Since 2007, TV Club has dissected television episode by episode. Beginning this September, The A.V. Club will also step back to take a wider view in our new TV Reviews section. With pre-air reviews of new shows, returning favorites, and noteworthy finales, TV Reviews doesn’t replace TV Club—as usual, some shows will get the weekly treatment—but it adds a look at a bigger picture.
It’s safe to say that NBC’s priority isn’t to draw in those viewers who fondly remember Raymond Burr playing a paraplegic (shot in the spine by a sniper) on detective show Ironside, which last aired new episodes in 1975. No offense to TV historians, but like any network, the Peacock would certainly prefer a slightly younger audience. So its choice to reboot the show just 37 short years later is a little baffling. The question must be asked, not just from an artistic perspective, but a commercial one: Do we really need another Ironside?
The answer, of course, is no. But NBC has definitely decided that it needs more run-of-the-mill cop shows, and by squishing that formula together with the Ironside backstory (here, Blair Underwood was paralyzed by a bullet to the spine in a shooting on the job), it hopes it has something intriguing enough to keep Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’s viewers from changing the channel. The network could have done something really interesting by casting a paraplegic actor in the lead (the decision not to stirred some protest), but it could have done much worse than Blair Underwood.
Underwood dials the brooding up to 11, with occasional furious outbursts, to let the audience know that he’s a bit of a renegade detective. And just in case anyone didn’t pick that up, Kenneth Choi stops by from Cop Show Hackery 101 to turn in a few scenes as the tutting boss who may not always approve of Underwood’s methods—though knows he gets results. Filling out the cast are crack team of NYPD hotties Pablo Schreiber, Spencer Grammer, and Neal Bledsoe. Brent Sexton, meanwhile, plays Underwood’s washed-up ex-partner, tortured by the incident that put his friend and co-worker in a wheelchair.
It’s a solid cast: Schreiber was a memorable part of The Wire’s vast ensemble and did great work on Orange Is The New Black this year, Grammer was the lead of the much-missed Greek, and Sexton always turned in fine work no matter how miserable The Killing got. But they’re essentially wasted in a pilot that focuses squarely on Underwood and will doubtful get much of a look-in if this show ends up following the procedural formula it’s so clearly aiming for.
Underwood is better, smoldering like he’s supposed to, and the flashback to his paralysis is well staged and pretty much the only memorable part of the episode. Everything else is by-the-numbers: The case of the week, revolving around the death of a young broker—and the shady financial scandal that unfolds around it—feels thinly sketched out. Underwood wheels around his team members and barks orders at them; his misery-guts, “everyone can suck it up” attitude is vaguely reminiscent of House, a medical drama that was modeled on case-of-the-week detective procedurals.
But in spite of the tragic circumstances of his paralysis, there’s not enough darkness to Underwood, and there’s no effort to examine the dynamic between him and his team, him and his superiors, or even him and his ex-partner (their big scene together feels like it was written the morning of shooting). Wheelchair or no, Underwood’s character is like most procedural leads since time immemorial: He’s a hard-ass with a heart of gold who’s willing to bend the rules to get crooks behind bars. In other words: The character’s kind of a snore.
One thing that should be noted about Underwood, who first made a splash on TV as Jonathan Rollins in L.A. Law back in 1987: He clearly made a deal with either the devil or Old Father Time, because he looks tremendous in the pilot. At 49, he’s just one year younger than Burr was when the original Ironside began, and he doesn’t look a day over 35. No offense to Burr, but the comparison is laughable. If Ironside becomes a serialized fantasy drama exploring the mystery behind the fountain of youth, which Underwood must have discovered, then it will definitely be worth watching. Otherwise, it’s eminently skippable.
Created by: Michael Caleo
Starring: Blair Underwood, Brent Sexton, Pablo Schreiber, Spencer Grammer, Neal Bledsoe, Kenneth Choi
Debuting: Wednesday at 10 p.m. eastern on NBC
Format: Hour-long police procedural
Pilot watched for review