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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Shawn Ryan Strikes Again: The Chicago Code – An Observation

Shawn Ryan, probably best known for The Shield, is one of those rare producers that really knows how to make an intricate show. While none of his many projects have been called a Masterpiece, many have been memorable at least and critically hailed, if rarely highly rated. The Chicago Code is no exception, blending a gritty cop drama with a serialized arc and intriguing, layered characters.

The show stars Jason Clarke as Detective Jarek Wysocki (no relation to Burt Wysocki on Reaper, almost sadly) and Jennifer Beals as Chicago’s first female Superintendant, Teresa Colvin, who used to be partners. Jarek is incredibly unique as a character, having many problems with his various partners (who tend to last days at most) stemming from either Jarek’s methodology or sometimes just his aversion to swearing in public. Partnered now with Jarek is Detective Caleb Evers (Friday Night Lights’ Matt Lauria), who almost gets kicked out of Jarek’s car just for having the audacity to be a Cubs fan (for the Chicago uninitiated, Cubs fans and White Sox fans do NOT get along).

This Yankees fan can relate. If he were ever forced to share a car with a Red Sox fan, oh man…

The supporting cast includes Generation Kill’s Billy Lush as an Undercover inside the Irish Mob, Jarek’s niece Vonda played by newcomer Devin Kelley, Vonda’s partner and possible boyfriend Isaac Joyner (In Plain Sight’s, Todd Williams), and corrupt local politician Ronin Gibbons, played by veteran supporting player Delroy Lindo.

The main myth arc involves Colvin and Jarek trying to take Gibbons down. Unlike Blue Bloods, which we covered early on in the Geek Heaven podcast’s life, this myth arc doesn’t bog down the show, but instead enhances it. Gibbons’ ties to the Irish mob are what compels Billy Lush’s character to even exist. The arc plays out like a cat-and-mouse game between the two adversaries, but it’s far more complicated than that, since Gibbons is A: influential enough to ingratiate himself with the police, and B: damn smart. These things together make him an incredibly tough opponent, and played far more realistically than many series in the same vein.

Much like The Shield, the day-by-day cases go on along with the myth arc are intelligent, but not so much as to confuse the audience. The narrative is very fast-paced, rarely letting the audience catch their breath, a technique that has worked well for Fox’s prior hit in that same timeslot, 24. The cases flow back and forth with the myth arc easily.

The actors are generally solid, though Jason Clarke has a tendency to be a bit over the top, and Jennifer Beals’ accent – Chicago Native or not – is not very clean. Delroy Lindo honestly only seems to have one kind of character he can really play with good guy and bad guy variations therein, but he’s in his element here. There is a wide and varied recurring cast, which like all casts runs the gamut between talented and, well, not. On the down side, Billy Lush seems miscast, as he doesn’t have the necessary gravitas for what is basically Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in The Departed. Lush’s emotionlessness made him ideal for the sociopathic Cpl. Trombley on Generation Kill. It does not, however, make him ideal for the more conflicted role he plays here.

One of the gimmicks of the show – one that miraculously works well, I might add – is the use of Flashbacks. Unlike Lost, the Flashbacks on The Chicago Code are fast-paced and are accompanied by narration, explaining a bit about the characters’ motivations. It’s a useful tool, and doesn’t take too much time. It also managed to increase the shock value in the pilot, where Colvin’s driver and bodyguard (and protégé Antonio) had his Flashback and narration interrupted by being shot to death. It was a jarring and emotional scene, and again, much like The Shield, Shawn Ryan tricked us into believing that the doomed Antonio was going to be made a main character.

The whole series is shot on location in Chicago. The Dark Knight really paved the way for productions to move to Illinois. With Los Angeles and New York both losing productions left and right due to the recent economic problems, anything that keeps film and TV productions in America is a good thing. The cinematography does a very good job of capturing the essence of Chicago, but certainly with more flair than The Wire did for Baltimore.
Overall, this is a very strong show, but there’s one thing that keeps me from believing that it will live beyond a single season: The presence of the Killer of Shows himself, co-executive producer Tim Minear. Joss Whedon’s old crony has managed to get every single new show he’s been on cancelled, one for one, most recently F/X’s Terriers starring Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, a subtle, engaging, and often funny show. This man needs to get away from television before he kills everything good about it. The worst part is, Minear is not even a bad producer or storyteller, but I am personally convinced that he is the single unluckiest man in show business today.

The Chicago Code airs Mondays at 9 PM EST on Fox.

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