March 16, 2008

He Can't Be Wounded 'Cause He's Got No Heart

Many of my fellow bloggers have their own particular unusual likes - those things that make them quite unique. Dorian has Wildcat. Greg has Abba. Polite Scott has House, MD. Chris Sims has the cheerleading classic Bring It On. Mike Sterling has Swamp Thing.

And now, I have my own, unique thing that makes me distinctive...that goes beyond my obsessive love of Doctor Who and Mythbusters.

That, dear readers and close personal friends, is an appreciation for the unique genius of Ironside.

Making my way through Ironside: Season 1 on DVD, it's easy to think of this as another run-of-the-mill detective show. In fact, the early 70s seemed to have a ton of detectives on television. I think that it might have been a reaction to lawless times...but I think it's just more that they wanted to do contemporary Western-style shoot-em-ups. In fact, if this show were made today, it would be a high concept show - House, MD meets the Mod Squad with a bit of Law & Order ripped-from-the-headlines storytelling. A former chief of detectives, disabled by a sniper's bullet, forms a crack team that consults on special cases with the San Francisco Police Department...and this was created in 1967.

Even though Shout Factory! (or, the people who helped make Rhino cool before it became a reissue arm for Time Warner) is touting the series for its storylines and before-they-were-famous appearances, there's one reason why this show works, why - despite the somewhat formulaic writing - it has a little bit of a snap.

Raymond Burr.

It would have been easy to make Ironside a gentle-hearted man, made cynical by an accident of fate, and then move towards redemption. However, Burr makes Ironside hard-boiled from the pilot. He drinks bourbon. Out of coffee mugs. In the afternoon. He uses the word "flaming" as a substitute for a harder obscenity. He also provides the right mix of emotions, serving as the driver of the narrative...but gives some softness where appropriate. It speaks volumes that crime writer Jim Thompson novelized the pilot episode.

The other killer factor (please pardon the pun) is Quincy Jones' theme for the show. His first season arrangement is, I think, a little stronger than the later Dick-Dale-meets-Isaac-Hayes version. With an intro later cribbed by Quentin Tarantino, this is one of the most distinctive title sequences...where the lead actor gets shot 15 seconds into the sequence.

Is this one of the most cutting-edge shows ever created? Well, no...but it's pretty solid entertainment. The focus on more deductive reasoning - rather than car chases and fist fights - makes it a notch above typical television fare of that era. I would suggest renting the discs on Netflix...but for an initial taste, thanks to, I'll be posting two episodes online. The first, "The Past is Prologue", features some young actor who never did anything after this episode. The second, "A Force of Arms", is kind of unique...and if JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon wrote it, the Internet would be gushing over it.

(Note - since Hulu is moving towards a subscription-only model, no embedded video....but you're more than welcome to find it streaming online elsewhere. That's why Google was invented).

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

It does have a great theme, I'll give it that.