TV Review: The Chicago Code

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Here's the thing about Fox'sThe Chicago Code: It doesn't feel like a network show. I mean that as a compliment, obviously, but one's expectations of a cop show on Fox are vastly different from what one would expect from, say, FX. AndThe Chicago Codehas the gritty, big canvas feel of an FX show.

Forget the wacky cops or case-of-the-week plots;The Chicago Code, from Shawn Ryan (who knows a thing or two about FX dramas, having createdThe Shield) follows the city's first female police superintendent Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) as she tries to nail Alderman Gibbons (Delroy Lindo, turning his dangerous, smarmy charm up to 11) with the help of unorthodox detective Jareck Wysocki (Jason Clarke). Hey, if having the requisite unorthodox cop results in a cop show as detailed and edgy asThe Chicago Code, we'll take it and we'll like it.

The joys ofThe Chicago Code, much like the joys of CBS'sThe Good Wife, come from the writers' refusal to shy away from the knotty interoffice politics that keep Chicago politicians in the tabloids. As Teresa tries to clean out her department by demoting substandard cops, she inadvertently puts Wysocki's life in danger, as his fellow policemen freeze him out for allegedly supplying her with names. And the labyrinth ways in which Alderman Gibbons stays one step in front of Teresa are both over-the-top and chilling.

The cast all manage to avoid sounding like cop clichés, even as they deliver the usual lines to be found in the genre. Clarke, particularly, manages to be both a tough-talking cop and a loyal friend without ever sinking into the mire of saint. And somehow Beals has made Teresa into a fully believable woman, her big eyes hinting at the mental wheels that are always turning.

This is the kind of big-picture show that hasn't done well on network television lately, with a large recurring cast and episodes that benefit from having followed the series from the start. For anyone wondering how there came to be so many cop dramas on the air when they're all alike, tune in toThe Chicago Code: Shawn Ryan and company are reminding us on a weekly basis what a good cop show can be. Even on network TV.

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