Review: The Chicago Code 1×1

Not half bad, but no Southland

The Chicago Code

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Sky 1/Sky 1 HD. Coming soon

‘Gritty’ seems to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To many, it means ‘realistic’ – that it depicts the seamier, less pleasant parts of life. To others, it just means ‘looks a bit grimy’.

The Chicago Code – formerly called Ride Along – is gritty. A cop show set to a backdrop of corrupt Chicago city politics, it wants you to believe that it’s gritty in the sense of realistic. But to be honest, although it has Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit) as show runner and principal writer, in a post-Wire, post-Southland world, it doesn’t really succeed – it just looks a bit grimy.

It’s not half-bad and it features the likes of Jessica Beals, Jason Clarke (Brotherhood) and Delroy Lindo, but it’s not as cutting edge as it likes to think it is. Here’s a trailer, followed by a featurette in which you get to hear Clarke’s normal Australian accent.

THE CHICAGO CODE, the compelling new police drama from critically acclaimed creator Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”), follows the Windy City’s most powerful and respected cops as they navigate the city’s underbelly to fight crime and expose corruption within Chicago’s notorious political machine.

“Jarek is razor blades and brass knuckles wrapped in politeness and egoless charm.”Set and shot on location in Chicago, THE CHICAGO CODE is a fast-paced series centered on JAREK WYSOCKI (Jason Clarke), a local legend and a larger-than-life veteran of the Chicago Police Department who wields considerable power thanks to his relationship with TERESA COLVIN (Jennifer Beals), his ex-partner and the city’s first female superintendent, now in charge of a 10,000-member police force. While Teresa diplomatically governs amidst the complicated landscape of Chicago politics, Jarek works the streets on a crusade to clean up corruption and crime and avenge his brother’s murder. Along the way, they will stop at nothing to bring down their powerful adversaries, including ALDERMAN RONIN GIBBONS (Delroy Lindo), a building-magnate-turned-politician who has ruled his ward with a velvet glove for over two decades.

“A result of Teresa’s difficult choices, she has made some powerful enemies along the way.”Joining Jarek on the street is CALEB EVERS (Matt Lauria), an eager young detective trying desperately to prove himself. Also in Jarek’s charge is his niece, VONDA WYSOCKI (Devin Kelley), a rookie beat cop whose father – Jarek’s brother – was killed in the line of duty when she was young. Jarek keeps close tabs on her and is less than thrilled with the risk-taking ways of her cocky hotshot partner, ISAAC JOINER (Todd Williams). Also in the mix is low-life LIAM HENNESSEY (Billy Lush), an Irish thug who blends in with the gritty world of local crime.

THE CHICAGO CODE is a production of 20th Century Fox Television and MiddKid Productions. The series is written and executive-produced by Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear (“Dollhouse”). Charles McDougall (“Big Love”) directed and executive-produced the pilot.

Is it any good?
There are elements of it that are good. The general structure of it, the characters, the themes and the use of the Chicago locations (even if few of the main characters have Chicago accents) are all extremely good. Jason Clarke and Delroy Lindo are both excellent, Jessica Beals is okay and the supporting cast, while nothing to write home about, aren’t awful. It’s well shot, there are some interesting narrative devices – the voiceovers/flashbacks from characters, both good and bad, explaining their lots in life as well as others’ – and certain aspects of it are fresh and different compared with other shows, with few dealing with systemic corruption and city politics, for example. Sure, it’s a little like Blue Bloods in places, but it does a lot better in maintaining realism than that show.

But while it has good ambitions, where it falls apart is in the details. The dialogue is largely dreadful: it’s a mixture of plot dump, character-defining shorthand and “Hey, we’re in Chicago! Did I mention we’re in Chicago? Cubs! White Sox! Chicago! Chicago! Chicago!” For example, the young female cop’s first line of dialogue is “Hi, Uncle Jerry” – there was a risk you might not know she was his niece for as much as 10 seconds without that line, which is of course how all nieces greet their uncles while they’re working.

Similarly, while overall plotting is good, the individual scenes can be ludicrously unrealistic, with dozens of cop cars chasing in line behind a single criminal’s car. Then the crim’s talked out of his dash for freedom by Clarke and allowed to propose to his girlfriend afterwards. And rather than adopt the Southland route of beeped dialogue, Clarke’s detective has a “no cursing” policy that prevents anyone from swearing in his vicinity.

Now, I didn’t watch a lot of The Shield, but this actually strikes me as being quite characteristic of Shawn Ryan’s writing in the episodes I did see. So, it’s entirely possible that when we come onto some of the episodes he hasn’t written, we’ll get something that’s better grounded while still maintaining the same degree of realism. It’s not going to touch either Southland or The Wire in terms of verisimilitude but with the characters, cast and themes that it’s employing, it could still be a very good cop show, potentially even the best on network TV.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.