There have been a few television shows set in the Windy City. Technically, if you look at the classic cop drama Hill Street Blues you could notice there was a lot of similarities between the fictional city in that show and Chicago. Sometimes the television shows get that certain something that Chicago has right, but more often than not, they get it way off. The sitcom My Boys is a perfect example that gets it wrong (it isn’t really THAT far into the suburbs for a character who lives there to meet up with friends in the city).
The new cop drama known as The Chicago Code debuted on Fox February 7. It is a show that manages to get it right. Yes, it does some of the same sins that other shows set in Chicago have done, but it manages to get past those things and get down to some powerful storytelling. Even the actors who are not from Chicago manage to get the accent right and the mannerisms.
The show stars Jennifer Beals who makes a smart choice as the character Teresa Colvin. She is Chicago’s first female police superintendent. She also has a mission of cleaning up the Chicago Police Department and in taking down a powerful and corrupt alderman, Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo). She is a great choice because Beals is a Chicago native and she had only to dip back into her own upbringing to find the character. She hits it note perfect.
Helping her in her crusade against corruption is a homicide cop with a particular dislike for swearing. While this may be a stretch for anyone who has actually met a Chicago cop, the character seems real. This character is named Jarek Wysocki, because you always need a Polish cop in a story set in Chicago right after you establish that there are Irish ones. Wysocki is played by Australian actor Jason Clarke. Like so many actors these days, he manages to wrangle the harsh Chicago accent and does a serviceable job as a Chicago cop.
If there is one character that seems a bit out of place it might be Lindo’s as the Alderman. He doesn’t even try to affect a Chicago accent, but that is a small thing. He manages to portray menace and power and that is very much a Chicago Alderman trait and a good thing for anyone portraying a villain.
One thing that The Chicago Code does is get the idea that Chicago is a city filled with corruption. I have lived in Chicago nearly all of my life and I knew from an early age that this city ran on bribes and pay-for-play. I knew from a young age that you could only work for the city if you knew someone already working for it. Whenever a new corruption investigation or news story would pop up, it was never a surprise for me. I doubt it would be for anyone who grew up here.
Yes, the writers seem to want, desperately, to establish their Chicago cred. They have to mention the Cubs and various cross-streets. They throw out the names of restaurants and praise the skyline. The throw out Chicago history to show that they know there is some great history here. However, it is the acting and the storytelling that manages to push this story past the mediocre.
The show was written by Shawn Ryan who grew up in nearby Rockford, Illinois and also brought The Shield to television. Someone should set a show there, actually, as there are a lot of interesting stories to be told in that sad little city. He knows his stuff and manages to set the right tone, create some solid three-dimensional characters, and then give them a great story to act out.
Despite the fact that The Chicago Code basks in Chicago’s corruption, I am proud that this story is filmed here. I am also proud that they have used real Chicago actors. I am mostly proud that someone has made a solid, well done, well acted and well written television show about my home town. I hope that the show finds an audience and gets the chance it deserves.