[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Launching a new television series is a monumental undertaking in any setting, but doing it during a global pandemic is a boundary tester on every level. Wednesday night, CBC premieres Pretty Hard Cases, the newest series from Tassie Cameron (Mary Kills People) and Sherry White (who worked with Cameron on Ten Days in the Valley and Rookie Blue). Set in Toronto, the show follows a mismatched pair of police detectives who end up becoming unlikely allies and begrudging friends as they discover that their divergent personalities and style of police work are actually a pretty efficient means of getting things done.
Baron Von Sketch Show‘s Meredith MacNeill is Sam Wazowski, a single mom, by-the-book-detective who’s a bit of a stickler for the rules. Orange is the New Black‘s Adrienne C. Moore is Kelly Duff, a detective who’s just emerged from undercover work and has been closer to the action than Duff, which gives her a unique insight and perspective that Sam might not even look for. Separately, they’re successful in their own departments, but when an overlapping case brings them together, they have to move past any potential territorial conflicts. Then their styles mesh in a way that unearths a bigger case than they were expecting, and they decide to lean into the new opportunity.
The tone is much lighter than Mary Kills People and Rookie Blue, to the point that I kept waiting for some sort of shoe drop that refreshingly never came. I really, really enjoyed it. I recently had the chance to chat with Cameron about the show. In the first part of our discussion, she talks about the challenges of getting a brand new show off the ground during an extraordinarily tumultuous year.
“This was floating in the background while we were working on Mary Kills People. This is something Sherry and I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I think that it’s been in the works certainly for two or three years. Probably it was partly to do with Mary Kills People, for me, that I was craving being in a different kind of tonal world,” she says.
“I wanted to have some fun, you know, not that Mary Kills People wasn’t fun in a way, but I was looking forward to exploring female friendship with a sense of humor. Sherry and I’ve worked together for years. And also with the other women we’ve worked with, there’s so much fun that you have together, even as professional friends, and we just wanted to kind of put that on screen. If we could capture how women in their forties and fifties feel about friendship, about their careers, about their possibly unbalanced life, you know, just be reflective of the stuff we were thinking about.”
“The only thing harder than making a show during a TV series during a pandemic is making a cop show during Black Lives Matter.”
2020 had a lot going on, and Cameron says they felt that acutely as they got the show up on its feet. “It really was a challenging thing creatively. That said, we’re very, very lucky that we didn’t start shooting before Black Lives Matter. We were given the opportunity by the universe or whatever to absorb some of the lessons that we, as a culture [were] learning and we got to listen, we got to hear, we got to try and figure out how to bring that into the show, which was very daunting because you were also dealing with quite a light tone,” she explains.
“We just decided to be as authentic as possible and that our characters would have these conversations, that we would lean into the truth [and] when in doubt, put it on screen and try not to be preachy or didactic. We had these two incredible female characters who got to say their truth a little bit. And it made the show better.”
“It’s a tricky business and thank God … we’re lucky our actors help us negotiate the tone. We pivoted and adjusted with our scripts to try and be more reflective and more thoughtful about these very issues. We were trying to explore law and order versus serve and protect. And how do you kind of merge those two things.”
“Another thing that we did adjust tonally was, originally, we’d been imagining these two women as real action heroes, in a kind of almost masculine way. And suddenly police action starts to feel like police brutality. So [we pulled back on] slamming people into walls and the kind of action-y stuff [and instead became] more thoughtful, because you don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes that are unhelpful. And then we tried it a bunch of different ways on the floor and cut it together the way that we feel is most honest and most entertaining.”
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“I think what we were trying to think of was more like a Paul Feig kind of Bridesmaids [tone].”
“That kind of vibe was in our brain more than any other TV show. We looked at Lethal Weapon, we looked at all the classic male buddy movies. But there were no [exact models for this]. We were developing this show in the middle of the Me Too movement. It was a huge, huge part of the show’s development for us. Looking at women in a classically male profession and how are they grappling with that. And then you add the kind of diversity of point of view of Black Lives Matter into it. It was really a fascinating time to be writing a show from these women’s perspectives.”
Pretty Hard Cases premieres Wednesday at 9 pm (9:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem. Check back next week for a preview of the second episode and more of my conversation with Tassie Cameron. Here’s a sneak peek of the premiere. [Update: The entire first season is available in the US on September 10th, streaming free on IMDb TV.]