Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Remake of '70s cop procedural won't wheel its way into favour

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Sorry, but this just isn't how good cop shows roll these days.

The problem isn't with the gimmick -- the heroic, crime-solving lead character is confined to a wheelchair -- or with the fact it's a remake of a show that aired nearly 40 years ago. The problem with Ironside is that as contemporary police dramas go, it just isn't very good.

Ironside stars Blair Underwood (In Treatment, L.A. Law) as NYPD Det. Robert Ironside, who is back at work after recovering from an on-the-job shooting two years earlier that shattered his spine and robbed him of the use of his legs.

As is explained in a clumsily crafted bit of dialogue in the series pilot, Ironside won the right to return to work "in a court of law," in some unique form of settlement that also gave him seemingly complete independence as a detective, a specially outfitted private headquarters and a hand-picked squad of detectives to aid him in his investigative efforts.

The premi®re episode goes to great pains to show that Ironside's disability doesn't make him "handicapped"; in the opening scene, he lifts himself into the back seat of a police car to interrogate a suspect, and demonstrates to the thug, in no uncertain terms, that while his legs are immobile, his arms and fists remain very capable of extracting information from even the most reluctant criminal.

After having the location of a kidnapped child basically beaten out of him, the perp is led away in cuffs. "Hey, man," he says to Ironside, "you really a cripple?"

Back in his wheelchair, Ironside sneers: "You tell me."

The heavy-handed dialogue is illustrative of the manner in which all of Ironside's pilot plays out -- straightforward, predictable, lacking in nuance and determined to pound viewers over the head with every uplifting message, plot-point revelation and expositional flashback.

Here's what we know: Ironside took a bullet in the back two years ago; he's angry, but determined to keep his life and career moving forward. His former partner, Gary (Brent Sexton), is crippled by guilt and is in the process of drinking himself off the force.

Ironside's superiors would like to put a stop to his sometimes-abusive techniques, but they have a hard time arguing with the results.

Unlike the Robert Ironside in the original NBC series (1967-75) -- portrayed by Raymond Burr as a cop whose sharp mind compensated for the fact he depended largely on others to get around -- Underwood's character is independent, physically fit and seems to enjoy a full romantic life.

The opening storyline focuses on the death of a young woman who worked at an investment banking firm; in the aftermath of an office party, she fell to her death from the roof of a high-rise tower, and while other members of the NYPD are quick to call it a suicide, Ironside insists on pursuing a murder investigation.

The resolution of the case is never in doubt, and as we watch Ironside and his crew assemble the evidence, we're also shown a series of flashbacks of pre-wheelchair Ironside that explain his injury and offer some insights into the anger that seems to drive his current investigative work.

As police procedurals go, Ironside never elevates itself beyond average. Underwood does a decent job of making his character interesting, but an able supporting cast is woefully under-used in the series premi®re.

There's room for improvement, but the problem with fall shows is that they're seldom afforded the luxury of time to retool if the early ratings disappoint. The clock will surely be ticking, loudly, as Ironside heads to toward its second and third weeks.

And with that in mind, here's one other difference between the original Ironside and this 21st-century re-imagining: the first series consistently ranked in TV's top 20, spent a few seasons in the top 10 and, in 1970-71, was the fourth-highest-rated show on television. It ran for eight seasons.

This one will be lucky to last eight episodes. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2013 D3


Updated on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 9:45 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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