The number of people clamoring for a remake of Ironside, Collier Young’s crime series focusing on the exploits of a wheelchair-bound police detective, could probably be counted on a single hand, yet NBC has gone ahead and given us one anyway. Blair Underwood’s oppressive, angrier portrayal of Robert Ironside, a role made famous by Raymond Burr during the original show’s 1967-to-1975 run, isn’t quite the worst thing about this lackluster reimagining (that would be the clichéd cop-procedural plot structuring), but it’s the most obvious one.
Whereas Burr played Ironside as a man who wouldn’t let his disability define him, the new Ironside’s writers and, by effect, Underwood, take the opposite tack, allowing his affliction to not only become a sketchy explanation for his reckless behavior, but to continually warp his societal outlook and ability to exercise self-control in tense situations. The antithesis of Burr’s quietly forceful, collected sleuth, this Ironside is crassly terse and disrespectful, a protagonist who believes his impairment gives him the authority to act like a total ass, without any redeeming qualities to speak of.
This modern-day revival, set in New York City instead of San Francisco, goes awry from the start, with Ironside ruthlessly beating up a perp while his cocky, loudmouthed colleague, Virgil (Pablo Schreiber, who lately seems to be making a career out of playing cocky loudmouths), hollers his Miranda rights at him from afar. Eventually, Ironside gets the information he needs from the dazed, bruised crook, who then asks, “Are you really a cripple?” Ironside turns and utters, “You tell me.” Ironside is chock-full of embarrassingly trite scenes such as this, whether they involve Ironside breaking rules to get what he wants (wounding suspects appears to be his specialty), or his big-headed team of handpicked flatfoots (Spence Grammer, Neal Bledsoe, and Schreiber) busting through doors without warrants and exchanging goofy locker-room-esque banter as they rummage through the property of the potentially innocent.
When it was announced that Underwood would play Ironside, some controversy arose as to why a paraplegic actor wasn’t cast for authenticity. The reason? Ironside contains numerous flashback sequences that detail how its once able-bodied main character became disabled. These bits of tired backstory, chronicling his relationship with former partner, Gary Stanton (Brent Sexton), depict a man who’s virtually the same before sustaining his crippling injury as he is afterward: a hot-tempered, order-ignoring brute. The key difference is, in the chair, he essentially has a free pass to cross lines as he pleases. “I have a different view of the world from down here,” he blurts after noticing an important piece of evidence missed by his fellow fuzz. Being confined to a wheelchair might someday teach Ironside some humility, diminishing his round-the-clock animosity as the series progresses, but for now all it’s apparently done is turn him into even more of a jerk.