‘The Chicago Code’ – ‘Wild Onions’: Hot in the city

Senior Television Writer
04.11.11 46 Comments


A review of tonight’s “The Chicago Code” coming up just as soon as I’m 50 cents prettier…

The language of the modern cop drama – or, at least, the semi-serialized form of which “The Chicago Code” is an example – was essentially invented by NBC’s seminal ’80s show “Hill Street Blues.” Parts of that show haven’t aged terribly well, but if you go back and watch it, you can see how its DNA filtered into not only later Bochco shows like “NYPD Blue,” but “Homicide,” “The Shield” and even “The Wire.”

In many ways, “Wild Onions” felt like it could have been an episode of “Hill Street Blues,” with very minimal tweaking required to fit it to that show’s characters and fictional city (which was largely modeled on Chicago). That speaks, again, to the durability of what Bochco, Michael Kozoll, David Milch and company did back in the ’80s, but also to the fact that “The Chicago Code” still doesn’t entirely feel like it has its own identity yet. I like the show and its various pieces quite a bit, but where previous Shawn Ryan shows came out fully formed, “The Chicago Code” still seems to be figuring out its strengths and its weaknesses, its narrative style and its tone.

Plotting – at least, the plotting of the cases Jarek and Caleb take over each week – remains the show’s biggest weak spot, so it helped that “Wild Onions” was much more interested in atmosphere than story. I don’t know that it entirely sold me on why a Chicago heat wave is so much worse than what hits, say, New York in early August, but it came close at times, and the vignette-driven approach to much of the episode allowed us to get a better sense of how the police department functions on a day like this, how Isaac and Vonda get along (and why Vonda is suddenly willing to make Isaac more than her partner), what Gibbons does when he’s not being evil, etc.

I liked all of that stuff, as well as Teresa getting to know her new driver Ray, though I’ll be curious to see where the show intends to go with that. It’s an unfortunate fact that the default relationship between any attractive male/female pairing on television ultimately leads to romance (see Isaac and Vonda, for instance), and there were definite moments when Teresa and Ray seemed to be on the verge of flirting. I’d like to think that this is really just about the superintendent dropping her guard and letting somebody else replace Antonio (who was her protege but never her love interest), because that’s more interesting and less predictable. (One of the reasons I like the Teresa/Jarek banter scenes so much is that there’s never any sexual tension to them; they’re just two former partners who are now on different political footing, even if he often forgets that.)

Jarek and Caleb’s case was, unsurprisingly, the part of the episode I was least invested in. I feel like the show keeps coming right up to the edge of telling us what makes Caleb tick besides being a boy wonder, but it never quite gets there. Caleb being unable to enjoy the victory because the orphaned kid is going into the system was a nice moment, but one that pretty much any character (on this show, or any other cop show) could have played. I like Matt Lauria, but I’m getting impatient waiting for the other half of the show’s main partnership to be defined.

Liam seeing the good side of Gibbons, on the other hand, was very interesting – the show never goes wrong when Delroy Lindo’s involved – and I appreciated the moment where Liam’s cop training kicked in and he went to save the old woman at risk to his cover. The show needs to be careful about maintaining some kind of emotional continuity for Liam – when last we saw him, he was determined to get Gibbons at all costs because of what Gibbons did to him with the man killed in the arson fire – and I hope there’s not a whiplash where one week Liam hates the guy, the next he wonders if he’s really okay, and back and forth. I’m not saying that Gibbons can’t be complicated (because he is and should be), nor that Liam’s feelings about him can’t be the same; I just don’t want a jarring back-and-forth with no real transition.

What did everybody else think?

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