Ellen Gray: New 'Code' puts a woman in charge

Jennifer Beals and Jason Clarke star in "Chicago Code."
Jennifer Beals and Jason Clarke star in "Chicago Code."
Posted: February 07, 2011

THE CHICAGO CODE. 9 tonight, Channel 29.

SHAWN RYAN set out a while back to make a particular type of cop show - one that put viewers into patrol cars with the police and was to be called "Ride-Along" - and ended up making the bigger, even better one that premieres on Fox tonight as "The Chicago Code."

Bigger isn't always better in television, but as Ryan, who created FX's "The Shield" and went on to co-create CBS' "The Unit" with David Mamet, probably knows better than most, attracting a bigger audience sometimes requires a bigger idea.

Particularly in a landscape so choked with procedurals that the characters need to be as memorable as the crimes they're solving are gruesome to stand a chance of being noticed.

"The Chicago Code's" big idea? Putting a woman in charge of the Chicago Police Department and having that woman played by Jennifer Beals.

The original pilot, honestly, had me at the moment that Jason Clarke ("Brotherhood") appeared on-screen as veteran homicide Detective Jarek Wysocki, who'd partnered with Beals' Teresa Colvin years before her rise to superintendent, and seems to have had trouble with partners ever since.

Quirky in one way any broadcast network could appreciate - he doesn't believe in on-the-job profanity - Wysocki's nevertheless meant to be a cop's cop, and Clarke, an Australian who's as convincing here as he was as a Providence politician, is fun to watch.

But if "The Chicago Code" had contented itself with having Jarek drive around the endlessly cinematic Windy City, catching killers and flashing the occasional crooked grin, I doubt I'd last much longer in his car than most of his partners did.

Taking the leap of faith that puts a woman who looks like Beals in charge of one of the country's biggest police forces is what makes "The Chicago Code" a network show, one that might be hoping to skew a little younger than CBS' "Blue Bloods" but has the same interest in making sure we know who the good guys are (and that some of them indeed are at the top).

At the same time, pitting Beals' fiery Colvin against the dangerously charming Delroy Lindo, whose Alderman Ronin Gibbons is the big thorn in the new superintendent's side (and vice versa) opens "Code" up to explore some of the same territory HBO's "The Wire" did, including the relationship between street crime and the kind that takes place behind heavy, oak-paneled doors.

Colvin's no Frank Reagan, the possibly too-good-to-be-true top cop Selleck plays weekly on CBS. Like most reformers, she's trying to do too many things at once, and she overreaches at times.

But like Selleck's Reagan, her heart's in the right place.

Nor is "Code" the best cop show I've ever seen. It probably isn't even the best cop show Ryan's made, "The Shield" having been uneven at times but undeniably a groundbreaker.

What "Code" is is a show that's not afraid to be just a little bigger than life, if only to guarantee that after a long day in the real world, those of us who like our TV cops at least as interesting as our TV criminals will want to come along for the ride.

Correction

In Thursday's column about shows that aired after the Super Bowl, I listed Bonnie Hunt as one of the stars of "Davis Rules," which premiered on ABC in 1991.

As a reader was quick to note, Hunt wasn't in the pilot. She appeared in a March episode and continued as a regular after its move to CBS the next season.*

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

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