Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Classic Reborn: Ironside (2013)

Universal has had a poor track record when it comes to reviving older properties in recent years. Their latest could end up repeating an earlier mistake, or it could live up to its pedigree.

There are two major changes to Ironside as the series returns, rebooted for the 21st century. For one, the series setting changes from San Francisco to New York, which suggests to me that there may be a crossover with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in the offing, especially if this series gets off to a good start.

The other is the most glaring. Det. Robert T. Ironside has been remolded as an African-American detective. Yes, he's still confined to a wheelchair, and there are flashbacks that will piece together just how that happened in this version. But unlike the original series, this Ironside (Blair Underwood, ex-L. A. Law, who is also a producer on this show) is a ladies man. You know, kind of like "Shaft" back in the day.

However, if you get past the notion of Ironside being recast as an African-American, you can appreciate this series as a classic whodunit, complete with modern-day acrouements in technology to complement old fashioned police work. The pilot episode, directed by Peter Horton (ex-thirtysomething) happens to be available On Demand, two weeks before it debuts on NBC. In it, Ironside is using more vigilante tactics to take down a suspect, something we would never have seen in the original series. Remember, this is a very different era we're in.

Here's a sample clip:

In addition to the change in setting, there's a new supporting cast, which includes a 2nd generation actress, Spencer Grammer (daughter of Kelsey), who plays Holly, one of Ironside's assistants. Trust me, the boys will tune in to see her, but they'll learn something, too, along the way.

Will it work? The original lasted 8 seasons, and is currently airing on Me-TV. I think, honestly, that Raymond Burr would be proud of this reincarnation.

Rating: A-.


magicdog said...

I have my doubts that Burr would have liked this version - but I know I'm not impressed.

First, I'm always wary when classic characters are given a race or gender lift. To me that screams desperation (Hey! Let's make a Greek Cop black! Let's make McCloud a redneck woman!) and lack of true imagination.

I've followed comments on the show from other forums who have said the same. Not to mention they think the premise is outdated (Hello, Charlie's Angels revival!)and the lead character somewhat unlikeable (one described it as Vic Mackey from The Shield in a wheelchair).

They do agree that Spencer Grammer is good in her role and likely will have a future in the biz.

hobbyfan said...

It seems there's a pool of geeks who think they can remake their favorites the way they think we should see them today, and it invariably fails. You cited the farce that was the Charlie's Angels revival 2 years ago as an example. Ironside's making the same schematic error in moving the show out of SF and to NY (Angels went from LA to Miami), but it's all about casting in this case.

Apparently, someone decided Ironside now has to be physically pro-active to prove he can overcome his disability. Being a vigilante in a wheelchair ain't my idea of fun, but apparently, that someone's been reading too many Batman comics.....

Samuel Wilson said...

As long as the Hawaii Five-O revival remains popular people will keep trying this trick. The problem is that the original Five-O was less a star vehicle for Jack Lord than Ironside was for Burr, Kojak for Savalas, etc. In this particular case, you know that the producers could go no other way than to make their wheelchair-bound hero as physically competent as possible. That may miss some of the point of the original show, but the solution is not to do a mindless do-over or throwback show but to take a chance and try something original instead of depending on supposed brand-name recognition.

hobbyfan said...

Sammy, have you seen it On Demand yet?

Let me address your points:

1. Hawaii 5-0 has always been about the ensemble, not one star, contrary to what the press may think. I've got to catch up to the current show, and review the original.

2. I think the producers think that changing Ironside to an African-American qualifies as taking a chance. As Magicdog reminds, Universal tried that once before, turning Kojak into an African-American, and that failed. What other way can they think outside the box with an established brand in this case?