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NBC has created an empire of TV shows thanks to its successful Chicago franchise, which kicked off with Chicago Fire back in 2012 and expanded over the next few years to include Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med. Now, the franchise has expanded once more to include Chicago Justice, which will tackle a team of prosecutors and investigators in Cook County, Illinois. A big question going into Chicago Justice was if it could stand on its own amidst the other three established shows. Now, it looks like the answer is an affirmative for NBC.
Chicago Justice follows the Special Prosecutions Bureau team of attorneys and the special investigators who make sure that they have all the information and evidence they need to close their cases. Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) is the ambitious Deputy Chief of the SPB whose dedication to justice is often more of a crusade than a job and puts him at odds with head State's Attorney Mark Jefferies (Carl Weathers). When the team comes across a case of possible police brutality, Stone and Jefferies must take politics into consideration as they figure out how to proceed.
Young Assistant State's Attorney Anna Valdez is impassioned about her position, and her enthusiasm sometimes rubs investigators Antonio Dawson (Chicago P.D.'s Jon Seda) and Laura Nagel (Joelle Carter) the wrong way. When Dawson is faced with a legal case against one of his former Chicago Police Department colleagues, tensions rise at the SPB, and they need to figure out what really happened before public prejudice sways the jury.
The Chicago Justice production team is largely comprised of Chicago and Law & Order franchise veterans, so it's no surprise that the format of the series is quite similar to its predecessors. Venerable TV show creator Dick Wolf created Chicago Justice, and it's possible that his magic network TV touch will be enough to turn Justice into yet another hit for NBC. Luckily, although the series definitely shows some formatting similarities to the other Chicago series, it does not feel like yet another version of Law & Order.
My biggest fear going into the first standalone episode of Chicago Justice was that it simply wouldn't make sense to anybody who didn't know everything there is to know about the existing Chicago universe. Promotion for the show looked interesting enough, but it was going to be hard to follow if it wasn't a fresh start for new or even casual viewers of the franchise. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case with Justice.
The majority of the characters were created for the legal spinoff, although several were actually introduced into the Chicago world back in May 2016 with a backdoor pilot episode of Chicago P.D. We also got a closer look at the new characters during the Chicago Justice leg of last week's massive three-hour, four-show Chicago crossover. Still, if you missed the backdoor pilot last spring and didn't catch the crossover, you should still be fine with the first episode of Justice in its regular standalone time slot.
I actually think that the most successful element of this first standalone hour was the fact that it didn't feel like a pilot episode. Pilots are notoriously clunky as they introduce characters and try to cram in as much backstory and exposition as possible. Chicago Justice showed rather than told a lot about what makes the characters tick, and the Chicago format with the legal twist is straightforward enough that no valuable screentime was wasted in explaining every little thing. Do I know everything there is to know about the Special Prosecutions Bureau or the characters' backgrounds or Stone's issues with his dad? No. But the episode doesn't feel lacking for showing restraint with the exposition.
That said, there is one area that could have used more exposition for viewers who haven't watched Chicago P.D. Jon Seda is a former P.D. regular who made the jump to Justice, and a lot of the drama in the episode came from his character's connections to the Chicago Police Department. For those who don't know his past, his reactions to some of the twists will likely feel like overreactions, and the drama veers into melodrama territory. Seda's performance isn't bad; it just might be a bit much for any who don't know his character's history.
Carl Weathers is a highlight of the cast, and Philip Winchester settled into his role as Peter Stone as the episode passed. Monica Barbaro didn't make much of an impression on me, but she may grow into her character when she gets more screen time. Joelle Carter definitely deserves credit for holding her own in scenes with Jon Seda when he lashed out as Dawson. While the cast isn't especially remarkable, they kept me engaged in the plot.
Chicago Justice has all the pieces in place to become another stellar installment in NBC's Chicago franchise, and the series' time slot debut is a solid showcase for newcomers as well as Chicago fans. All things considered, it's one of the most successful pilots I've watched this midseason.