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Published: Sunday, 2/6/2011

Fox comes up with a well-crafted drama in the ‘The Chicago Code'

The well-made pilot episode — written by series creator Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit) — clearly and efficiently introduces all the show's regular characters, who each take a turn narrating a portion of the hour before a shocking, get-'em-back-next-week twist that's artfully done.

Chicago's new top cop, Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), seeks to root out corruption in city government, beginning with alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo), who may be responsible for murdering a whistleblower. Colvin enlists the aid of her former partner, Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke, Brotherhood), who comes across as the anti-Andy Sipowicz (a colorful character on NYPD Blue, for those too young to remember), because he doesn't like profanity and chastises those who use it.

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 Light). 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 a show and not as dark 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 that role is generally shared by Colvin and Wysocki, who respect one another but occasionally butt heads over how best to bring about change.

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 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.

FX's modern-day Western, Justified, returns for its second season and once again reminds viewers of the value in investing in guest characters.

This story of slow-burn deputy U.S. marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) makes an effort to explore the lives of its one-episode-and-out bad guys. While most TV shows offer up straw men, Justified gives its colorful villains more shades, more depth.

The season premiere at 10 p.m. Wednesday is a little clunky as it cleans up the mess left after the show's first-season finale — the sooner the show moves beyond that, the better — but then gets on to introducing a new Harlan County crime family with a particularly ruthless matriarch, Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale, cast wonderfully against type). The Bennetts appear to be around for the long haul and the family includes three sons of varying degrees of stupidity, all full of criminal intent.

Last season's quasi-nemesis, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, The Shield), continues to lurk in the shadows while proclaiming his innocence: "Just because I've shot the occasional person doesn't mean I'm a thief."

But the show's true star is the language inspired by author Elmore Leonard, who created the Givens character in his novels. Whether it's Raylan's father wishing ill on another or Raylan himself trying to talk down a child molester, Justified is at its most engrossing when the spare dialogue erupts with dark comedic force.

"Now, look, normally I would have shot you myself the second you pulled [your gun]," Raylan tells a lawbreaker, "but I am doing my level best to avoid the paperwork and self-recrimination that comes with it. Lord knows you're the kind who makes it worth it more."

And Lord knows that kind of sharp writing makes Justified worth watching.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen writes for the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com



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