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The Chicago Code, “Pilot” (1.01)

Det. Wysocki and Superintendent Colvin discuss the case.

This midseason, The Signal will be reviewing many of the new shows’ pilots. A review of the episode, written by Shawn Ryan & Tim Minear and directed by Charles McDougall, after the jump…

“You think you can change how things get done in Chicago?” – Unnamed detective

In the middle of one of the most disappointing pilot seasons in recent history, where the very best aspire to mediocrity, The Chicago Code stands very tall among its peers. It’s not The Wire or The Sopranos or any of those landscape-changing shows, but if it’s a network cop show, it’s what every network cop show should be. Dialogue, acting, directing, writing, all of it works immensely well here.

It’s a cop show. But, and this is important, it’s a cop show written by Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear, both of whom rarely, if ever, offer up anything but greatness. Though I’ve always liked Jason Clarke, but I haven’t quite connected with previous characters he’s played as much as Det. Jarek Wysocki. Matt Lauria was a fun addition to Friday Night Lights in its last couple of years, and his particular brand of awkward earnestness works well here. I’m not familiar with Jennifer Beals’ work, so for me this a really strong first impression: as Superintendent Teresa Colvin, she’s charismatic, witty without being snarky, and commands every moment she’s onscreen. And the voiceovers, which could feel completely out of place, actually work very well. The only pieces I don’t feel, and this is my main problem currently with the show, are Jarek’s niece and her partner, who feel very extraneous to things.

The plot of the show is also much more engaging than the typical cops-chase-robbers procedural, as it sets our core three (Colvin, Wysocki and Lauria‘s Caleb Evers) against a much stronger foe than any criminal: a corrupt politician at the centre of the city’s intrigues. Watching them struggle to manoeuvre around his political machinations, only to not get far enough, indeed feels like something out of The Wire; the only thing missing is copious criticism of juked stats and the slower, more methodical pace that was that show’s trademark.

The show builds a case for us to admire these three, and it succeeds, offering strengths and flaws. Colvin is dynamic and strong, but also forthright and willing to endanger herself in the name of her cause. That’s fine for herself, until it leads to her losing the main person in her life, tossing all of her fire and drive into question. Wysocki is good police, but he’s also cheating on his fiancee with his ex-wife, and happy to bend rules to see a case to the end. And Evers is smart and observant, but is hopelessly naive about some things, particularly when it comes to his partner.

Smart without being preachy, fun without being lightweight, The Chicago Code is the perfect blend of cop drama and character drama. Let’s hope there’s plenty more to come.

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