The thing I yell at my television the most whenever I watch procedurals and crime dramas is "Shoot him in the leg!" It's a narrow shot, but it will bring pain and bring the perpetrator down so the cops can then step in, cuff him, etc. I am fully aware that when you get your on-the-job firearms training, you are told to aim for the big, fleshy mass to assure even the crappy shots will hit the target and bring down the perpetrator in a pinch. Yet the perpetrators know this, and they shove hostages in front of their chests all of the time to have a shield from the line of fire. I cannot tell you how happy I am to report that there is a moment in NBC's Ironside in which someone within the show actually heard my cries. That was certainly a shining moment for the pilot because honestly, the rest of it was pretty run of the mill and therefore dull.
Blair Underwood absolutely nails the inner turmoil and struggle of Detective Robert Ironside, a man who was gunned down on the job years earlier and put in a wheelchair. Whether he is defying assumptions by still managing to manhandle suspects or sitting alone, reflecting on the good old days before he was in the chair, Underwood shows the audience exactly what is going on in Ironside's head through his eyes. It is impressive-- as impressive as Ironside tearing the handles off his wheelchair so no one would be tempted to help him. The character has a stronger will than most, and that includes his riddled-with-guilt ex-partner (Brent Sexton) and a couple of his more current colleagues. It is because of this will and his great track record with the police force that he leads his team to be effective soldiers, rulebook be damned, too. Yet, it's still hard to ignore the fact that he probably should be on desk duty simply for legal reasons.
Ironside as a man and as a character is flawed. There is an anger to him that is always lurking, and which if he can't find ways to channel, could surely threaten to take him down. He is certainly dynamic and interesting. But the pilot of the show is not a simple character study; it has to set up the world in which Ironside works, too, and that unfortunately means relying on a case and some other cop figures around him that could have been plucked from any other network crime drama.
Sexton and Pablo Schreiber, specifically, are actors who are just as commanding and dynamic as Underwood on their own. Given a chance to go up against him in a scene, the audience shouldn't be able to tear their eyes away. Yet the pilot of Ironside didn't take the time to utilize them (or any of the supporting characters, really) in that way. Sure, the title of the show is Ironside, but if you're going to pack your supporting players with such powerhouses, you should make some effort to round it out to more of an ensemble. Given the fact that actors of this caliber signed on-- and then stayed on when they heard it was picked up to series-- episodes two, three, four, etc may get there. But it was still disappointing to be left wanting so much more for these guys already.
By having Underwood really carry the whole pilot, the balance between character and "case of the week" is off, too. I will choose character over case any day, but I still want to feel like effort was put into making the case worth the characters spending time on, let alone worth us spending time with the characters while they're spending time on it. Part of what added to this imbalance was the fact that the show integrates flashbacks of Ironside pre-wheelchair, a storytelling device that allows even deeper insight into the man he was before versus the man he is now, allowing the audience to mull over how much of who he is now is strictly reactionary to his experiences and situation versus his true self cracking through after years of losing himself to a job. It is that psychology I hope the show continues to explore most as episodes unfold.
Ironside premieres on NBC on October 2 2013 at 10 p.m., but you can watch the pilot on Hulu now.
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