As I was watching the pilot episode of Shawn Ryan’s new show The Chicago Code, I was reminded of a line from Brian De Palma’s 1987 film The Untouchables. Early in the movie, there’s a scene where Sean Connery’s character, the incorruptible Jimmy Malone, tries to explain how things work in Chicago to Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness.
In the scene, Malone tells Ness, “You wanna get Capone? Here’s how you get him. He pulls 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, and that’s how you get Capone!”
In The Chicago Code (whose title is a sort-of spiritual successor to “the Chicago way”), Detective Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) and Police Commissioner Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) embark on a similarly difficult quest: rooting out crime in a city known for corruption and taking down a powerful alderman with ties to the Irish mob. Like Malone, however, the pair aren’t afraid of the job, giving us one of the best new pilots of the year.
Shawn Ryan’s previous attempt at a police show (not counting the critically-acclaimed but canceled private eye drama, Terriers) was the popular FX show The Shield. Unlike The Shield, however, which explored the moral gray areas of law enforcement via the notoriously corrupt cop Vic Mackey, The Chicago Code is a much more straight-forward “good guys vs. bad guys” drama.
Don’t confuse straight-forward for boring though, as the pilot episode offers plenty of excitement and hints at an engaging overarching plot that is a refreshing change of pace from the many “case of the week” cop shows on TV already.
The cast of The Chicago Code gives uniformly excellent performances in the pilot episode. Of particular note is Jason Clarke as veteran detective Jarek Wysocki. At first I wasn’t sure about Wysnowski. I hate it when writers try and give a character depth by forcing odd quirks onto them (for example, Wysocki doesn’t tolerate cursing, but he’s content to cheat on his fiancee with his ex-wife).
Over the course of the show though, Clarke’s performance wore me down. By the end of the episode, I believed in Wysocki’s mission, and I trusted his instincts as a cop. Of course, one reason I was able to click with the character was because of the very solid performances from those around him, including Beals and Wysocki’s partner, Caleb Evers (played by Matt Lauria of Friday Night Lights). On his own, Wysocki could easily be just another tough guy cop, but the other cast members balance him, helping to make sure the show isn’t dominated by one personality.
One other performance worth mentioning is Delroy Lindo as corrupt alderman Ronin Gibbons. Lindo is an underrated character actor who rarely does bad work, and here he provides a nice foil to the blue collar Wysocki. In the pilot, Gibbons strikes me as a bad man, but not an evil one. In a voiceover, he talks about why he’s successful as a politician, explaining that he gets things done for the right people. Isn’t that what politics is all about?
In all honesty, the city of Chicago itself may be the best supporting actor in The Chicago Code. From the gang turfs of Humboldt Park to the posh Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, The Chicago Code uses its authentic Chicago locations beautifully, lending an impressive air of credibility to the show.
As a longtime resident of the Windy City, I have to say I was impressed at how much of the city the crew explored. They didn’t just use tourist shots of the skyline or Wrigley Field, but actually went into the city and found unique locations to help enhance the show’s aesthetic. The authentic Chicago locations also made it easier to buy some of the dialogue, such as when Wysocki and Evers are arguing about the White Sox and the Cubs.
So far, I’ve avoided getting into the plot of the pilot episode too much to avoid spoiling it for those tuning in for tonight’s premiere. Suffice it to say that the pilot offers a strong introduction to each character, their overall goal, and a basic outline of how they’re going to achieve it. It also shows the viewers that cleaning up Chicago isn’t going to be easy, and that the possibility of death is a daily reality for each character. As a standalone episode, the pilot of The Chicago Code is very good, but as the beginning of the series, it is excellent.
The Chicago Code airs tonight on Fox at 9/8c. Check it out tonight and come back to Screen Rant to share your thoughts.