I took a look at the pilot episode of The Chicago Code last night and…didn’t hate it. It’s got some of potential. Minor spoilers follow.
(As I write this, you can watch the pilot episode for free here.)
It’s not what I was hoping for. That’s because what I was hoping for was The Wire: Chicago, and that was never going to happen. I’m sure other people could make a crime show as good as The Wire, but I don’t think anyone will any time soon. The Wire was a special kind of storytelling, and it didn’t make a lot of money.
For me, honestly, the best part of The Chicago Code was how well they showed off the City of Chicago. There’s the skyline, of course, and Buckingham fountain, and the elevated train tracks. Strangely, they use a shot of LaSalle Street before showing Superintendent Theresa Colvin walking into City Hall, which is nowhere near there. I guess it looks more like Chicago. On the other hand, the hallway shots that follow look like they really were shot in City Hall. [Update: But they weren’t. See the first comment below.]
I didn’t recognize too many other specific locations, but I recognized the look of Chicago everywhere. The street scenes, and even some of the home interiors, just look like the places I grew up in. Those one-story bungalows are everywhere in this town. And Chicago is a giant railroad hub, so there are train tracks everywhere.
The police chase in the next scene goes through some very familiar looking neighborhoods, but I think some of them are miles apart. The chase itself is a bit over the top–I think they used every Chicago Police car the studio had available–and besides, the Chicago police chase policy is very restrictive. Too many cars full of innocent families could get in the way.
Nevertheless, there were a few realistic touches.The police cars looked right: Traditional Crown Vic’s with a few of the new Chevy Tahoe’s mixed in. Even more realistic–although perhaps unintentionally–was having guys in the unmarked car drive like assholes. Regular patrol cops complain about them all the time. New cops learn to drive and give chase in marked cars with a ton of lighting on top to warn people they’re coming. When they switch to an unmarked car, they forget that they’ve only got flashing headlamps and maybe a mini lightbar, so people won’t get out of the way because they can’t see them coming.
(On the other hand, the way the chase was resolved is–avoiding spoilers–completely ridiculous.)
The Sox-fan v.s. Cubs-fan animosity is stupid…but sadly realistic.
It looks like the large-scale source of conflict is going to be between Superintendent Colvin (Jennifer Beals) and crooked Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo) who’s in bed with the Irish mob. We don’t really have an Irish mob problem here, but I guess they felt that having him tied to black and hispanic drug gangs would make for some uncomfortable racial issues.
On the other hand, the Chicago Police Department is portrayed as fairly clean and corruption-free, which has not historically been the case. For example, there’s a flashback in which Colvin recalls her father having to pay off various people to keep his business open. It shows him paying off a building inspector, a precinct captain, and a couple of thugs. It doesn’t show him paying off any cops. Then again, he owns a hardware store. Maybe the old-time department bag men only hit up places like bars, which would sometimes need cops to look the other way.
Then there’s the show’s use of the Chicago Police Memorial. I can’t decide whether the scene itself is honorable or exploitive. However, I hope someone on the show eventually points out that former Police Superintendent Phil Cline spent a lot of time raising money for the memorial, and then got himself a cushy $80,000-a-year job as its Executive Director.
Also, just as we learn a lot of New York cop slang from NYPD Blue, and a lot of Baltimore cop lore from The Wire, we should be seeing a lot more Chicago police-isms. Chicago cops don’t wear a shield, they wear a star, and they don’t chase perps, they chase offenders. I want to hear cops talking about squadrols and missions and bitching about CR’s and 99’s. And why aren’t the other cops pissed about Wyocki bossing people around just because he’s “connected” at headquarters?
(On the other hand, it should be fairly easy to accurately portray Chicago police radio procedures: Chicago cops don’t talk in secret codes. If they have to stop to go to the bathroom, they notify the dispatcher that they have to stop to go to the bathroom.)
Jennifer Beals in the Superintendent role did not work for me. She looked uncomfortable in cop gear, and she seemed to smile inappropriately. Maybe she’s supposed to look confident, but she just looked goofy. You know how cops have that special way of intimidating the crap out of you without speaking or moving? Those are just beat cops and detectives. Supervisors have to be strong enough to keep those guys in line, and someone who fought her way up through the ranks to become Superintendent should be positively terrifying. Beals just doesn’t pull that off.
Almost everyone else in the cast was great, though. Jason Clarke as Detective Wysocki is a potential star-making role.
As a whole, the plot is fragmented, crazy, and unrealistic, and it shows very little that looks like actual policework. It’s not very good. But…I have hope. This was the pilot episode, and a lot of character introductions and background information had to be shoveled into this one hour. Many shows improve a lot after the pilot, especially when the writers start seeing how the finished product looks. I’ll keep watching for a few more episodes.