‘The Chicago Code’ – ‘Mike Royko’s Revenge’: Go for the head

Senior Television Writer
05.24.11 70 Comments


A review of “The Chicago Code” finale coming up just as soon as I still have a working VCR…

Barring some kind of miracle appearance by Netflix or another white knight to be determined(*), “Mike Royko’s Revenge” was the end of “The Chicago Code,” and a far more fitting, permanent end than I think many of us might have expected at the start of the series.

(*) Many people have asked why “The Chicago Code” couldn’t easily migrate to FX, or to another cable channel in the way that “Southland” did. While it’s not impossible – again, “Southland” did it – it’s really very hard. For one thing, TV executives usually prefer to rise and fail with their own product, so unless a show is extraordinary in some way and/or a far better fit for a new channel than it was for its own, not too many people are going to be interested. For another, the cost structure on network vs. cable is so different that any network show would have to drastically slash its budget to survive that way. “Southland” was an unusual example, in that there were six episodes made on a network budget, and already paid for by that network, and that TNT could therefore have for a song to see how the ratings might be. And then once TNT started producing its own episodes, the show had to ditch more than half its cast. I’m not saying Shawn Ryan can’t find another buyer under any circumstances, but it’s not going to be easy (and, as he said on Twitter last night, if there’s not a significant ratings bump for the finale, it almost certainly won’t happen).

I had assumed that the attempt to bring down Gibbons was going to be a story arc for the life of the series – and, as a result, was concerned with how the show would keep that character in play while not making Teresa and Jarek seem too ineffectual. Instead, Gibbons goes down, takes Killian down with him, Liam (or Chris, I suppose) completes his undercover assignment, and Teresa gets a big win to at least temporarily keep the jackals at bay.

I asked Shawn Ryan about how a second season might have worked, and while he was reluctant to say too much until he was absolutely sure the show couldn’t find another home, he did say this:

We planned all along to wrap up the Gibbons story this season. In fact, we signed Delroy Lindo to only a 1 year contract. Having said that, Delroy loved the role and we talked about bringing him back for 2-3 episodes in Season 2. But the main thrust of Season 2 would be a brand new story with a couple of new characters. I always envisioned it a bit like the old show Wiseguy — new villains and new characters every 10-13 episodes.

 I can see why Ryan, Tim Minear and company wouldn’t have wanted to reveal that at the start of the series. Lindo was giving the show’s most highly-praised performance, and if you go in knowing that it’s going to be a bunch of arcs that run a season or half-season, it’s less of a surprise that the good guys are able to get the big win this early.

On the other hand, knowing what I know now, I do think the show could have handled some of the middle chapters of the arc a bit better.  If we weren’t just treading water to keep Gibbons in play for years to come, they could have really blown the doors off of this thing rather than spending many episodes focusing largely on unrelated (and at times uninteresting) cases, with Gibbons just lurking in the background. But that would have been a different kind of show; based on some of the interviews Shawn did after the cancellation, I get the sense that if he had a mulligan (or if he somehow gets to do another season), he would have done a show that was more heavily serialized, rather than trying to do a half-and-half arrangement.(**)

(**) As several of you have mentioned over the season, “The Shield” actually had a lot of standalone elements each week, with even the Strike Team usually working some kind of case that would be resolved within the hour. The difference – aside from Vic Mackey ultimately being a more compelling character than Jarek Wysocki (and being something of the villain of his own story) – was that that show almost always had Vic trying to deal with some ongoing crisis at the same time he had to close this particular case. So his standalone stories always felt like part of the arc, in a way – they were the thing that was getting in the way of him fixing his latest escalating mess. Whereas a lot of “The Chicago Code” cases were asked to be compelling simply as police procedurals, and that’s a much harder thing to pull off in this day and age of 87 other cop shows.

As for how the episode went down, while I’m not sure I buy how things that Vincent Wysocki uncovered as a dirty cop would be admissable in court 15 years later, I thought the revelation of what Vincent was doing was in some ways even more satisfying than seeing Teresa slap the bracelets on Gibbons. As we’ve talked about, Jarek could be self-righteous to the point of insufferability, but that paid off so well with his discovery that the brother he idolized and patterned his attitude after wasn’t nearly as squeaky-clean as he had thought. Not only was Jason Clarke terrific in the scene where Jarek watched the video – and later when he told his dad(***) and Vonda – but there was a sense that going forward, this would have been a somewhat changed, chastened Jarek Wysocki, who wouldn’t be so certain about everything after discovering just how wrong he was about the thing he believed in the most. (And yet the show didn’t completely sell out Vincent, who was, after all, the instrument for taking down Gibbons.)

(***) Played by the always-welcome character actor Chelcie Ross, who made such an impression on “Mad Men” a couple of seasons ago as Connie Hilton.

I also loved the little running thread about Teresa’s lack of a social life – or the perceived one, anyway. She works such an all-consuming job that the only men she meets are ones she can’t date for one reason or another, and ultimately the only way she can even have fun for a night is to pose as a conventioneer for an out-of-towner who’s not likely to recognize the local police chief. A good humanizing storyline, and Jennifer Beals was excellent in that last scene at the bar.

And at this point, what can you say about Delroy Lindo? I’d have missed him as an ongoing presence in the hypothetical season two, but man was he great while he was around. Gibbons’ bravado as Teresa and Jarek dragged him out of the committee meeting was perfect: half show to keep his enemies from thinking they’ve broken him, half genuine belief that in this city, with his reputation, he can beat any rap.

This was not a perfect season of a show, but it finished very well (including a nice final montage set to “I Dream of Chicago” by Parlours), and I’d like to believe that in the crazy parallel universe where FOX finds a way to keep it (or where another channel chooses to pick it up), a second season would have been less about potential and more about execution. It was what it was for these 13 episodes, but there was enough good stuff – particularly in these last few weeks – that I wish I could see more.

What did everybody else think?

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