TV Review: THE CHICAGO CODE, 1.1 - "Pilot"

Writer-producer Shawn Ryan had huge success with seven seasons of cop show The Shield (which helped reverse the fortunes of cable network FX), then encountered colossal failure when his detective drama Terriers failed to turn critical adulation into ratings, and was cancelled after one season. Ryan's now moved from cable to network television for another cop show on Fox, originally titled Ride-Along before being renamed The Chicago Code. The Pilot makes for an immediately propulsive and interesting hour, as we're introduced to Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), Chicago's first female superintendent, who's denied permission to form a corruption taskforce by politician Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo) -- no surprise there, as Alderman Gibbons is the very man her taskforce would be challenged to expose as a crook. Across town, we meet veteran homicide detective Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) and his inexperienced partner Caleb Evers (Matt Lauria) as they investigate a murder in Grant Park, quickly realizing that Teresa was Wycocki's old partner before her career skyrocketed -- which means Wysocki has the ear and respect of the Windy City's head of police. Wysocki's also Teresa's most trusted cop and a loyal friend; a good man she hopes will help her investigate and eventually jail Gibbons. Cop shows are a staple of television and often difficult to differentiate between -- particular these days, when successful brands (CSI, Law & Order) give birth to spin-off shows set in different cities. The procedural and episodic aspect to cop shows can also grow repetitive very quickly, although there are exceptions that try something different (such as The Wire, with its seasonal focus on one specific case.) But in general terms, cop shows usually cater for audiences who enjoy familiarity, a comforting message that crime never pays, and self-contained stories that require little thought inbetween. Fortunately, The Chicago Code already feels like a cop show that will satisfy the natural audience while drawing in viewers who cherish creativity and crave uniqueness. Most notably, I can't think of another cop show that places a woman in such a position of power and authority. Prime Suspect's Jane Tennyson is a noteworthy example of a high-ranking policewoman, but she was still one of many DCI's across London. Teresa Colvin is at the top of the tree and, consequently, has very few people to answer to. Also, maybe it's artistic license or a huge difference between US and UK policing, but evidently someone of Teresa's position is free to be driven around the city getting her hands dirty in cases. I'm pretty sure her British equivalents would be stuck in an office doing paperwork and making speeches all day. Jennifer Beals (erstwhile legwarmer icon of '80s classic Flashdance) makes a strong first impression in the role; bringing the right combination of femininity, smarts and skill to bear. You can buy into her once being a street-level cop who, through fierce determination, rose through the ranks in eight short years. It's an appealing character to have on a show: someone who wants to clean up the city, who hasn't spent all her life as a penpusher, has no intention of starting now, and has groundlevel respect because of her background. I'm sure it won't all be plainsailing, as it would be very boring is Teresa's authority meant all obstacles and redtape were easily negotiated, but it's still a fresh angle to explore. Jason Clarke is also an engaging presence as Wysocki; a larger than life character who knows the city inside-out, isn't above getting involved in high-speed car chases, is very fond of his niece and rookie officer Vonda Wysocki (Devin Kelley), hates profanity, and has an easygoing repartee with Teresa. I especially liked how there wasn't any jealousy from Wysocki over his ex-partner's success; instead, it felt like both knew they can actually get things done and keep each other grounded, despite coming from opposite ends of the thin blue line. There was just a lot to enjoy about The Chicago Code's pilot, which moved quickly and efficiently. It was also clear why it was originally called Ride-Along, as it felt like a fast-paced journey, with the audience riding shotgun with the main characters. The characters were drawn quickly and economically, the premise was laid out well, there was tangible chemistry between the leads, and by the end I was fully behind Wysocki and Teresa's unofficial alliance to bring Gibbons' criminal empire to its knees.
WRITER: Shawn Ryan DIRECTOR: Charles McDougall CAST: Jason Clarke, Jennifer Beals, Matt Lauria, Devin Kelley, Todd Williams, Billy Lush & Delroy Lindo TRANSMISSION: 7 February 2011, Fox, 9/8c
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