Saturday night action TV show in Martial Law. As Elton John, said so well, "Saturday Night's alright for fighting".
This show only aired for 2 seasons but I used to love it. In fact, I would say that I loved this more than Walker Texas Ranger. It would play at 9 pm EST on CBS on Saturday night.
As a fan of Sammo Hung, I was excited for this TV show. Another show other than Walker, Texas Ranger, that would focus on martial arts? I was sold!
Let us see if the show has aged as well as Sammo Hung.
Sammo Hung at the time was not too well known in North America. At this time, he was known for his work as director and great martial arts choreography. I remember watching him in such films such as Enter the Dragon (1973) with Bruce Lee (only short cameo), The Prodigal Son (1981) and Wheels on Meals (1985), just to name a few. I must have been one of the few that was excited to have this actor on our TV screens every week.
CBS at the time had success with Walker, Texas Ranger. Someone at CBS, must have loved martial arts because other than Walker, they tried the spin off, Sons of Thunder and also Martial Law. I guess they really wanted Saturday night to be action packed.
In terms of ratings, the show was a surprise hit. The show had an average of 11 million viewers in its inaugural season and then 10 million in its second season. That is not bad for a weekend show.
During its run, there were quite a few people who left the show and got replaced. Tammy Lauren (Det. Dana Dickson) was only on the show for the first 5 episodes of the series. The details of the departure are scarce, but according to some reports, the departure was not an amicable one. There were rumours that she was not happy when Kelly Wu, who was a guest star at the time, got some more airtime. From there, she became a regular on the show and Tammy was apparently not happy with that. Is it true or not, I cannot say as this was almost 20 years ago. The official reason according to the producers was that the show wanted to go in a different direction.
As a consequence of Tammy's departure, Arsenio Hall replaced her and became Sammo's side kick. I guess at the time they wanted to run on the success of Rush Hour by having a martial artist paired with a comedian. Depending on who you ask, this change was hit or miss. I do not remember really having an issue with Arsenio Hall but a lot of people felt that this was the start of the end for the show.
In addition, Louis Mandylor, who played Louis Malone, left after season one. The only thing that I could find about the departure was that in the show, he was transferred from the LAPD to the NYPD.
Many fans always wondered why the show was cancelled after two seasons. Especially the fact that the season finale for season 2 ended on a cliffhanger. The main reason would be that Sammo Hung was not happy with the direction of the show.
If that was not enough, CBS was also very concerned by the fact that the budget was pretty high. CBS went on record by saying the cancellation was due to the budget. However, if you look at everything as a whole, there was little room for compromise and this spelled the end for the show.
Since it went off the air, many fans have petitioned for the show to be on DVD. It was a long time coming but as of 2016 a DVD box set is available through Amazon. You can find the link below.
The story is a very simple one. Sammo Law (played by Sammo Hung) is in search of one of his colleagues. She has been missing. It has been rumoured that she was last seem in the USA. He ends up enlisting the help of the LAPD.
While working on this case, Sammo Law also helps the Los Angeles Police Department with other cases as well.
Martial Law Theme
The theme song is pretty generic and stereotypical. It has some generic Chinese musical sounds. Not sure a lot of thinking went into it. However, in the end, it works and it is catchy, which is the point of a theme song.
I used to love this show. Since then I have watched a few episodes here and there and I agree some parts have not aged too well but it is still a fun show.
The first thing that came to mind when I first wanted to review this show is that I remember liking the duo of Arsenio Hall and Sammo Hung. If we would compare this to the Rush Hour franchise, I find Arsenio Hall less annoying than Chris Tucker.
I was always impressed with the way Sammo Hung was able to fight. For a man of his size, he was very agile. There were some stunts where, I thought it was a stunt double. At the end of the show they would always show outtakes and he would actually do his stunts which was very impressive.
I must admit, that the 18 year old me had a crush on Kelly Hu. She was good with her fighting style and she was a good addition to the crew. I always thought that she was part of the main roster, but apparently, she was added as a regular after a few shows.
Saturday night's had a great one, two punch (pun intended), with Martial Law and Walker, Texas Ranger. However, once Martial Law was on the air, I often preferred this show to Walker. The reason being that the action was varied. In Walker, Texas Ranger, the fight scenes always had the same moves and it got boring after a while.
I was always bummed that this show never returned. As I mentioned above, the show ended on a cliffhanger with Sammo Law seeing a plane fly away, when he was so close to resolving the case. This was a great setup for season 3. Unfortunately that never materialized.
Shows like these are not really found anymore on network TV. Yes there are shows that have action like Arrow and Hawaii Five-0, however, the action seems to be secondary. Like any marital arts movie, the premise was very simple, but the focus was on the action sequences.
I agree that not everyone was a fan of Arsenio Hall being part of the show. Since Sammo Hung at the time, spoke very little English, his dialogue was limited and a lot of the dialogue was handled by Arsenio Hall. Many fans thought that he hogged the spotlight too much. However, for me, I liked Sammo for his action sequences. I did appreciate the effort that he did put into his lines. In fact, it has been said that his English was so limited that he would say his lines phonetically. But the action is where he shines. He is world renowned nowadays. He has won many awards for his martial arts, most recently as being part of the IP Man series of movies starring Donnie Yen.
There was also an underrated movie that I should review sometime called The Bodyguard, where he plays an ex Security Bureau agent. It is a very good movie that demonstrates his acting capabilities. The action sequences are also top notch. That will be a review for another day.
Back to the show at hand, this show is worth the watch. not many people will remember it due to its short run. Also, it was a show that ran on Saturday's. When was the last time that a decent show played on Saturday nights?
In the end, I would say that I liked this show was better than Walker, Texas Ranger or even Sons of Thunder. It was a show that was cut way too short and it is a shame that no one has ever picked it up. May be they could do a reboot at some point with someone like Donnie Yen. That would be interesting.
What do you think? Did you like this show back in the day? Do you actually remember this show? let us know below.