Pretty Hard Cases, which premieres Wednesday on CBC, starts with a bit of madness straight out of a Baroness von Sketch Show routine.
We find Meredith MacNeill as guns and gangs detective Sam Wazowski, losing her mind in her unmarked car during a stake out. She’s obsessing about hair and won’t shut up about it. Up pops the head of another cop in the back seat (played by, of all people, Dean McDermott). He’s heard enough.
Suddenly, the perp they have had their eye on from a distance is robbed of a bag full of evidence by what looks like an aggressive homeless person. Except, as we learn after a wild chase under an overpass and up a fence – all to the driving beat of what sounds like the NewMusic theme from Citytv in the ‘80s — it’s not a homeless person, it’s undercover narcotics detective Kelly Duff (Adrienne C. Moore from Orange is the New Black).
Suspect apprehended and cuffed, the two cops take their meet-cute back to the station where they mix like oil and mineral water in the interrogation room and then bicker over a banana. (The pilot episode, in fact, is titled, “Bananas.”) The dialogue, written by creators/executive producers Tassie Cameron and Sherry White, stays Tarantino sharp throughout.
Says Duff to Wazowski when the two are forced to work together: “Watch and learn how we do it, Pantsuit!”
And so begins the impossible: a cop show, shot during a pandemic, that seems like a fun and frisky idea mere months removed from “Defund the Police” rallies.
Not just a cop show, either; a Canadian cop show, set and shot in Toronto. These cops even argue over whether to take the Gardiner or the Lakeshore.
A big part of the appeal of Pretty Hard Cases is that it doesn’t seem to be taking place now. Who wants to be in now? Oh for the freedom of chasing criminals on foot, maskless, or in a car through graffiti-strewn streets, all to the beat of April Wine’s “Coulda Been a Lady,” “Mister Big Stuff” or other retro tunes sprinkled throughout the series.
Even Duff’s car is from another era, a vintage Mustang fastback — a set of cool cop show wheels Kojak or Jim Rockford or Starsky & Hutch would dig.
MacNeill and Moore were the first choices of executive producers Cameron and White for these parts and you can see why. Both can play it sketch show funny or dramatic. If MacNeill played Sam any more tightly wound, Karen’s everywhere would owe her a royalty. Moore oozes confidence as the “Nicholson” of the pair, the cocky undercover cop who can act her way out of any jam.
The rest of the cast adds to the sheer delight of it all. Percy Hynes White – showrunner Sherry’s actor son – brings an authentic ease as Wazowski’s teenage son. Karen Robinson is brutally deadpan as Unit Commander Edwina Shanks, Susan Kent (22 Minutes), Tricia Black and ever reliable Tony Nappo and Nick Campbell ace one-off and recurring roles.
It’s MacNeill and Moore driving this squad car, however, and they take it for an exceptional spin. As you can hear on our recent podcast conversation, White, who wrote and produced Little Dog, told me she went back and looked at old Cagney & Lacey episodes for inspiration. That exercise just drove home the fact that two female officers are much more commonplace today. Cameron, whose own police files includes writing and producing Flashpoint and Rookie Blue, suggests the “Lethal Weapon” films of the ‘80s were more of a blueprint.
All the inspiration you need, however, are MacNeill and Moore. Each brings a ton to the table in terms of training and experience, but, at the same time, you can tell that they’re having a blast playing cops and robbers on a giddy, school yard level.
If the first two episodes are any indication, Pretty Hard Cases will be pretty hard to miss. CBC has it Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) or streaming anytime on CBC Gem.