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Premiere Review: “The Chicago Code”

Posted by Mr. Feeny on February 8, 2011

I’ve been a melancholy TV watcher this season. With the departure of Lost and 24, I haven’t been able to find a drama that really grabs me. Walking Dead did, but only for six episodes. Terriers was canceled after just one 13-episode season.  Burn Notice, White Collar, House…they’re pleasant, but nothing to get me that excited about watching what’s on my DVR. Except for Friday Night Lights (thank goodness for Direct TV. And now that’s almost over forever (tomorrow night! Although Luke Cafferty [Matt Lauria] has apparently followed Matt Saracen and moved to Chicago in this show…)

There are several nice dramas on television right now that I’ve caught an episode or two of. That includes two new ones from CBS: Hawaii 5-0 and Blue Bloods. I enjoyed them for a few episodes, but couldn’t get motivated to watch them every week. They’re procedurals with just enough cross-episode conflicts to reward a loyal viewer. But they’re 75% procedural (better than, say, a CSI, which is 95% procedural).

{Actually…that would be a very interesting television study. What percentage of a show’s content is devoted to the single episode or the larger theme? It’d be tough to quantify…what about when an episode is all about that one conflict; it would tilt the scale. Or where do you put the time spent on establishing shots? We should ponder this.}

So, imagine how excited I was when I watched The Chicago Code Monday night and it was 100% serial.

Yes, it was one episode. And a pilot at that. They can’t move on to the “crime of the week” until they establish the overarching story. And, actually, in that way, this pilot resembled Hawaii 5-0’s, which focused solely on tracking James Marsden’s character. And as I understand it, that plot line has come back into the show, but there were a lot of stand-alone episodes in between.

I don’t think that will happen with The Chicago Code. The team that’s been assembled isn’t just going after “corruption.” They’re going after one person, Alderman Gibbons (Delroy Lindo). In a perfect world, every story would connect to him…but that’s not going to happen on network TV. Still, I’ll be happy if it comes close. Especially since this first season is only 13 episodes.

Even if it doesn’t, there are so many reasons for me to keep watching The Chicago Code, even if I don’t obsesses over its serial nature. First and foremost, it’s set in the greatest city in America…nay, the world. And unlike some shows that drop in obvious Chicago references to prove their cred (I’m looking at you Mike & Molly) or look more like New York (because you’re filmed there, The Good Wife), this is pure Chicago. You want proof? The main cop is a White Sox fan. No casual Chicago show would feature the Sox. And even references to the Cubs are steeped in deep knowledge about how this city’s fans operate.  And every outside shot is definitive Chicago…because it’s actually filmed there.

There are some kinks in the armor. The actor who plays the lead detective, Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) is from Australia, and early on, his accent is incredibly obvious. It either got better or I got used to it. Also, this city will never appoint a young, female police superintendent (Jennifer Beals) nor will an alderman ever be more powerful than The Mayor.

But I can look past all of that because so much else is right with the world this show is set in. Including the writing, the characters, the filming. It’s the best cop show I can remember seeing on network television. That caveat shouldn’t be seen as a slight. There’s just more creator Shawn Ryan can do on The Shield than he can do here. Or David Simon on The Wire. Given the bland limitations of most network TV, The Chicago Code stands out. (And kudos to Fox for again pushing the boundaries…Lone Star flopped with the public, hopefully this won’t).

My favorite part of the pilot was the dialogue. Quick, funny (in a gallows humor kind of way), and impassioned. The four main characters all appear to be excellent in their portrayals. And although we haven’t delved into their backstories, I can tell they’ll be rich and conflicted. I’m not even positive we’re supposed to completely hate the bad guy…despite the fact that he had an innocent woman killed.

One more thought on this premiere. The part I wasn’t wild about. Voice over. Why? Why do we need that? It establishes, I guess, that we’ll be looking at the show from different angles. But it’s usually cheesy. This was done sparingly in the pilot, and in one case at the end, to great effect. But I could definitely do without.

In summary, I know where I’ll be every Monday night at 8 CT. I hope you’ll join me. America might not be. 9.4 million last night for the premiere, which is decent. But they lost 3 million from House and finished behind The Bachelor.

Grade: A


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