Chicago PD: Wednesdays at 10 Eastern on NBC
Some show runners have vast TV universes that span multiple shows, but few have some as expansive as Dick Wolf. The Law and Order creator managed to place three shows (over two networks) within that franchise (with passive connections to shows as far flung as Arrested Development and Sesame Street through Richard Belzer’s Detective Munch). However, now in partnership with NBC, Wolf is attempting to create a second universe, trading in New York for the second city as his sophomore hit Chicago Fire gains a complementary show in Chicago PD.
Chicago PD follows both uniformed cops and the undercover intelligence unit as they pursue the major criminals on the streets of the windy city. The squad is headed up by Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) and Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda, playing a character that loosely ties into Chicago Fire), who follow the renegade vs. by-the-book dynamic that is commonplace in most police-related fiction. These men lead a squad that includes a veteran undercover cop who happens to be the bosses closest confidant (Elias Koteas), a young brash detective (Jesse Lee Soffer), his female partner whom Voight treats like a daughter (Sophia Bush), and a cadet getting his first big break (Kyle Ruzek).
So how does it turn out? Chicago PD plays in the ball field of the corrupt cop, but instead of making one cop corrupt, it turns almost all of it’s field agents into loose cannons– whether through corrupt bargaining with street gangs, cold clocking cat callers, or stealing rings from dead people. Even the cops that are seemingly not corrupt tend to have black hat tendencies such as withholding vital intelligence that leads to an officer’s death.
Speaking of dying officers, Chicago PD ends up leaning on shock like it’s a crutch. The pilot focuses on wall to wall action and plot development, and the pacing tends to lead to major developments coming down the pike in bursts, often leading to diminishing returns by the end of the episode. Similarly, by my account there were at least four no holds barred beat downs over the course of the show, implying the show seems to think that tons of violence will be some sort of ratings panacea. The end result is a show that seems to generate it’s characters solely for the purpose of being acted upon rather than creating characters who can drive the action.
That being said, it’s when Chicago PD stops taking itself so seriously that the show shines brightest. For a relatively rag-tag group of officers (the unit has existed for eight weeks as of the start of the show), there seems to be a strong familial attitude among those in the intelligence unit from minute one, and the chemistry within the unit is a pretty strong fit, although one would expect such a thing when one considers that the show uses every stock character trope that the sub-genre happens to offer (except for the veteran cop who’s one day away from retirement).
The Final Verdict: Chicago PD goes out of it’s way to create a gritty universe, but all of it’s grit feels there solely for grits sake. It’s a shame because if they let the characters breathe and bounce off of each other a little more in lieu of the blatantly flow chart like show that made it to TV (which is a touch ironic because Chicago PD isn’t built on being a full blown procedural like CSI or NCIS). Skip this one unless you really like cop shows, though even then you’re better off watching The Shield on DVD.