Monday night I watched the premiere of a new cop show called The Chicago Code. One review I read said that it, “wasn’t a game changer,” but was still pretty good.
Most reviews have been pretty good.
I was interetsed because it covers a lot of the same territory we tried to cover on The Bridge – the complicated stuff about police corruption, politics and how hard it can be to “work the streets.” This appraoch naturally leads to longer story arcs, more serialization and, inevitably, comparisons to The Wire.
So, I was watching The Chicago Code and I was very jealous that they had such a big budget and were able to dig into longer story arcs but there was something missing, something I liked about The Wire that I didn’t see here but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I was sure it was also missing on The Bridge and most (all) other cop shows.
And then it hit me.
All the characters are either cops or criminals.
Well, of course, it’s a cop show, that’s what they’re about.
But just crime? My favourite season of The Wire is Season Two – the dock workers. For a lot of reasons, but mostly because those are guys I know well and can relate to. My father was in a union (an installer for the phone company) that was slowly bled dry by the company switching to sub-contractors. I really don’t know if that’s right or wrong in the big picture, I can only see it from my perspective where a lot of social stability and long-term planning that comes from a steady (but let’s be honest, small) paycheck disappeared and a lot of scrambling and insecurity ate away at the working class culture I grew up in.
Of course the dock workers were wrong to get into bed with drug smugglers to try and raise the money to bribe the politicians to get the harbour dredged so the newer, bigger ships could be unloaded there and they could keep their jobs. But I understood their motivations and their feelings that in the big picture what they were doing was small and wouldn’t really make much difference and there we are again, back to The Big Chill and have you ever gone a week without a justification?
But then a woman’s body was found in the harbour and eleven more died in a container on the dock and watching Frank Sobotka get crushed under the guilt was some powerful TV. At times I forgot The Wire was a cop show at all.
(as I was writing this I watched the trailer for Season Two, posted below, and the tag line is Bunk saying, “It’s all about self-preservation, Jimmy.” That’s a nice, clear statement of the season’s theme)
Other people I know prefer the seasons set in the school or the newspaper or “the corners,” but what everyone who likes the show appreciates about it is the big canvas on which it was painted.
The Wire was a game changer because it wasn’t about cops solving crimes, it was about a whole city dealing with a whole city’s problems. There were cops and criminals and politicians, as there are on The Chicago Code, but there were also a lot of people who were just caught up in events – that whole six degrees of seperation.
Bringing in the larger picture is also something that Southland has been pretty good at, though I haven’t seen any episodes of the current season because it’s now on some weird pay-TV channel out of western Canada that I have to pay a lot more for. Oh well, someday on DVD, I’m sure.
So, The Chicago Code is a network show and is trying to move into this ‘bigger canvas’ territory and I’m going to keep watching and hope it gets the freedom from the network to do that. Because if my experience is anything to go by that writer’s room is getting flooded with notes that say things like, “wrap up the story by the end of the episode,” and “have fewer characters,” and “do we really need so many sub-plots?”
And maybe my favourite note, “This needs stronger act outs (which means cliffhangers before every commercial break or viewers wil lose interest) and the beginning of each act needs to be a quick summation of what happened in the last act (because networks seem to think viewers can’t remember what they saw two minutes ago).”
And I wonder if any network note has ever asked what the theme of the season will be?