Review: The Code 1×1 (US: CBS)

Even CBS would rather you watched JAG instead

The cast of The Code
(L-R) Phillipa Soo as Lieutenant Harper Li, Ato Essandoh as Major Trey Ferry, Dana Delany as Colonel Glenn Turnbull, Luke Mitchell as Captain John "Abe" Abraham, Anna Wood as Captain Maya Dobbins and Raffi Barsoumian as Warrant Officer Rami Ahmadi © Mark Schafer/CBS

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, CBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

It seems hard to believe now but there was a time before Aaron Sorkin was a household name. However, way back in 1992, nobody had heard of the future creator of The West Wing, Studio 60 and The Newsroom. Thankfully, the then-playwright soon hit the big time thanks to a film adaptation of his stage play for A Few Good Men.

Featuring an iconic performance by Jack Nicholson as well as a sizzling script, A Few Good Men not only introduced the world to Sorkin, it also gave us our first real filmic glimpses at the modern US Marine Corps and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These were so unknown in the heady days of the early 90s that when I reviewed A Few Good Men, my editor actually queried – in print in my review – my claim that the base featured in the movie was in Cuba.

Oh, what happy, pre-Gitmo days those were.

Luke Mitchell and Anna Wood in CBS's The Code
Luke Mitchell and Anna Wood in CBS’s The Code

The Code

While the Marines have seen many outings in the movies and on TV since, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and its system of courts martial largely only featured in one show: JAG, which concerned the lawyers of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps charged with prosecuting crimes under the code. That ran for an astonishing 10 seasons (one on NBC, nine on CBS), launched the apparently immortal NCIS franchises and even this very day is being considered for a revival.

One can only assume that CBS is planning this only because it has so little faith in its latest drama, The Code, given that:

  1. The Code is all about the JAG corps.
  2. It’s basically a remake of both A Few Good Men and JAG
Ato Essandoh and Luke Mitchell in The Code
Ato Essandoh and Luke Mitchell in The Code

A few good lawyers

The first episode of The Code follows more or less the plot of A Few Good Men and even has more or less the same characters. It sees Luke Mitchell (Blindspot, The Tomorrow People) playing a young, cocky, indolent JAG Corps lawyer somewhat reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s character in A Few Good Men. He’s asked by the widow of a good friend to prosecute said friend’s murder in Afghanistan by one of his own men.

Mitchell is initially up against fellow JAG lawyer Falling Water‘s Anna Wood, who’s somewhat reminiscent of Demi Moore’s character in A Few Good Men. But when they both go to GitmoAfghanistan to investigate the crime, they soon discover – somewhat reminiscently of A Few Good Men – that there might be a medical reason for the crime and a cover-up that goes all the way to the top.

Fortunately, both have apparently watched A Few Good Men, so use virtually the exact same method to get the real criminal to confess his crimes – even if, somewhat reminiscently of A Few Good Men, their client ends up not 100% redeemed.

Dana Delany and Anna Wood in CBS's The Code
Dana Delany and Anna Wood in CBS’s The Code

Another glorious day in the carbon-copied corps

The rest of the episode, when it’s not borrowing further from A Few Good Men, is busily borrowing from JAG to give us a regular roster of characters, filling more or less the same functions in the same ways as those of JAG.

Heading up proceedings is Dana Delany and there’s a little light comic relief from Raffi Barsoumian and Phillipa Soo. None of them get much to do in the first episode, so it’s clear no one’s banking on them to sell the show.

Meanwhile, Ato Essandoh (Chicago Med, Altered Carbon) is Mitchell’s ostensible boss. I say ostensible, because even he has to point out that Mitchell spends most of the episode giving him orders. It’s not a good look for the show, TBH.

Ironically, all of this makes The Code a slightly tricky show to judge. A Few Good Men is a great script, which means The Code‘s first episode isn’t half bad. It’s a bit more CBS, a bit more reverential to the military, but it’s still A Few Good Men.

But you can only do that once. So will subsequent episodes be as good? Probably not, otherwise the writers wouldn’t have felt the need to borrow so much from their predecessors.

But they might be.

Similarly, so obvious is the source material, it’s hard to actually consider The Code on its own terms. Does the chemistry week? Do the performances work? Do the characters work? It’s hard to look at The Code directly without being blinded by the brilliance of A Few Good Men.

Anna Wood in CBS's The Code © CBS 2018
Anna Wood in CBS’s The Code © CBS 2018

Coding mistake

But with a fair bit of squinting through frosted glass, it’s possible to discern that as it stands, The Code doesn’t exactly scintillate. There is some interest to be had from a legal procedural that has such a different procedure from the standard US legal drama. However, that’s trimming, rather than a genuine exploration of its implications.

Meanwhile, Mitchell’s likeable, but too light for the piece and not especially believable as a marine, while Essandoh is better but woefully underserved. Delany is little more than a bit part, while Barsoumian and Soo are more annoying than a welcome bit of variety.

The Code fails the usual test of whether I can imagine spending more time in the company of these characters and to be honest, I’d much rather be watching JAG re-runs than this. And I suspect CBS knows it.


  • Rob Buckley

    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.

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