The Chicago Code (FOX – Monday, 9:00 p.m)

THE CHICAGO CODE, the compelling new police drama from critically acclaimed creator Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”), follows the Windy City’s most powerful and respected cops as they navigate the city’s underbelly to fight crime and expose corruption within Chicago’s notorious political machine.

Set and shot on location in Chicago, THE CHICAGO CODE is a fast-paced series centered on JAREK WYSOCKI (Jason Clarke), a local legend and a larger-than-life veteran of the Chicago Police Department who wields considerable power thanks to his relationship with TERESA COLVIN (Jennifer Beals), his ex-partner and the city’s first female superintendent, now in charge of a 10,000-member police force. While Teresa diplomatically governs amidst the complicated landscape of Chicago politics, Jarek works the streets on a crusade to clean up corruption and crime and avenge his brother’s murder. Along the way, they will stop at nothing to bring down their powerful adversaries, including ALDERMAN RONIN GIBBONS (Delroy Lindo), a building-magnate-turned-politician who has ruled his ward with a velvet glove for over two decades.

Joining Jarek on the street is CALEB EVERS (Matt Lauria), an eager young detective trying desperately to prove himself. Also in Jarek’s charge is his niece, VONDA WYSOCKI (Devin Kelley), a rookie beat cop whose father – Jarek’s brother – was killed in the line of duty when she was young. Jarek keeps close tabs on her and is less than thrilled with the risk-taking ways of her cocky hotshot partner, ISAAC JOINER (Todd Williams). Also in the mix is low-life LIAM HENNESSEY (Billy Lush), an Irish thug who blends in with the gritty world of local crime. – FOX

8 out of 10

So here we are asking ourselves again, why, oh why, do the best scripted dramas always wind up on FOX?  They are only going to canceled when FOX inevitably pisses their pants after a couple of episodes.  The Chicago Code is eerily similar to Lone Star in that it’s a serialized, well-written, well-casted and well-acted dramatic series… that probably won’t last a single season because FOX has no patience for shows like this.  For the sake of this review, though, let’s pretend that FOX won’t cancel it before the end of the first season.

The Chicago Code is everything it claims to be and perhaps a bit more.  Jason Clarke (Brotherhood) is brilliantly cast as the down-to-earth, old-school detective who is used to thinking unconventionally and using unorthodox methods in order to effectively do his job.  Beals, is his former partner and newly appointed Police Superintendant who has recruited him to help her to clean up the corruption in Chicago.  If you think you’ve seen this before, you have.  This is almost the exact same scenario as in Brian De Palma’s 1987 classic The Untouchables when Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) recruits Jim Malone (Sean Connery) to help him take down the corrupt politicians, corrupt police department and Al Capone.

Watch this scene to understand The Chicago Code:

… and THAT’S The Chicago Code.  There is no sugar-coating it.  This is a modern-day telling of a classic story of crime and corruption and Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit) is not even being subtle with his homage to The Untouchables.  Good for him because he’s a brilliant writer and he’s smart enough to know that if you are going to use someone else’s source material for inspiration, use only the good stuff.  What made HBO’s Deadwood so good was the fact that it was Shakespeare set in the Old West.  It’s no different with any good drama and The Chicago Code excels in exploiting its predecessor.

Ryan’s no slouch, either, when it comes to stories about corruption having been the creator of F/X’s hit The Shield which lasted for six seasons which revolved around a group of corrupt detectives in the L.A.P.D.  And like The Shield, The Chicago Code does something that we absolutely love and we praised it before in our review of A & E’s The Glades; it uses the city itself as not just a backdrop, but as a living, breathing character.  One gets the feeling that they know Chicago as well as the residents do by watching The Chicago Code and that is a key factor that makes the show compelling and worth investing in for audiences.  It’s also beautifully shot and is a visual pleasure to enjoy in high-definition. Unfortunately, though, as previously noted, we don’t think the show has much of a chance at survival.

To be fair to FOX, and as much as we rip on them, there is a big problem with The Chicago Code that has nothing to do with bad management at FOX: it’s a serial.  Serialized television has no place in major network schedules any more.  It just doesn’t play with this generation of viewers who are inundated with 300 plus channels of cable television, the Internet, and reality television.  This generation of television viewers expects everything to be immediate with their entertainment and they simply have no patience for a story that doesn’t effectively conclude itself at the end of the hour.  This isn’t a criticism, this is just a fact and if you’re wondering when the end of serialized drama on network television officially occurred, it was May 24, 2010, which is the day of the series finale of 24 and the day after the series finale of Lost.  It’s getting more and more difficult to put any effort in writing reviews for serialized drama on network television because we are kind of at the “what’s the point?” stage as we expect every serialized drama on network television to be canceled no later than the end of its first season.

Now, that being said, we believe that FOX has made the same mistake with this show that they did with Lone Star and that is airing it on FOX instead of F/X.  F/X has been consistently able to support to serialized dramas and The Chicago Code would be a perfect fit there.

Of course, we certainly hope that we are dead-wrong about the lifespan of The Chicago Code on FOX but the numbers were only OK for the premiere (2.4 rating for 18-49) and the tendency for serialized shows is to lose audience after the premiere, not pick them up.  So we’ll keep our fingers crossed but we aren’t very optimistic about any long-term success for this show.

Watch full episodes of The Chicago Code, here.

‘Boardwalk Empire’ (HBO – Sundays, 9:00 p.m.)

From Terence Winter, Emmy Award-winning writer of ‘The Sopranos,’ and Academy Award Winning Director Martin Scorsese, ‘Boardwalk Empire’ is set in Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition, when the sale of alcohol became illegal throughout the United States.

America in 1920. The Great War is over, Wall Street is about to boom and everything is for sale, even the World Series. It is a time of change when women are getting the vote, broadcast radio is introduced, and young people rule the world.

On the beach in southern New Jersey sits Atlantic City, a spectacular resort known as “The World’s Playground,” a place where rules don’t apply. Massive hotels line its famous Boardwalk, along with nightclubs, amusement piers and entertainment to rival Broadway. For a few dollars, a working man can get away and live like a king — legally or illegally.

The undisputed ruler of Atlantic City is the town’s Treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, (Steve Buscemi) a political fixer and backroom dealer who is equal parts politician and gangster and equally comfortable in either role. Because of its strategic location on the seaboard, the town is a hub of activity for rum-runners, minutes from Philadelphia, hours from New York City and less than a day’s drive from Chicago. And Nucky Thompson takes full advantage.

Along with his brother Elias (Shea Whigham), the town’s Sheriff, and a crew of Ward Bosses and local thugs, Nucky carves out a niche for himself as the man to see for any illegal alcohol. He is an equal opportunity gangster, doing business with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Big Jim Colosimo (Frank Crudele), Lucky Luciano, (Vincent Piazza) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham).

As the series begins, Nucky’s former protégé and driver Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) returns home from the Great War, eager to get ahead and reclaim his rightful place in Nucky’s organization. But when Jimmy feels things aren’t moving quickly enough, he takes matters into his own hands, forming a deadly alliance with some associates of Nucky’s that set the Feds, led by Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) on his mentor’s tail. Complicating matters further is Nucky’s burgeoning relationship with Margaret Schroeder, (Kelly Macdonald) a local woman in an abusive marriage whom he tries to help out. – HBO

10 out of 10

Apparently HBO has decided that they are sick of playing second fiddle to Showtime for having the best drama on premium cable. After watching the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire I feel rather ashamed. I feel like a crook, in fact. I feel like I robbed HBO of the $10.50 that I should have paid them to see this show in the theater. Because it’s not a TV show, it’s a Martin Scorcese Academy Award winning film that comes into your living room once every seven days for twelve weeks. There is only word to describe this monumental television excellence: Epic.

The grand scale and visually stunning aesthetics are like nothing that’s been on TV since 2001’s Band of Brothers. The pilot alone cost $50 million and it’s perhaps the best $50 million spent on a television series ever. The sets are absolutely amazing and the level of detail is like none I’ve ever seen for a period piece outside of Titanic. There really is no question that you are in Atlantic City circa 1920 and this show does what I’ve pointed out that other quality dramas do and that is make the city as integral of a character as the politicians and gangsters.

The story and depth of characters are rich and engaging and you’re hooked from the opening scene and the role of “Nucky” Thompson… well, let’s just say the Steve Buscemi was born to play him.

Thompson is the epitome of the corrupt community leader for the prohibition era. He’s an institutionalized pillar of the community and gangster rolled into one. He’s the city treasurer who has built his power through graft and payoffs and is the most powerful man in town, controlling the police department and mayor’s office who hang on his every order. Like most crooked politicians in bed with organized crime he views as himself as morally superior to the gangsters he regularly does business with and he does his best to keep them at arm’s length. This is very interesting to note about his personal character because unlike most corrupt politicians, he truly does care for the citizens of his community and goes out of his way to help those who need it the most with no ulterior motives and his magnanimous attitude and tenderness isn’t out of guilt. As crooked as his empire his, he truly is a man of the people and believes in the virtue of public service. This dichotomy presents itself often as there appears to be a perpetual internal conflict between the noble and the nefarious going on inside of Nucky.

One of the more notable exchanges is between Nucky and his protégé, Jimmy, where he tells Jimmy, “You’d be very foolish to underestimate me, James.  I could have you killed,” right after he lectures him as a father would about going back to school and making something of himself for his wife and son. But, it’s how he says it that’s interesting… it’s kind of like that he has to convince himself that he could have Jimmy killed and he isn’t really comfortable with the idea even though we all know it’s true, he could, but still, we don’t buy it. Jimmy doesn’t buy it either as his classic response indicates while at the same time serving to polarize Nucky’s internal conflict.  “Yeah, but you won’t. Look… you can’t be half a gangster Nucky… not anymore,” and THAT is what Boardwalk Empire is all about.

It’s about how Prohibition changed this country during an era of excess. It’s about our own good and dark sides squaring off.  We see the likes of Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano and Al Capone as small time hoods, who we all know will become kings over the next ten years and rule their particular kingdoms through violence and terrorism but what’s often forgotten is that it was the average citizen that made that reign possible.  It’s a part of our collective history as Americans that hasn’t been told before and Boardwalk Empire shines a spotlight on it.

Boardwalk Empire is going to be one helluva journey. This is the best show on television… period, and yes, it only took one episode to figure it out.

Official Boardwalk Empire show site, here.