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After Fox ran what seemed like 528 promotional spots for The Chicago Code during the Super Bowl, you knew at least two things about the new series before it premiered Monday night: Jennifer Beals can employ a tough-person voice in saying, “This is my city now!” and you knew some guy was going to snarl, “You think you can change how things get done… in Chicago??!!!” So going in, you could assume that this was one of those “gritty,” “dark,” “real” cop shows, right? It turned out that Chicago Code was both better and a little worse than its promos. The show, from Shield creator Shawn Ryan, had more humor than you might have guessed. Jason Clarke — so good on the Showtime cult series Brotherhood — has a mordant way of joking with new partners such as his latest, Friday Night Lights‘ Matt Lauria.

I didn’t quite buy the premise set up in Monday’s debut: That Wysocki’s ex-partner, Beals’ Teresa Colvin, now the city’s police superintendent, enlists the honest but hotheaded guy as a key player in an anti-corruption task force, one of whose aims is to get crooked politicians, such as Delroy Lindo’s powerful alderman Ronin Gibbons. It’s a semi-undercover role for Wysocki, but the guy seems too much of a loose-cannon, showboating hotdogger (have I piled on enough double-barreled cliche adjectives?) to be of much use in a long-term task-force investigation.

Clarke’s cop Jarek Wysocki also has a tic that just happens to work nicely with network broadcast standards: He’s a rough-and-tumble rebel who doesn’t like profanity. Where The Shield, on cable’s FX, pushed the limits of language (along with many of other things), Shawn Ryan’s clever way of avoiding the appearance of going soft in an earlier hour on broadcast led to some distracting uses of euphemisms such as — I think Clarke/Wysocki said “jaghole.”

The Chicago Code is being cut a lot of slack by many of my TV-critic colleagues, because of the esteem in which Shawn Ryan is held for creating The Shield and for showrunning the short-lived Terriers. This is understandable generosity, it makes sense… and may not do viewers the best service. Certainly, any producer who’s created a great series merits much good will for his or her subsequent work. But the record for follow-ups is spotty: David Milch followed up Deadwood with John From Cincinnati (I plead guilty there — I overrated that intriguing non sequitur of a show when it premiered); some of the folks that brought you M*A*S*H also gave you AfterMASH. On the other hand, Joss Whedon’s Buffy begat Angel — not as great a series, but a very good one. Ditto David Simon’s next series after the masterpiece of The Wire; Treme isn’t on the same level, but it’s quality TV all the way.

There was enough action and double-crossing to keep The Chicago Code interesting, and I hope you’ll believe me when I say that subsequent episodes only get better.

But in the meantime, what did you think of the first episode of The Chicago Code? Is this going to be your new Monday-night 9 p.m. habit, leading out of House? I think Chicago Code is positioned well for ratings success: Up against the second hour of The Bachelor on ABC, the faltering Cape on NBC (sorry, Cape; you’ve lost me), Gossip Girl on the CW, and The Charlie Sheen Relapse Show — ‘scuse me, Two and a Half Men — on CBS, it looks as though Code can attract a sizable male audience, at the least.

What say you?

Twitter: @kentucker

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