CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
TV Review: Television Has Evolved Beyond NBC’s ‘Chicago PD’
There’s a fine line between old-fashioned and stale. Some will look at “Chicago PD,” NBC’s spin-off of “Chicago Fire” from mega-producer Dick Wolf, and say that it’s the kind of tried-and-true cop show that they don’t really make that often any more. I would say there’s a reason they don’t make them any more.
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
“Chicago PD” has some heartfelt, decent performances, especially at its center, but it misses the opportunity to really get to the dirt under the fingernails of the cops who try to keep our streets safe in one of the most increasingly dangerous cities in the world. The fact is that Chicago has a real crime problem and this tepid spin-off doesn’t get close to addressing it in a fashion more realistic than a daytime soap. Yes, some audiences will be drawn to this for the very melodramatic qualities that I feel shows like “Hill Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue,” and “The Shield” have permanently destroyed in the world of TV cop shows. Not this viewer.
Photo credit: NBC
Detective Sergeant Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) is a cop on the edge, man. Is he good? Is he bad? Is there anything original about this character? Beghe does his best to make Voight tough in a “Chicago way” but the guy feels like such a cliche. He’s clearly not quite Vic Mackey but he’s willing to bend the law for what he thinks is right. Of course, he’s under suspicion from internal affairs and has trouble keeping the trust of his team, which he hand-picked. Team members include Detective Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda, who handles spin-off duties from “Chicago Fire”), Iraq War veteran Jay Halstead (Jesse Lee Soffer), Halstead’s tough-but-sexy partner Erin Lindsay (Sophia Bush), undercover old-timer Alvin Olinsky (Elias Koteas), and newbie Kyle Ruzek (Patrick John Flueger). There are other supporting charactes on the fringe, at the station, and in the officers’ lives but those are the core cops hoping to become household names.
Photo credit: NBC
The first few episodes center on a murderous drug dealer who becomes personally involved with the home life of one of the cops in ways that I won’t spoil here. The creators of the show do seem willing to push boundaries in terms of violence, recognizing perhaps that a show about Chicago cops is going to need to have a certain dark edge given the true crime statistics skyrocketing in the city we know and love.
The show is almost more frustrating than usual for the regular hints at what it could have been if (in all likelihood) producer’s notes didn’t keep pulling it back into the cliched cop show routines of the ’70s and ’80s. Not only would it have been nice to use Chicago as more than just a backdrop but the ensemble here is actually stronger than average. Beghe is a gruff, interesting lead actor while Koteas makes everything he does more interesting. Young actors like Flueger and Bush are more than capable of handling more complex characters than it feels like this show has any interest in giving them.
On one hand, I don’t blame NBC and Dick Wolf for embracing the old-fashioned cop show. “Chicago Fire” is an old-fashioned melodrama and so I guess this is what we should have expected from its spin-off. It’s a show that’s safe, easy to digest, and predictable, which, sadly, is what audiences are coming to expect from network dramatic programming. I was just hoping that maybe we’d get something new this time instead of something so predictable.