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NBC (ended 2013)

Ironside S01E01: "Pilot" 


That NBC even decided to move forward with an Ironside remake feels like some executive was scrambling for ideas at a pitch meeting, and stumbled upon the notion after seeing a bag of golf clubs and glancing at a brochure about vinyl siding for homes. It's not as if the original original Ironside—which ran for eight seasons on NBC from 1967 to 1975 and starred Raymond Burr—has a great deal of cultural currency these days, so the decision to revitalize the show seems more bizarre than it does lazy. Although, between Prime Suspect and the failed pilot for a Rockford Files remake, NBC may just actually be lazy.

In any case, here we are with the new Ironside. A few of us here at TV.com already offered some very brief impressions of the pilot, and I generally agree with them. It is indeed "skippable" (Tim), "boring" (Kaitlin), "routine" (Jen), and "derivative" (Cory). I can't dispute any of those claims, and I've watched this pilot twice now. Oddly enough, though, it may be the new drama pilot that's annoyed me the most so far this season, because even though it's all those things, there's a glimmer of an engaging show in it, too. Not that I'm confident it'll ever actually become an engaging show.

Ironside's biggest problem at the outset is that it doesn't seem to know who it wants Robert Ironside (Blair Underwood) to be. Think about how we first meet him: He's skirting the edge of law, interrogating a suspect in the backseat of a car as his partner screams the Miranda rights outside, all while playing a game of "You want to stab me? Try and stab me!" and beating the guy up in the process. This tactic allows Ironside to elicit the location of a kidnapped girl (of course). So this tells us that Ironside is one of those cops who doesn't play by the rules and gives his chief ulcers, but at least he gets results, presumably when no one else can! Flashbacks to when Ironside still had the use of his legs corroborated this notion; there he was, happy to let his partner dangle a suspect off a roof to get some information. Even back in the present day, he ordered one of his colleagues to shoot a hostage in the leg ("Did I stutter?") to end a stand-off.


This in and of itself is not interesting. You may have chuckled at Cory calling a remake "derivative," but Ironside *is* just another narrative about a reckless cop who's looking to get scumbags off the streets, and not letting tiny details like a shot-up vertebrae or a suspect's civil rights get in the way. Ironside doesn't have time for the police bureaucracy and the legal system to catch up to him.

Take the case- and victim-of-the-week: A young woman (of course) was dead on a sidewalk; it was assumed she'd been pushed off the roof of a building. Over the course of a very dull investigation, we learned that the victim, though she appeared squeaky clean on the surface, was in fact working at sex clubs (of course) and involved with some shady, Eastern European underworld types (of course), including one who was her boyfriend (of course). 

As the investigation came to a close, we learned that the woman actually killed herself, bringing a tragic end to the case. That's when Ironside revealed that he knew it was a suicide from the start, but didn't say anything because he wanted to know what drove the woman to jump to her death, and also because he wanted some justice and closure for her. Ironside may be gruff and violent, but deep down, he actually cares in ways that other cops don't! Again, this isn't anything outside the norm for a hard-boiled cop, and it adds to the piles of cliches that Ironside is trafficking in.


However, one line undercut a lot of Ironside's almost-vigilante cop attitude, and it's what ultimately made me really frustrated with the episode. After a suspect smarted off to him in the interrogation room, Ironside said, "Old me would have bounced you off the wall for talking to me like that. New me? I've had a lot of time to sit and think." Sure, he was quipping about being in a wheelchair, but the fact of the matter is that we didn't get any sense of a "new" Ironside anywhere in the pilot, just a continuation of his barely-within-the-confines-of-the-law approach to police work. So unless caring about the victim is a recent thing for him, new Ironside seems just as likely as old Ironside to bounce a suspect off a wall, so long as none of his authority figures are watching him.

And yet, it was that line, along with Ironside's workout breakdown and his response to his ex-partner—who is the reason Ironside is now in a wheelchair—that revealed the glimmer of a show that's more than just rote police procedural fare. There's a kernel of an idea about man dealing with his rage and anger over losing the use of his legs, and how he attempts to work through those issues with his police work. Indeed, the entire notion that he wanted to know what drove the woman to kill her speaks to the idea of Ironside trying to make sense of others' pain, either in an effort to understand his own (not likely) or to ignore his own (more likely). Unfortunately, the show didn't set us up to make those connections, and I suspect they occurred more due to happenstance than to planning. 


It isn't as if Blair Underwood can't hit those beats. In fact, he let raw emotions just bleed when the scene called for it, and those were the times that actually made me pay attention to the pilot. But I don't know if a strong central performance is enough to salvage the show in its current state. The first episode understandably spent a lot of time trying to give us a sense of Ironside, and so the supporting cast seemed like a collection of non-entities. There's:

– Virgil (Pablo Schreiber, minus his Orange Is the New Black mustache), your run-of-the-mill, good-looking male TV detective

– Holly (Spencer Grammer), your run-of-the-mill, good-looking female TV detective

– Teddy (Neal Bledsoe), your not-so-run-of-the-mill investment banker-turned-male-TV-detective. 

Given that Teddy is the third "freshest" aspect of the show—behind "the lead is a black guy in a wheelchair" and "the police chief is portrayed by an actor of Korean descent"—you can probably surmise everything you need to know about how creaky Ironside actually is. Same goes for the current state of racial diversity on American television.


Quick aside about that police chief while I'm on the topic, though: The long-suffering Ed Rollins (Kenneth Choi) is supremely ineffectual—I don't think he can actually punish Ironside. You see, Ironside, Virgil, Holly, and Teddy comprise a special task force of sorts that Ironside was allowed to set up in the wake a lawsuit that allowed him to remain on the force. So Rollins can't even demand that Ironside turn in his gun and his badge! He's has to be the most seriously neutered police chief in a near-vigilante cop narrative I've ever seen.

The last thing to address is probably the chair itself, and the able-bodied Underwood's role as its occupant. In the spring, there was a considerable backlash against Underwood's casting by actors with disabilities. Ironside's producers have explained that, given the show's intended use of regular flashbacks to when Ironside could still use his legs, and that they'll account for 10 to 15 percent of the show, casting a disabled actor would've been cost- and time-prohibitive due to the amount of special effects and post-production work that would've been necessary.

I can get behind that answer since there's a narrative reason behind it. The producers do seem to be aware that there's a high degree of responsibility in accurately depicting a modern-day wheelchair user, and that's something to be hopeful about. You'll notice, for instance, the lack of handles on Ironside's wheelchair, a detail that happened because of the show's technical advisor, David Bryant. The pilot also implied—but didn't actually show—that Ironside is sexually active, another positive step in the portrayal of people with disabilities in fictional shows. At the TCA press tour in August, the producers and Underwood himself spoke about how, they researched which vertebrae can be injured and which nerve endings can still function.

Unfortunately, Ironside's few promising aspects aren't enough to keep the show from sinking toward the bottom in this fall's sea of new dramas. It's too muddled in places and too generic in others to allow its more interesting components to shine. 



NOTES

– I haven't seen any of the original series, so I can't really compare the two. Here are the differences I can name without looking them up: The original series was set in San Francisco, Ironside was white, and he was a retired chief who consulted with the police department. Feel free to do more comparing and contrasting in the comments.

– You may be thinking to yourself, "Why has NBC cast Blair Underwood in yet another TV series?" He has, after all, starred in such failed NBC dramas as LAX and The EventUnderwood has what's called a holding deal with NBC, and that basically means he's committed to work on a certain number of projects for them. As a result, it makes sense for the network to use him.

– While I do applaud the series for showing Ironside post-sexual encounter, I did really hate that scene overall since the woman had no name. She was just a prop to showcase that he's still got it going on, and that's a weird regressive instance for the show.

– Ironside won't be getting weekly reviews, but because I care about you all so much, I'm still going to watch another three episodes of it for TV.com's patented 4-Episode test. Now you never ever get to claim that I don't care about you. At least I don't have to watch another three episodes of Betrayal. Haha! Tim's a sucker.


What'd you think of Ironside's series premiere?



Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 4/7/2014

Season 1 : Episode 9

59 Comments
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I tried to watch the second show. I got about 10 minutes into it and changed the channel. It's awful. I remember the old Ironside, but that isn't the reason this one sucked for me too badly.
The character is just mean and nasty. He is mean to his own people and anyone around him. Then he goes to a scene and would rather be flirting with some woman and giving her his card? What the heck is that? Ironside shouldn't be thinking about banging some chick every time he sees one. And no, he is not a detective, the writers need to go back to the drawing board and make real show.
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I really want to like this show. I like Blair Underwood, and I want to see Pablo Schriber in a good-guy role. But the violence and rule-breaking was over the top. They need to take a lesson from Major Crimes about how to get criminals off the streets for good--not with coerced confessions, but with smart police work.
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It was ok and I will keep watching...I'm just sooooooooooooo over bad guys being punched in the nose with a fake smack sound and absolutely NO blood. If you're gonna do it, do it real...or is that too scary?
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As I recall, the story goes that Raymond Burr spent so much time looking up into the lights on the sets (due to his lower position in the wheelchair) that he permanently damaged his eyes. I hope they don't recreate that particular aspect of the show with Underwood.
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I can't wait for the remake of Police Woman. What about Get Christie Love!? Not to mention Kojak, Baretta, and Magnum PI.
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I think so long as Blue Bloods lives on CBS, Tom Selleck will prevent a Magnum remake from happening.
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You have a point. But come to think of it, Magnum is too new (1980s). Give me some Barnaby Jones remake instead! But if they do remake Magnum, they could cast a new actor, if coruse. Then to satisfy the requirements of cultural diversity and mustache impressiveness, I suggest Damian Bichir from The Bridge.
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I wish good viewing for those who liked it. I did not finish the pilot.
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The ratings this week for the show weren't very good, but that's most likely because most who were interested in the show have already watched the preview online.

Still, the show does come across as cliche TV. It's like the writers were following some sort of formula.

The original Ironside was probably more like Gibbs on NCIS; quiet but tough. And the original show was much more mystery oriented.
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I didn't like it. Something is telling me that I should at least watch the second episode to see what they really want this show to be, but I don't feel like it. Will see. Ugg. Not a single amazing new show this year.
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Booooooring.


(The show, not the article)
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Uh-huh. ;)
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I like Blair Underwood, and I will watch one more ep - a pilot is an animal all unto itself, let's see what they do after the premise is established.
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Here is you giving a go at Tim for having to watch and review Betrayal again! Its the 2nd time (I think) but still as funny ! I hope Tim saw it ! Ha !

Blair Underwood is fantastic ! The show is NOT bad though it is not very good either. NBC probably will cancel it.

I must admit I don't know much about wheel chairs but I saw many motorized version these days. You don't have to actually roll them. Is it not the case in the US? or is the show not accurately portraying modern wheel chairs?
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Motorized wheelchairs are totally used in the U.S. I feel like the producers may have made mention of it at some point as to why they didn't use one, but I can't find it at the moment.
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In addition to the above mentioned differences between the original and the remake, I'll add another, The original lasted 8 seasons! This go around will be lucky to make 8 episodes!
Two big problems, there are a lot of holes in this already played out story line and more importantly it's on NBC. A lot of GOOD shows haven't made it on NBC, much less mediocre to bad ones. I'll save my time not getting invested in this soon to be cancelled show.
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Watched it, wasn't bad, better than Hostages. One season for this show, 13 episodes. I loved the original and wanted to make sure I didn't make comparisons, which was easy, one was great this one not.
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I guess not, NBC is rebooting the old "Murder, She Wrote" series with Octavia Spencer.

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Well I guess I was wrong, didn't even last 13 episodes. I hope they stop remaking the old shows.

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Tim! It's Bledsoe, not Bledose.
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stanking! It's Noel, not Tim.

(Thanks for the correction.)
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*chuckle*
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I think you've been mistaken for Tim for the fifth time this year. How does it feel, Noel?
Are you mad at Tim more than usual by now? Or is it funny, because people take you for Tim every time they a) don't agree with your views or b) catch you with a minor fuck-up?
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Actually, if I'm mistaken for Tim three times in an article I've written, I'm not allowed to invoice it, and Tim gets my fee. I've lost $300 so far to him, but them's the rules.
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How hard is to read the bylines?!? I mean, do Tim and mine styles overlap that much? ;)
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Keep those errors coming! I need to save up for a new TV!
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Sorry, geoffmaze, that's $300 total over the course of the year.
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Not a bad recap Tim. Oh wait sorry Noel. (Tim you can send me a check for $100, that sounds fair)
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Haw-haw!
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Five minutes in and I've already decided to skip this one. That's a personal best for a police drama. It even beat the record time of me tuning out to Dads and Mom. To be fair the entire new comedy line up is horrible this fall, I'll give Michael J Fox a thumbs up so far and probably Will Arnett's new show as well, but other then that it's crap.
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This show just doesn't know what it wants to be, a drama or a straight police procedural and mixing genres is a risky business... You need to be very good at doing it and whoever is behind Ironside just isn't. An obvious sign is that the main character should generate sympathy yet he is deeply unlikable and not as smart as say, House was for example. Thanks but no thanks.
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I actually watched it even though I wasn't planning to. It was really hard to sympathize and connect with the main guy, at least in my case. He was just angry and pissy all the time without really showing his suffering. In fact, it didn't seem like his handicap was really anything to him. If it was a bit more dramatic and emotional, I think it would have been more appealing, but it just turned out to be another cop show.
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I agree with you but I'm thinking - hoping - that as it was just the first episode, they are showing him as still "angry and pissy" because he hasn't come to terms with his situation yet. He referred to it being two years in the chair but I'm hoping the character develops. But otherwise, like you said, it just turned out to be another cop show. For lack of anything else I may try it one more time (although isn't Psyche on in this time slot?)
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I'll pass... at least until I've exhausted everything else.
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Don't wait too long exhausting everything else, this show won't be around long enough!
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Then I best skip it altogether. :)
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It's not the worst procedural, certainly not the worst acted, but wasn't there already a really good looking black detective in a chair/bed solving tough icky crimes and battling inner demons starring Denzel Washington a few wednesdays back? Okay, so it's not the most original either. But it's better than Unforgetable and maybe they'll solve some cool cases. It's probably wise not to expect another Luther. It's okay TV.
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Ugh, sitting through this twice was rough. I just finished it, hanging with my sister who has no cable, it was the only thing on (she has stopped watching CSI so to the DVR I shall go for that), and I called half a dozen lines verbatim, that's how lazy this show is, my favorite being "I want lawyer". The beats here are nothing special, and there's nothing really being said with the paraplegic angle the way the original did. I even missed the original theme music, and I barely watched the original. But this doesn't feel original, it doesn't feel derivative, it just feels generic tv cop and this is the best they could come up with. It's a waste of talents and just a dearth of ideas.
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I so want to like this show, because Blair Underwood is such a great actor, but I have honestly not watched it yet. Blair was great in The Event, and it got cancelled. I'm not sure I want to invest in another one of his series. It'll be like another Dirty Sexy Money. But I know I will watch eventually and I will invest and it will get cancelled, just a vicious cycle with Blair and the small screen. Side note: Blair did awesome w/the material provided him...it was actually the material that did him in.
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The original Ironside is currently airing on MeTV, 11/10 central weekdays. I've been going through them for the guide here, and the show is surprisingly good. It was big on the counter-cultural 70s, and it was preachy in that way that bad Dragnet episodes could get. It's kind of like a Quinn Martin production if QM took LSD on occasion. Long "heavy" speeches and pretentious titles. And of course, the killer Quincy Jones theme, immortalized in Kill Bill.


The main difference between the old and new shows is that the original Ironside was a detective. Raymond played the character as a curmudgeon with a heart of gold, and the show combined police work with actual Sherlock Holmes-style old-school deduction. Basically what House would be like if he was a network TV character in the 70s. The new Ironside sounds like a cop, not a detective. I'd rather watch a detective show than a cop show, thanks anyway.
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Original recipe Ironside bonus: Barbara Anderson. I think she was my favorite substitute female on Mission: Impossible when Lynda Day George was on maternity leave.

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The other thing is that a detective in wheelchair makes sense. A hard-hitting cop in one, not so much. It sounds like Blind Justice from a few years back.
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It's a blessing and a curse that my cable provider doesn't have MeTV as I would likely need a second DVR devoted to it. I'm barely keeping up with Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and Newhart on FamilyNet (when the episodes aren't pre-empted by rodeo coverage).
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MTM and Bob Newhart are/were on MeTV. At this point they've got programming that they're doing "theme" nights. So one night has two episodes of MTM, one night has two episodes of Taxi in the same timeslot, and so on. On Sunday afternoon, they mix together four different detective TV shows.

It also seems to be the only place that is broadcasting the remastered Star Trek.

But yeah, I understand, I spend most of my non-current TV show work with MeTV. ;)
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BINGO! Good post, that's exactly what what it is, and good analysis of what made the original work.
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I didn't LOOOOOVE it but I didn't hate it either. I don't know. I like procedurals a lot more then someone who pays this much attention to what's on should!
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This won't last. I liked the original but this is just way too different, it never should have made it to series. It's another (Soon to be failed) attempt by a network to bring back the success they enjoyed decades ago with a show that was a hit then but really stands no chance now.

Just for the record I liked UNDERWOOD in The Event but his "holding deal" sounds like a weird blackmail scheme, like he's got dirt on NBC execs and if they refuse to let him work on stuff he'll blow the lid off the skeletons in their closet or something.

I wonder what he'll be working on next year because it won't be IRONSIDE.
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Three failed NBC series, and you think HE'S blackmailing THEM?
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The blackmailing thing was obviously a joke. I meant they keep giving him shows which fail horribly yet they keep giving him new ones. Other networks would have tried something else by now, pay him off or cast other actors in the rolls for instance. The way it was described it sounds like he doesn't even have to audition they just say "turn up on set on this day and play this role."
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Lol! Poor Tim! Anyway mom saw the pilot on demand with the early release and although she loves Blair she hates the show lol the supporting cast doesn't do it for her she doesn't think they're strong enough to make the show work, so she passed.
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Poor Noel, not Tim.
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Tim has to still review Betrayal though and I think that's a pretty horrid punishment I wouldn't wish on my enemies.
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