The police drama may not be prime time's most original genre but when executed with intelligence and sophistication, viewers don't care whether they've seen this backdrop before. Fox's "The Chicago Code" (9 p.m. Monday, WPGH) is such a series. Smart and well-acted with clearly defined heroes and villains -- all painted in varying shades of gray -- this Chicago-set show feels familiar and new at the same time.
Starring: Jennifer Beals, Jason Clarke.
This week's well-made pilot episode -- written by series creator Shawn Ryan ("The Shield," "The Unit") -- clearly and efficiently introduces all the show's characters, who each narrate a portion of the hour before a shocking-yet-artful get-'em-back-next-week twist.
Chicago's new top cop, Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) seeks to root out city government corruption, beginning with alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo), who may be responsible for murdering a whistle-blower. Colvin enlists the aid of her former partner, Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke, "Brotherhood"), who comes across as the anti-Sipowicz because he doesn't like profanity.
But Wysocki is no pushover. He's generally intent on doing things his way and goes through partners like tissues until the arrival of preppy, well-intended Caleb Evers (Matt Lauria, "Friday Night Lights"). Together they end up on Colvin's anti-corruption task force along with an undercover cop. But Wysocki is dubious about what effect Colvin can have.
"I'm just a lonely homicide detective and I can't fix this city's plumbing and neither can you," Wysocki tells Colvin.
"One toilet at a time," she replies.
In some respects, "The Chicago Code" plays like "The Wire" lite. The shades of gray among the characters in this series are not quite as stark and the cops are allowed to have minor victories. It's not as cynical or dark a show as "The Wire," but like that HBO landmark, "The Chicago Code" wants to shine a light on lawbreakers in government.
The series refuses to christen any of its characters as the lead but Colvin and Wysocki, who respect one another but butt heads over how best to bring about change, generally share that role.
In addition to his new partner, Caleb, Wysocki also keeps tabs on his niece, Vonda (Devin Kelley), who is also a cop. She has a partner (Todd Williams) Wysocki distrusts. Wysocki also has a young fiancee -- but he's sleeping with his ex-wife.
For fans of Mr. Ryan's "The Shield," "The Chicago Code" is a softer, more broadcast-ready series. It's not as risky but it is enjoyable in a way similar to CBS's cop show "Blue Bloods." Both shows offer comfortable takes on a familiar genre but "The Chicago Code" has enough creative flourishes to make it palatable even for viewers drawn to grittier basic cable series.
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published February 6, 2011 5:00 AM