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The Chicago Code 

Can Shawn Ryan's next great cop drama match his last great cop drama?

click to enlarge Out of frame: Delicious hot dogs, pizza
  • Out of frame: Delicious hot dogs, pizza

Shawn Ryan’s new cop drama, The Chicago Code, has a tough job: On a broadcast network, match the brutal poetry of Ryan’s former FX cop drama, The Shield.

Early on The Chicago Code was named Ride-Along — alluding to the rookie cop (Matt Lauria) riding with the legendary veteran Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke).

Sounds like well-trod ground. But The Chicago Code zooms out from that patrol car, out to the entire city. A half-dozen different police dramas intersect and, symbiotically, interweave.

Yes, there’s week-to-week cop procedural — a case must be solved, a gang war must be averted.

But the ongoing story-lines punch harder: A hotshot young cop puts his partner in danger. Chicago’s first female police chief, Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) vows to wipe out departmental corruption. An undercover cop infiltrates the Irish mob. Jarek and Colvin attempt to trap Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo), the alderman who’d surely burn down Chicago — again — to protect his power base. Corrupt, sinister, and devilishly charismatic, Gibbons is TV’s best current villain.

In a show about fighting for the soul of a city, identifying that soul is crucial. Here, The Chicago Code is a nail-biting love letter to — and diatribe against — the city of Chicago. The iconic skyline. The Irish bars. The brutally efficient politics. Crucially, it’s filmed on location. After all, a corrupt cop yelling, “You think you can change how things get done in VANCOUVER?!” wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.

Occasionally, The Chicago Code feels like it makes sacrifices to be network-accessible. Ryan, who once said that playwright David Mamet taught him “back-story is bullshit,” peppers the pilot with narrated flashbacks to explain characters’ pasts. But then, just when you’re lulled into half-attention by voice-over, that narration is interrupted — by a bullet. Narrative weakness becomes narrative strength.

There begins a stream of iconic moments — more in the first three episodes than most shows have in their entire run. Ryan turns familiar beats into jazz, playing them with poignancy. None of the individual premises of The Chicago Code are unique. But in the same way The Shield gave meaning to the loose-cannon cop cliché, The Chicago Code reinvents the police procedural by making it anything but procedural.

The Chicago Code, Fox, Mondays, 9 pm


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