‘The Chicago Code’ – ‘O’Leary’s Cow’: Forget it, Jarek. It’s Chinatown.

Senior Television Writer
03.08.11 38 Comments


A review of last night’s “The Chicago Code” coming up just as soon as I inform you that you may have a stalker…

“The Chicago Code” is going to have an ongoing problem, I think, in making the cases unrelated to Teresa and Jarek’s unofficial corruption probe be as compelling as anything relating to Gibbons. In the bank robbery episode, I talked about how this show is structured similarly to “The Shield,” which also had episodic cases for the strike team (and the other detectives and/or uniform cops) to work on each week. The difference there, though, was that the strike team cases always had Vic Mackey – the target of that show’s corruption investigation, as well as its most compelling character – at the center of them. Gibbons isn’t a cop, and while he can be brought in briefly to help out on a case like the Chinatown one, that’s the most they can do with him. And while I like Jarek and Teresa, the show is just much, much stronger when Gibbons is central to the action; I’m just not sure how plausibly the show could feature Gibbons-centric investigations each week.

All that said, I thought the episodic stuff in “O’Leary’s Cow” was a definite improvement from last week’s Bill Ayers pastiche. What separates “The Chicago Code” from your average cop show, beyond the corruption arc, is that it’s trying to depict not just how crimes are investigated, but the political ramifications of those investigations in a big, diverse, ethically-complicated city. So it made sense to have Teresa so heavily involved in dealing with the Mayor of Chinatown(*), and I liked seeing her have to navigate this tricky territory – and have to bring in Gibbons to help her with that. Also, giving Jarek some Chinatown backstory not only led to a more complicated resolution to the case, but gave better justification for why he took it on in the first place. As I said last time, Jarek’s dual responsibilities – investigate Gibbons while simultaneously bigfooting in on any case he sees fit – don’t always seem like they should be part of the same show, but if he has a personal stake in a job, it works better.

(*) Played by Franois Chau, best known as “Lost” scientist Pierre Chang, who was tasked to study and harness the island’s strange electromagnetic energy. I don’t know if it was an intentional wink to that show or not, but I had to laugh at the scene where Jarek sarcastically complained about the electromagnetic current in Chinatown that erases videotape.

Meanwhile, we got to learn more about Teresa’s background and family, in a subplot that brought in Rockmond Dunbar from the previous Shawn Ryan/Tim Minear show, “Terriers.” The character of Teresa as introduced in the first couple of episodes is one who would be a loner – who would have been so focused on her career that she never had time for or perhaps even interest in starting a family – and here we see her forced to choose between that job and her relationship with her sister, brother-in-law and their kids. And it neatly tied into Teresa’s ongoing anti-corruption mission, so it didn’t just feel like a personal story for the sake of it.

I do feel like the writers are still figuring out how best to use Jennifer Beals. When Teresa’s being a politician – smiling(**) and commanding the room and not letting anybody see her sweat – Beals is terrific. She’s also very strong when Teresa is sad, as she was in that final scene in the FBI building’s lobby. But when she has to play angry and indignant, the performance becomes much iffier. The nature of that character and her mission means she’ll frequently be put in position to do so, so either we have to hope she gets a better handle on how to portray Teresa’s temper, or the writers and directors start asking her to internalize a little more – to have her, as she so often does with Gibbons, act like she’s still happy and in control even as she’s furious. She’s a much stronger character when she’s catching flies with honey rather than vinegar.

(**) Lotta great dental work on display in this cast, as Beals, Delroy Lindo and Matt Lauria all have great, bright, winning smiles, all of them featured last night.

Some other thoughts:

• After lurking mostly in the background for the last few weeks, Liam finally became prominent again, dealing with one of the classic tropes of undercover fiction, in which the cop has to commit a crime in order to maintain his cover. I’m interested to see where they go with the body that was in the house, and now Liam has a more personal stake in this.

• Also, I can’t help but notice that Liam consistently meets with either Teresa or Jarek in some of the most scenic, beautiful spots in Chicago. He’s not just an undercover cop, but a tourism industry billboard.

• Still waiting on some Caleb backstory, but at least he got a small subplot to call his own this week, striking out with pretty Natalie, who likes him but has an understandable policy against dating cops. Odds that Caleb turns out to be as persistent with her as Luke Cafferty was with Becky on “Friday Night Lights”?

• Always reassuring to see the name Clark Johnson as the credited director. He and Shawn Ryan clearly work well together.

• Every episode title is a reference to a piece of Chicago history (in this case, to the cow that, as legend has it, kicked over the lantern that started the Great Chicago Fire), and I noticed at least one other nod to Chicago film history with Jarek’s “No, he was on a mission from God” line at the end of the teaser. Any “Blues Brothers” reference is a good one, in my book.

What did everybody else think?

Around The Web