The Chicago Code appears to be aiming for a heady mix of action and political drama, and it mostly works.
The Chicago Code comes with high expectations. These stem in large part from the fact that creator Shawn Ryan was also responsible for The Shield. But it's apparent from the start that he's not interested in making a clone of that breakout drama.
The new show begins with Police Superintendent Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) asking the City Council to create a special task force to root out government corruption. During the meeting, Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo) informs her they don't have the funding, then confronts her outside the Council chambers, telling her to run her ideas by him in private before doing that kind of grandstanding in public. As she walks away, Colvin notes that she's not quite as controllable as he'd anticipated when he supported her for the job, that she'll be forming an unofficial task force anyway, and oh, he's her primary target.
It's a lot of information to impart in an opening sequence, and it comes across as heavy-handed (especially when Colvin narrates her own back-story in voiceover). But The Chicago Code finds its feet a few minutes later, when Colvin taps Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke), a top detective and, not coincidentally, her former partner, to be on her unofficial task force. Wysocki comes with his own set of issues, namely that he's prickly and never keeps a partner for very long. He ends up saddled with a new, very young one, Caleb Evers (Matt Lauria), whom he ends up liking because he's unusually observant.
Lindo is terrific as Gibbons, a charismatic and intelligent politician who has his hands in a lot of different cupboards. But no one seems able to link Gibbons to specific wrongdoing, which means Colvin and Wysocki have a long road ahead of them. During the first couple of episodes, an overarching plot concerns Gibbons' involvement with Irish gangsters, which brings undercover officer Liam Hennessey (Billy Lush) into the mix. He's one of those TV show undercover guys whom only a couple of people (in this case Colvin and Wysocki) actually know is undercover -- and for years. Despite his experience, he breaks cover to make personal phone calls to Wysocki when he knows he's absolutely not supposed to do that. And he looks horrified when a few of his Irish thug buddies beat up a guy for not paying what he owes them, another response that undermines the idea that Hennessey is a veteran UC.
A pair of street cops further complicates matters: Wysocki's niece Vonda (Devin Kelley), who is romantically involved with her partner Isaac (Todd Williams). For now, they provide an obvious counterpoint to Wysocki and Evers' cases. This difference is underscored when they're almost immediately promoted to the Organized Crime Unit, a squad that resembles The Shield's Strike Team.
The potential clash of cops doesn't detract from Colvin's team's focus on Gibbons, though it does spread out the action for each episode's case-of-the-week. The first three episodes find Wysocki and Evers taking on murders with sides of conspiracy, drug distribution, and armed robbery. The investigations inevitably lead to chases, both in vehicles and on foot. These are exciting and well shot, but the detective work isn't particularly impressive. Neither is it the show's focus. The Chicago Code works so hard to develop Colvin, Wysocki, and Gibbons in the early going that the actual police work serves mostly to break up the dialogue-heavy, character-developing scenes.
That said, much of this developing is a function of strong performances by Lindo and Clarke. Wysocki seems like a fully formed character from the get-go, and even his quirks -- like not tolerating profanity (a tough thing to pull off on network TV, as the "profanity" he dislikes often amounts to "screw you" and the invented "jackhole" and "jaghole") -- are convincing. Beals, on the other hand, seems to be in a bit over her head. Some of this may be attributable to the character: Colvin is clearly trying to do too much in her position as Superintendent and rubbing a lot of cops the wrong way. But Beals herself seems like she's acting the part of the tough woman instead of inhabiting the role; she isn't completely persuasive. It's difficult not to compare her to the tough women played by CCH Pounder and Glenn Close on The Shield, and for now, anyway, she comes up short.
The Chicago Code appears to be aiming for a heady mix of action and political drama, and it mostly works. But it also takes itself very seriously, offering precious little levity to ease tensions. Its less than heady mix of over-the-top action and solemn tone is thus far merely entertaining when the show could be something great.