While I’m not typically a huge fan of cop dramas, my extreme enjoyment of the unfortunately short-lived FX drama Terriers had me interested in Shawn Ryan’s next small screen project. I went into The Chicago Code with high hopes and found the series exceeding my expectations in quality and entertainment.

The Chicago Code follows Chicago cop Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) and superintendent Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) as they attempt to make Chicago a better place by tackling crime and corruption. Through years of hard work and discipline, Colvin has recently earned herself the position of being the first female superintendent in the city’s history. That’s taking some getting used to for just about every cop in the city, all of whom now answer to her. Meanwhile, Wysocki’s built himself a reputation for being a solid detective, as well as one whose partners tend not to stick around.

While Colvin attempts to get situated and established in her new position, she commissions Wysocki to a more flexible beat by offering him the opportunity to chose the cases that “really matter.” He’s been recently partnered with Caleb Evers (Matt Lauria), a new detective hoping to prove himself, and appreciative of the opportunity to work alongside such a well-known and respected detective.

Wysocki’s personal life is full of baggage and closely tied in to his professional life. His brother was a cop, who was killed in the line of duty. Wysocki’s niece Vonda (Devin Kelley) is a rookie cop looking to follow in her father and uncle’s footsteps. This apparently includes mixing her business and personal life with the close relationship she has with her partner Isaac (Todd Williams).

The opposition to Wysocki and Colvin comes in the form of a well-established politician named Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo). Wysocki and Colvin recognize that Gibbons may be behind or even at the top of some of the city’s biggest crime problems but making their way through the web of corruption proves to be a tricky task from the start. It seems this will be the overlying story-arc for the series, or at the very least, the first season. There will also be other crimes to solve, as evidenced in the second episode when Wysocki is tasked to solve the murder of another cop.

There are a lot of characters and stories being introduced in the series premiere and looking at how much was packed into the first episode, I’m not only impressed by how easy it was to follow, but also by how emotionally invested I was in the characters’ stories by the premiere’s end. I attribute part of this to the voice-overs that come in throughout the episode, which give us a chance to get inside the heads of each of the main characters. The rest of the credit goes to a combination of great writing and equally great acting. There's also a subtle layer of humor worked into the show that drifts in to cut the tension without destroying it.

Wysocki’s sort of an old-school kind of cop, who loves the White Sox and dislikes swearing (which is convenient as this is network TV). Jason Clarke’s portrayal balances a sort of rough-around-the-edges charm with just the right amount of tough-guy cop that never drifts into cliché territory. Beals brings a refreshing combination of compassion and strength to her role as Colvin. Lindo doesn’t overplay the part of the villain, making Gibbons believable as a successful politician while also having a subtle sinister side that only seeps through when it’s supposed to.

Meanwhile, Matt Lauria’s portrayal of Evers works well as a detective who’s a little bit green but possesses the determination and natural ability to make him worthy of riding alongside Wysocki. I think it’s important that we like Evers, as I believe it’ll be largely through his eyes that we come to understand Wysocki’s greatest professional strengths and weaknesses as the series progresses.

The city of Chicago is a character in itself, not only because the series is filmed and set there but also because the love the main characters feel for their home territory is so completely evident from the start. Wysocki and Colvin grew up in Chicago and are motivated not by personal gain but by a genuine desire to make the city better. Those familiar with Chicago will likely appreciate the references to its history, the geography and Wysocki and Evers differing preferences in baseball teams.

I went into this series premiere with my expectations set higher than average and not only was I not disappointed, but I felt much more on board with the show from the first couple of episodes than I hoped to be. The Chicago Code appears to be as much a story about people as it is about crime-solving, which should set it apart from (and in my opinion, above) your typical crime procedural. It's smartly written and pulls you right into the story, delivering fresh characters, some intense, suspenseful moments and a compelling premise, not to mention a wonderfully utilized backdrop. This is a show you’re going to want to watch from the beginning, so check it out when it premieres next Monday (February 7, 2011 at 9 PM ET/PT on Fox).
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