Jonathan Storm: Cop show finally finds its footing

Jennifer Beals seems an unconvincing top cop at the outset.
Jennifer Beals seems an unconvincing top cop at the outset.
Posted: February 05, 2011

The Chicago Code, from The Shield's Shawn Ryan, starts poorly Monday at 9 p.m. on Fox29, with little indication that it will evolve into the taut cops-and-politics drama that it becomes by the end of episode three.

Jennifer Beals looks silly in the police superintendent suit and hat of Chicago's first female top cop, Teresa Colvin. Too young and too cute, with an initial performance to match. She will seem especially out of her league to those of us accustomed to the imposing Tom Selleck as the New York police commissioner in CBS's excellent Blue Bloods.

Legendary detective Jarek Wysocki also gets off on the wrong foot, but not because of the performance of Aussie Jason Clarke, who renders a fine Polish American Chicagoan without a hint of "G'day, mate."

The plot does him in: Cutting through a vacant lot, his car gets to the head of a Blues Brothers-style excessive car chase. Our hero pulls up alongside the fleeing felon and rolls down the window.

Instead of blasting with his gat, the felon has a chat - at 120 m.p.h. - and eventually heads quietly off to prison, after stopping for a marriage proposal to his girlfriend that's applauded by the crowd of bystanders.

The show also features lame narration, as the characters describe their relationships to each other. At one point, Wysocki's niece, Vonda (played by comely newcomer Devin Kelley), tells how he raised her after his brother was killed. Going for a little Chicago flavor, Ryan throws in a bowling reference, but stumbles badly when he has Vonda describe how Uncle Jarek even taught her how to pick up the 7-10 split.

There is no way, other than prayer, to accomplish that.

By the time Wysocki complains that "a lowly homicide detective can't fix the city's plumbing," and superintendent Colvin replies, "One toilet at a time," I figured the show hadn't a prayer and was busily thinking of bathroom references with which to tar it.

But then the wind shifted toward the end of the first episode. Beals' performance gained confidence as she turned up in civvies much of the time. Wysocki and some of the others started to draw me in.

And it became clear that Delroy Lindo, who has been so good in so many things, from Spike Lee's Malcolm X and Crooklyn through Get Shorty and HBO's lustrous Lackawanna Blues, might have latched onto a character who would emerge as one of the best TV villains since The Wire.

Lindo plays Alderman Ronin Gibbons, whose upstanding exterior hides a man more crooked than the guy in the nursery rhyme, and his cat, and his mouse, and his house, all rolled into one.

Colvin and Wysocki will forever try to bring down Gibbons and the only-in-Chicago corruption over which he presides. But he also happens to preside over the city council committee that administers the police department, so they can't be too obvious. The tension of this intricate cat-and-mouse, with its own unexpected twists and turns, promises to build as long as the show lasts.

Ryan also exploits the only-in-Chicago setting. The show is loaded with vibrant exteriors, and after the initial silly car chase, the action sequences are intriguing and exciting.

It may not be The Shield (what is?), and it isn't up to the standard of TV's other corruption-in-Chicago show, The Good Wife, currently the best drama on network TV.

But after you get by the initial S.O.S. of the first episode, The Chicago Code may be better than the other police commissioner show, and at least as worthy to add to your weekly TV appointment lineup.


Jonathan Storm:

Television

The Chicago Code

9 p.m. Monday on Fox29


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/jonathanst

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