As a born and bred Chicagoan (and one who still lives in the area), it’s always a treat to note movies and television shot in our beautiful city. Chicago’s colorful history of power politics and crime (and the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive), make an interesting setting for Fox’s new crime series The Chicago Code. Created by Rockford, Illinois native Shawn Ryan (The Shield), the series explores the seamier side of our fair city, far from the lights of Michigan Avenue (although we do get glimpses) and into the confluence of politics and crime.
Chicago makes a great backdrop for any movie or television series. We have one of the most beautiful skylines in the world: a mix of old and new—from the elaborate architecture of the Wrigley Building along Wacker Drive to the monolithic alabaster of the Amoco Building; the stateliness of the Water Tower and Marshall Fields (I still refuse to call it Macy’s) to the sleek blackness of the John Hancock building and Sears…Willis…Tower.
Our shoreline stretches from south to north lined with parkland; expensive apartments, homes and condos have to live on the other side of Lake Shore Drive. The Chicago River (dyed Kelly green for St. Patrick’s Day) slices the downtown as it heads for Lake Michigan, giving the city a series of functional, yet appealing bridges and the dual level Wacker Drive (claustrophobic feeling Lower Wacker is a favorite for movie car chases, used to great effect in 2009’s The Dark Knight).
But Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, even beyond the southside-northside divide. There are Polish neighborhoods, Irish neighborhoods, Indian neighborhoods, Jewish neighborhoods, African-American neighborhoods, Hispanic neighborhoods. There are neighborhoods that reflect the culture of the Greek, or Chinese, or German immigrants who populated the city. And the cultures sometimes clash (and I don’t mean just over Cubs vs. Sox). And it is in these neighborhoods that the heart of The Chicago Code resides.
The hero of the story is a Polish-American cop named Jarek Wysocki (Played by Australian actor Jason Clarke). Wysocki is a bit of a maverick, whose brother had been killed in the line of action. With an uncompromising reputation and a slight chip on his shoulder, he goes through partners quickly. Wysocki’s integrity is legendary, and it’s made him no friends among the rank and file, some of whom are not so squeaky clean. He is disliked and disdained by a lot of veterans, but he’s a good cop from a generations-long police family.
Early on in episode one, Wysocki is recruited by the new Police Chief Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), a friend and one-time lover. They share a common distaste for corruption and fat cats, so they seek out together to nail a corrupt alderman who seems to be deeply involved in the Chicago crime scene, Alderman Ronin Gibbons
(Delroy Lindo). A powerful political force in the city, and Colvin’s mentor, Gibbons thinks he can control the young female top cop to his own ends. But quite to the contrary, Colvin believes herself beholden to no one but the citizens of Chicago. And herein lies one of the series major dramatic conflicts.
New to the job and eager to rid the force of corruption, she quickly makes enemies of half the police force by putting out to pasture several veterans, whom she believes are on the take. Her earnestness to do her job right and clean up the city does not come without a very high cost, right from the start. But the cost doesn’t deter her, and with Wysocki as her trusted confidante working cases the way he chooses, they set out to clean up the city.
Having seen the first three episodes, I find The Chicago Code engaging, and with a lot of potential. The petite Jennifer Beals makes an unlikely top cop, but she makes it work with a Chicago toughness that seems to come natural to the area native. She’s no stereotype, bringing to the table the right amount of bravado, arrogance and tenderness.
In Wysocki, she has good partner as her maverick ally/protector/henchman. He’s a clean cop in a city of the corrupt. Clarke plays the Polish-American South Sider well, but his accent (especially in the first couple of episodes) seems more Boston than South Side of Chicago to my North Side ears, but I doubt it’s noticeable to many outside this small stretch of geography. There are enough Chicago references and inside jokes to make any Chicagoan smile, even if the Cubs vs. Sox/South Side vs. North Side feud is a bit cliché for most natives.
One of the things I especially liked about The Chicago Code over its first three episodes is that despite being on the side of right, our heroes can be wrong—and it can cost. With two appealing leads in Clarke and Beals, and Lindo’s disingenuous creepiness as Alderman Gibbons, I think Fox may have a winning combination. There is defnite chemistry between Beals and Clarke, and I’m curious to see where that goes. Populated with an interesting array of secondary characters: cops, crooks, and family members, The Chicago Code is definitely worth a peek.
The Chicago Code airs on Fox, Monday nights following House, M.D. at 9:00 p.m. ET.