TORONTO — Nearly 33 years after the end of “Cagney & Lacey,” the stars of the new CBC series “Pretty Hard Cases” are excited to inject a new energy into the women-detective genre.
Debuting Wednesday, the dramedy stars Meredith MacNeill of “Baroness von Sketch Show” and Adrienne C. Moore of “Orange is the New Black” as polar police opposites who form a connection and work together despite being detectives of rival departments in Toronto.
“Oftentimes there’s this idea that if there are two women, that they’re in competition with each other, and I like to think our show doesn’t pit these women in competition,” Moore said in a recent interview.
“What I think is beautiful about this relationship and how it unfolds in the first season, is how they grow to need one another, how they grow to understand how each other’s approach is actually valuable, and how when they work together, they’re actually a very strong force.”
Co-created by Tassie Cameron and Sherry White, “Pretty Hard Cases” stars Moore as emotionally guarded narcotics detective Kelly, and MacNeill as Sam, a detective in the new guns and gangs department.
The show was originally titled “Lady Dicks” but got renamed because it was “not as accessible as we originally conceived,” said a statement from Cameron Pictures, CBC and NBCUniversal Media.
“In speaking with gender rights advocates we learned about the derogatory use of those two words together, and the last thing we want is to cause further harm to a group of already marginalized people,” the statement continued.
The series is funny but also broaches heavier topics.
In the first episode, the two 40-something characters have a conversation about white privilege and Kelly calls Sam a “Karen,” a pejorative slang term for an entitled, sometimes racist white woman.
Sam complains to her boss about the name-calling, to which her commander replies: “Only a Karen would report that.”
MacNeill said she and Moore had many conversations with the writers about how to address the current social climate in the show.
“I won’t deny there was apprehension,” MacNeill said. “But the upside was there was complete transparency, there was always conversation. So with that sort of comfort and that sort of teamwork and having Adrienne as a partner, it’s like you felt safe to try.”
Moore said they wanted to do it in a way that moved through the moment “to get to the larger narrative.”
“We discuss themes of white privilege, we discuss themes of law and order, serve and protect, we discuss themes of police brutality,” Moore said. “So it was great to be a part of how we wanted to convey these narratives through the show.”
“Pretty Hard Cases” was shot after the COVID-19 pandemic had hit, making it difficult for the U.S.-based Moore to get to the set in Toronto.
“I had to go through a lot,” Moore said with a laugh. “I drove into Canada and the border patrol lady was an Inspector Gadget, and she (implied) that I would bring coronavirus to the set. And I think they followed me home to make sure I went into quarantine.”
“She called me, she’s like, ‘Meredith, I think they followed me,'” MacNeill said.
“But I get it,” added Moore. “And as an American looking at how we deal with it, I applaud the approach and the steps that Canada has taken.”
Moore and MacNeill hadn’t met before signing on to the show.
MacNeill said she was a “massive fan” of Moore, who played outspoken inmate Cindy Hayes in Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.”
“When I found out that I would be meeting her and playing opposite her, if I didn’t mess it up, I literally had like diarrhea for three days, I was so nervous,” said the Nova Scotia-based MacNeill.
Moore was also a fan of MacNeill, whose deft physical comedy chops resulted in some of the most memorable “Baroness” characters, including a woman who overuses dry shampoo, and another who goes to great lengths to spruce up her salad at work.
“Meredith, I always call her a chameleon, because she is just that, coming from a sketch world,” Moore said. “But she is also incredibly deep and profound.”
The duo’s bond was undeniable when they did the press circuit to promote the show, as they reminisced about working together.
“We have like an eight-year-old energy or like a 10-year-old,” MacNeill said via video conference with Moore.
“Sometimes before a scene we’d whisper to each other and be like: ‘Do you want to try this?’ And the other one would always be like, ‘Do it!’ And we’d be like, ‘I got you, do it!'”
MacNeill’s character likes to wear pantsuits on the job and the actor was baffled when she found she often “popped the crotch” on them by accident.
“We couldn’t figure out how and I was like, ‘I must have a really weird, long vagina. What’s going on?'”
Producer Amy Cameron figured out it was a result of the high kicks MacNeill would do to hype herself up on set.
“I would be high-kicking like 82 times a day and it was Amy who was like, ‘That’s how you’re ripping the crotch of your pants,'” MacNeill said.
Meanwhile, Moore got to know the streets of Toronto well during production.
“I even learned that Queen Street is the ultimate street that you take when the Gardiner and Lakeshore are packed,” she exclaimed.
Added MacNeill: “Look what’s happening … she’s becoming Canadian and we love it.”