Pretty Hard Cases: Shooting a cop show in a pandemic

Pretty Hard Cases stars Meredith MacNeill and Adrienne C. Moore and creators Tassie Cameron and Sherry White break down their new procedural


When Pretty Hard Cases premieres on CBC and CBC Gem Wednesday (February 3), it’ll be the latest in a long line of buddy-cop procedural shows.

But it’s got an energy and a perspective that make it land just a little differently than most, thanks to the chemistry between stars Meredith MacNeill (Baroness Von Sketch Show) and Adrienne C. Moore (Orange Is The New Black) and a willingness to shift between light comic beats and more serious moments.

In a conversation with NOW, MacNeill, Moore and creators Tassie Cameron (Mary Kills People) and Sherry White (Little Dog) discussed the process of figuring out the series’ perspective and its characters’ personalities… as well as the challenges that come with producing a city-spanning cop show in the middle of a pandemic.

“We were supposed to start in April,” Cameron explains, “and we were getting all ready to go and we had our studio under construction and we were just about to start and then obviously things changed. So we had to put a pause on shooting and we weren’t able to start until Labour Day. But then we shot it straight through.

“Like, six days a week straight through,” Moore says.

“Just at the end,” Cameron laughs. “It was intense.”

One thing I’ve noticed about television shows produced since the arrival of the coronavirus is that they’ve really embraced exteriors. And a lot of Pretty Hard Cases takes place outdoors – like, a lot more than you might expect, if you’re used to the gloomy offices and warehouses of your average procedural.

Was that a safety thing?

“We always wanted it to be outside,” Cameron explains. “You get great production values from shooting outside and we have an incredible city full of different, amazing locations, so that was always the plan. But yes, it’s easier to shoot outside for COVID [protection].

“We had to stay away from very tight spaces for obvious reasons; we didn’t want to be in enclosed spaces with the actors and the camera team. You will not see a lot of kissing or making out during season one,” she laughs. “Even [actors] sharing French fries was a bit problematic. There were challenges for sure. But I hope that people aren’t noticing them or focusing on them in season one, and only seeing the joyful parts.”

Playing with formula

Rather than a Lethal Weapon situation where one partner is grounded and the other is a loose cannon, Pretty Hard Cases lets both MacNeill’s Sam Wazowski and Moore’s Kelly Duff be wild cards as the situation demands. It’s the characters who drive the action, rather than elaborate plotting.

“We wanted the show to be very accessible to a broad audience, and we wanted the characters to be very authentic and real and honest,” White says. “We didn’t feel we needed to make a really complicated story because we want these women to have complicated lives that we can lean into and explore.”

Casting for chemistry

“There’s always that, ‘What is this going to be?’ kind of thing,” Moore says. “And in those moments, you really just have to lean into your network and your partner and whoever it is that you’re working with. And it was so easy with Meredith; as we were finding the tone and the relationship between each other and the other characters, I literally just trusted my vulnerability and my trust in in my acting partner… we tried it funny, we tried it more dramatic, we tried it more procedural. We just tried different things.”

“Sam and Kelly were already there on the page,” MacNeill says. “But when we met, it was instant chemistry. We got in trouble in a breakout room when we were working on this, like two 10-year-olds, for being too loud.”

One powerful moment

The scene that got me fully on board with Pretty Hard Cases is moment early in the pilot when a tip leads Kelly, Sam and a few officers into a standoff with an armed Black child.

Suddenly the show’s comic banter turns deadly serious as both detectives try to de-escalate the situation without getting anyone killed – but neither of them can fully explain to the other what they’re doing. It’s a really powerful scene, and Moore explains why:

“We were talking about this whole theme of law and order versus serving and protecting, those two ideologies,” she says. “When that moment happens, that was a great time to show how those two concepts conflict, but then how they can come together and how they can defuse the situation. I wanted to show that cops can use their discretion in very tense, very high [stakes] situations… We had just come off of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and those moments where you’re just like, what happened in those moments that led to what they became?

“When this scene was written in the script, I was like, ‘Let’s see what this moment can really be. Let’s see this Black cop come in and use discretion and maybe save a situation, maybe save a life from something that could fatally happen.’ And after that scene happened, I feel like everyone – even [the] crew – just kind of clicked, in a way: ‘So this is the tone, this is the kind of show we’re making.’ That was a very defining moment for me when we talk about creating the tone of the show, for sure.”

Pretty Hard Cases premieres Wednesday (February 3) at 9 pm on CBC and CBC Gem. Watch the entire conversation on NOW’s YouTube channel, or directly below.

@normwilner

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