'The Chicago Code' review: New life in the cop show

chicago-code-review-320.jpgThis hasn't been an especially good year for new shows, so saying that a new series is one of the best this season doesn't set a terribly high bar.

But we're going to go ahead and say that "The Chicago Code" is, in fact, one of the best new series to hit the air this season, and that would be true in a better year for television as well. It's extremely well cast, uses its Windy City locations beautifully and has an energy that grabs you pretty much from the first scene. Monday nights are really, really crowded, but you need to make room for this show.

The series centers on Teresa Colvin ( Jennifer Beals), the first female superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. She's been on the job six months, and she's made it her mission to clean up corruption and mob activity both inside and outside the department. Not surprisingly, that hasn't made her very popular; morale is down, and she's in danger of losing the officers she commands.

She's committed to it, though, and she enlists her old partner, Jarek Wysocki ( Jason Clarke, "Brotherhood"), to be her man at street level. Jarek is something of a legend within the department -- we first see him negotiating the end of a high-speed chase while the chase is still going on -- and he gets to cherry-pick any case he wants that might be related to Teresa's larger mission.

Wysocki is also legendary for going through partners like Kleenex, but the latest young detective he's paired with, Caleb Evers ( Matt Lauria, "Friday Night Lights"), looks to have the stuff to hang with him. In Monday's (Feb. 7) premiere, they investigate the murder of a woman in Grant Park that may be tied into shady construction deals and a powerful alderman ( Delroy Lindo) -- who also happens to sit on the committee that controls the police department's budget.

The ties between Lindo's character and organized crime only begin to reveal themselves in the first couple of episodes, and it forms the spine of the series. But creator Shawn Ryan ("The Shield," "Terriers") doesn't make the show so heavily serialized that it becomes a barrier to people watching. There are smaller pieces of the puzzle (and unrelated crimes as well) that get dealt with week by week. It's a great blend of procedural and larger, ongoing story, and it infuses the show with a bigger sense of purpose than your average crime drama.

"The Chicago Code" also gets its hometown very much right. Ryan grew up in nearby Rockford, Ill., and he has a grasp of the local culture that makes the show feel more authentic. (Beals, a Chicago native, also does a pitch-perfect, neighborhood-specific accent.) Clarke, who's Australian, doesn't quite get the local dialect down at first, but he's such a force otherwise that it doesn't really matter. And Lindo, who rarely gives a bad performance, is riveting to watch as Alderman Ronin Gibbons, who seems to see a couple moves ahead and doesn't take well to his power being challenged.

Ryan's previous cop show, "The Shield," was one of the best ever, and it's hard to say on the basis of a couple episodes whether "The Chicago Code" will reach those heights over its run. It's a network show, so it doesn't push the boundaries the way "The Shield" did, and its lead cop characters aren't (as far as we know, anyway) quite so morally gray as Vic Mackey was. But "The Chicago Code" more than stands on its own. Here's hoping it gets a few more seasons to keep exploring its world.
Photo/Video credit: FOX
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