You remember that speech in ‘The Untouchables‘ that Sean Connery gave Kevin Costner: “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way”? Of course you do. So does producer Shawn Ryan, who renamed his new cop drama from its original title ‘Ride-Along’ to ‘The Chicago Code’ at the last minute, hoping for something stronger, more declarative, and perhaps a little reminiscent of the most famous movie ever set in the city. It’s definitely a better fit. The first episode aired on Monday, and the show seems promising so far.
As the Fox network’s ads are happy to remind you, Shawn Ryan is of course the man who created ‘The Shield’ on FX, one of the best police dramas ever to air on television. He’s also produced a few other shows since then with various degrees of personal involvement (‘The Unit’, ‘Lie to Me’, ‘Terriers’). ‘The Chicago Code’ lists his name as “Creator” and as co-writer of the ‘Pilot’ episode, which suggests that he’s fairly close to this one.
Jennifer Beals (yes, the ‘Flashdance’ girl) stars as Teresa Colvin, the recently-installed Police Superintendent, which makes her Chicago’s top cop. She’s a take-no-guff lady who rose through the ranks with hard work and determination, and scored her current position through some savvy political maneuvering. She has a habit of pissing off both the city’s criminal element, as well as the corrupt members of her own police department and the city government. She’s especially got her eye on a crooked Alderman named Patrick Gibbons (Delroy Lindo), who’s more powerful than the mayor and has been secretly forming an alliance with the Irish Mob. Colvin is smart enough to know that she has to play that game very delicately.
When refused funding for a special task force to root out corruption in the city, Colvin recruits her former partner Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke from Showtime’s ‘Brotherhood’) to run his own unofficial task force. He has free reign to take over any cases in the city that catch his interest. Wysocki is the prototypical tough guy with a heart of gold. He has trouble keeping a partner for more than a day, but is willing to let a perp propose to his girlfriend before hauling him off to jail.
In the ‘Pilot’ episode, Wyscoki investigates the murder of a corporate whistleblower who worked for a company that ties back to Gibbons. Meanwhile, Colvin has to deal with escalating gang tensions in the city. The third part of their team is Liam (Billy Lush from ‘The Black Donnellys’ and ‘Generation Kill’), a cop who’s been working undercover in the Mob for a year and is getting close to Gibbons. Colvin and Wysocki are the only people who know his true identity.
Based only on the one episode so far, ‘The Chicago Code’ is not the second coming of ‘The Shield’. The show lacks the moral ambiguity that drove that earlier series. Colvin and Wysocki are both very straight-laced characters, and the story is clearly divided into good guys and bad guys. Frankly, it’s a more conventional series, safer for consumption on a major network.
However, that’s not to say that Ryan doesn’t throw out some curveballs. The ‘Pilot’ episode has a gimmick with competing voiceover narrations from multiple characters, sort of like ‘Goodfellas‘. Most of the major players tell their backstories in flashback. At the end of the episode, Colvin’s aide, a young cop named Antonio who just helped her to negotiation a gang truce, describes how Colvin pulled him away from a rough life and forced him to stick to the straight-and-narrow, when he’s suddenly gunned down dead right in mid-sentence during his voiceover. The show sets him up to be an important character, and immediately yanks the rug out from under us. This isn’t quite as shocking as Reed Diamond taking a bullet to the face in the first episode of ‘The Shield’, but it’s pretty ballsy and effective all the same.
I like what I’ve seen so far. ‘The Chicago Code’ has potential. I’ve already set it for a series recording on my DVR.