Preview: Ironside 1×1 (NBC)

Now the white guy pushes the black guy around

NBC's Ironside

In the US: Wednesdays, 10pm ET/9pm CT, NBC. Starts October 2

Ironside is one of those fondly remembered but actually pretty rubbish cop shows from the 70s that occasionally appears on re-run channels. Starring Raymond Burr as San Francisco’s paraplegic chief of detectives Robert T Ironside, the show ran from 1967 to 1975 and it largely had two things going for it: Burr, who was even more famously Perry Mason; and its memorable title sequence, which in case you’ve forgotten went something like this:

True, its heart was in the right place: after all, its message was that a guy in a wheelchair can solve crimes and apprehend criminals just as well as someone who wasn’t. It even surrounded Ironside with a ‘diverse’ range of assistants. Trouble is that gave Ironside the eternal reputation of being the show in which a token black guy pushes the hero white guy around in a wheelchair all day, but who doesn’t get to do much himself.

Now NBC have decided to remake Ironside and they’ve decided it’s time to fix that particular issue. Because now Ironside, as well as being a New York cop, is black – he’s played by LA Law/In Treatment/Sex and the City favourite Blair Underwood, who’s also one of the producers.

Laudably, that means we have probably the first black, physically challenged lead character in TV history (I’m pretty sure War of the Worlds doesn’t count). Hooray! Progress!

Unfortunately, though, so happy are the writers and network to have ticked off that particular box on their CVs, they’ve neglected to actually make the show anything but cliched. Or maybe that’s deliberate. Here’s a trailer – I’ll explain afterwards:

In the gritty world of the NYPD, no one’s tougher than Detective Robert Ironside. He’s a fearless cop who won’t stop until the guilty are brought to justice. He and his trusted, handpicked team of specialists will do whatever it takes to solve New York’s most difficult and notorious crimes – even if it means breaking the rules.

Tough, sexy and acerbic, Ironside’s never been afraid to call it like he sees it. As a detective, his instincts are second to none, and those around him have to stay on their toes if they want to keep up… because when his spine was shattered by a bullet two years ago, Ironside swore he’d never let a damn wheelchair slow him down.

Justice. Nothing gets in his way. Blair Underwood stars in a bold new drama about a different kind of cop.

Is it any good?
It’s remarkably unremarkable. Not terrible, just not very good at all.

In fact, I have a theory that this is going to be the year of the unremarkable at NBC. Stare through the network’s ratings last year and the big successes it had were the astonishingly dull and ordinary Revolution and the quite toe-curlingly mundane Chicago Fire. As a result, this year NBC has commissioned a Chicago Fire spin-off called Chicago PD and Ironside, both aimed at precisely the same kind of audience that lapped up the ordinary last year and would normally be found watching CBS.

So the new Ironside is in no way pioneering, remarkable, interesting or new. And I think that’s by design.

Now Ironside left its heart in San Francisco for the remake, so rather than go all out for diversity, in a team of six characters, we have five men (one black, one Asian, three white) and one woman. And you’d be hard-pressed to really pin down personalities on any of them beyond the cliched. Asian cop (Kenneth Choi) is a by-the-book guy who complains about Ironside torturing suspects. Oopsy. Everyone else is simply a ‘tough cop’, other than Ironside’s guilt-ridden partner (Brent Sexton).

Indeed, nothing more need be said about them because as the title suggests, this is essentially the Ironside show and everything is about him. How he ended up in his wheelchair, how he feels about being in a wheelchair (angry. Very angry. Throwing things around a lot and working out very hard angry), how being in a wheelchair doesn’t affect him as a man – oh yes, he can still shag pretty ladies, thank you – how he’s such an ace, bad ass detective. Everyone else just hangs on his every word.

Righteous, yes, dramatically interesting, no. Indeed, a lot of that righteousness is squandered, with many physically challenged actors boycotting the show because Underwood isn’t – physically challenged that is (he does have to run a lot in flashback). Coupled with the fact the show gives the impression that New York is apparently the most wheelchair-accessible city in the world, even on the rooftops, and you can sense the show isn’t really doing its best to show people any real kind of truth or get the audience to take it that seriously.

You’ll have seen pretty much every scene before in other cop shows, largely done better, and the plot of the pilot episode is only pretty ordinary at best – red herrings and nothing you won’t have seen anywhere else, and by elsewhere I mean CBS – which is presumably what NBC wants you to experience: the comfort of familiarity, from the title of a show you once loved (at least, you vaguely recall you do, even if you can’t remember much beyond that title sequence. At least, you think you can remember the title sequence), to stories about various ethnic groups, ethnic mobs and baddies getting their just desserts. And if the cops have to do stupid things like break into apartments without warrants, shoot hostages in legs (cf Speed 1994) or anything else that would probably get them fired in the real world, so be it. It works on CBS, doesn’t it?

But if you do watch CBS, (median viewing age: 235), you probably will remember the original Ironside, so chances are you won’t like this one: this is Ironside in name only, and the more liberal show of the 60s and 70s has been replaced by a meaner, more reactionary show here. If you don’t, well there’s Blair Underwood and that’s about all this show has going for it, beyond a black hero in a wheelchair who solves crimes. It’s a nice idea, shame about the execution.