Spring 2014 Review: Chicago PD

3 Feb

Members of the PD

I need to start by saying what an awful name for a show Chicago PD is. It’s a spin-off of Chicago Fire, a name that had two meanings – the Chicago Fire Department, which the show is about, and the Chicago Fire of 1871, which wiped out much of the central city. I’m fairly confident with absolutely no evidence that that’s why the show is set in Chicago. Chicago PD, well, is about the Chicago PD. That’s it. There’s no other meaning. I suppose it’s accurate, so there’s some small credit for that, but still; try harder.

Based on my knowledge of the show and the people involved, I was expecting a mediocre show in the vein of my experience with the pilot of Chicago Fire.  Instead I got a pretty awful show that was significantly worse than my single Chicago Fire viewing.

Like Chicago Fire, Chicago PD is not a procedural as such, in which there’s a single case an episode that the whole team works on. Rather, it’s a show that has single episode elements, but features multiple-episode arcs, A and B plots, and gets to know the personal lives of its characters.

It was the opening that set me in the direction of disliking the show right from the get go. A man is in the back of a car, forcing the car’s driver to pull over in a shady part of town out of view of anyone else. Now, I’m thinking, as the show’s writers must realize, that the guy in the back of the car is a criminal and he’s going to do something bad to the driver. Nope, that’s not the case at all. The backseat driver is our main character cop, Sergeant Voight, and he threatens the driver, a drug dealer, beats him up, and puts a gun to his head to get the name of another drug dealer. He then exhorts the dealer to stay out of Chicago, literally using the words, “Stay out of my city.” If I didn’t hate this character from the insane extralegal actions he took which were ridiculously unethical and uncalled for, and could endanger any convictions he later hopes to get from the information the driver reveals, I would have hated him just for the “Stay out of my city” line.

There are other aspects I didn’t like about the show but this is the biggest problem in a nutshell. I absolutely despised this primary protagonist, Voight, who is the sergeant for our primary team and is supposed to be some sort unorthodox, renegade hero; you know the kind, who doesn’t play by the rules but gets things done.  Please, television, enough with that character and more cops that, like real cops, largely play by the actual rules so they can get actual convictions that don’t get laughed out of court. Beyond just that though, he came off as an aggressive, violent asshole.

Chicago PD is emotionally maniupuliative, or it wants to be, but it’s not even good at it. There’s two major moments at the end of the first episode that are supposed to be heart-wrenching but didn’t work, and more so than just because it’s the first episode and it’s hard to feel anything for characters during a first episode.

Voight shows the soft interior under his gruff self when he helps an inner city black youth who is too deep in the drug trade and wants out when he realizes how dangerous it is. In exchange for Voight’s kindness, the boy gives up a crucial piece of info about another drug dealer after convincing himself out loud to Voight that what he’s doing isn’t snitching, so it’s okay. It’s certainly not for me to say what’s realistic and what isn’t, but it seems ham-handed and it definitely seems, if not racist (which I don’t think it is) than, well, an awkward simplistic scene where this kind white authority figure is simply helping out this poor black youth, and everything’s now okay.

People who write Chicago PD, please watch The Wire. Everything that’s wrong with your show can be found in the differences between the two. Now, obviously very little is going to match up to The Wire, and not every cop show has to follow everything The Wire does well to be good. Still, in every way that The Wire largely rings true, doesn’t feel like television, is complex, and interesting, and well-written, is everything Chicago PD is not. It’s simple TV that just feels crazily obsolete in a post-Wire universe. Even the bureaucratic battles between two units which features prominently in the first episode of Chicago PD feels trumped up, unnecessarily loud, and false. There are heroes and villains, and really nothing in between, and yes, it’s not entirely fair to base characterization generalizations on one episode, but everything I saw about the way Sergeant Voight’s bad behavior seemed to be treated by the show and by the other characters told me more than I needed to know.

Will I watch it again? No.  I think there are too many cop shows as it is, so cop shows have to be even better than my normal bar to draw me in. This one not only doesn’t come close, it’s insulting and vaguely offensive.

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