Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code “The Gold Coin Kid”

With tonight’s (mostly) really likeable episode of The Chicago Code, I think, ironically, that I have to admit that it’s time to lower my expectations about what The Chicago Code is going to be.  Apparently, and I blame the networks for this, and by extension the mouth-breathing American television viewer who can’t make inferences or detect subtlety because he forgets to exhale if you don’t poke him with a stick every twenty minutes…Anyway, apparently we should not expect network television to provide anything in the way of nuanced or subtly-written television to viewers, even when the creator and show runners have an impressive track record of producing critically acclaimed, arresting television which hung its hat on exactly those qualities.  And that’s a shame, because tonight’s episode employed some effective slight-of-hand in its resolution to a potentially ruinous situation for Colvin and Wysocki.  Unfortunately, in the aftermath of some clever trickery and craftiness off screen on the parts of our favorite protagonists, the show feels the need to have said protagonists vomit explanations of what just happened all over each other for five minutes to make sure none of TV Land’s village idiots (is the entire village of TV watchers just idiots now with those of us who appreciate intellectually stimulating programming wandering the wastelands?) lost track of the story. 
For any Fox execs reading this blog (I know there aren’t any, just leave me alone and let me get this off my chest), if you care at all about the quality of your programming, you shouldn’t force your show’s staff to de-intellectualize an excellent 45 minutes of storytelling by spending the last segment after the commercial break with dialogue which barely—BARELY—differs from this drivel:

Wysocki:  I was in on it the whole time.  That is how I get the job done.  I am willing to make sacrifices to make sure things turn out the way I want them to.

Colvin:  Yes, that went really well.  I was also in on the plan you and I had the entire time and now that it worked out I am very happy that I got my way and I also allowed you to catch the bad guys.

Caleb:  Hey, you guys were both in on it the whole time.

Wysocki:  Yes, and if you remember our dialogue just before you followed me to the club and got yourself suspended without pay, you’ll recall that I tried to talk you out of coming with me to the club because I did not want you to be suspended without pay.  It did not work.  Now you are suspended without pay.

Caleb:  I’m just angry you kept secrets from me.  You keep secrets from your fiancé about banging your ex-wife and I can tell this because the scene where she was on the speakerphone in our police vehicle revealed to me that you were talking to her in code and you actually cheat on her all the time.  This simultaneously reveals that I’m a really good detective (I make inferences which is what our viewers are too dumb to do) and also allows me to point out all of your issues for the audience because just suggesting them through your interactions with other characters would not be enough for them to understand you.

Vonda:  Moose is the one who didn’t frisk that guy right.  I don’t think viewers caught how weird it was that I volunteered myself right away or that when my uncle said he taught me better than that that something seemed fishy, so now you know the truth.  Also, if my name wasn’t Vonda I would deserve absolutely no sympathy on this show because I’m a totally undeveloped character.  Also, I’m really into Isaac for some reason that makes no sense because he’s pretty clearly a tool.  But my name is the WORST so cut me some slack.

I guess that went off the rails a bit at the end, but you get the picture.  My point in ranting is that if you plan to stick with this show (and I do, and despite all my vitriol above I’ll be VERY disappointed if it gets the ax) you’re going to have to come to terms with what it is—a show that would very much like to be a nuanced, thought provoking police-and-politics drama but is being forced into being a police action show with a touch of political intrigue and some very interesting subtleties that you’re going to have to experience once through dramatic exposition and then suffer through a second time through “TV Inferences for Dummies” dialogue walkthroughs of those same events.  I think I’m going to start rating the show based on its storytelling and intentions and then provide a secondary score for how well it was able to avoid these dumbing downs (dumbings down?) from week to week.  Full disclosure:  I couldn’t figure out why Word was telling me “dumbing down” was an unacceptable phrase until I realized I spelled dumbing with two m’s instead of a b.  Cue wah-wahhh trombone noise.

This week’s case was a fun one involving a high-end brothel/bar known as, if I read their sign correctly, Demimondt, which employs many attractive young women who know how to talk around their true profession when the cops come sniffing around.  The Madame of the whole operation is quite smarmy and it’s especially enjoyable to see Jarek return the smarm in kind (“Chicago is closed” he tells her—she can pick some other city to whore in) once he finds a judge willing to sign off on a search warrant despite the “important” clientele of the establishment.  It made for some interesting proceedings that I’m not entirely sure what to make of.  For one thing, despite the realization that she had a plan all along (or at the very least knows Wysocki well enough to know he’d fix the problem one way or another), it was odd to see her so easily cowed into the politics game at the expense of doing what’s right—her explanation to Jarek outside the elevator that she doesn’t like the politics game but she can’t afford to lose the support of influential financial donors doesn’t cut it.  She’s above all of this and it’s a stretch to think she’d pull Jarek off of more important issues to track down a drug dealer who put a rich playboy into a coma.  It’s the type of thing that the Teresa of the first few episodes of this show would find disgusting and not merely unethical but immoral.  Nor does the carrot-waving promise of working radio batteries for her men explain the issue.  She’s a bold and convincing enough woman to seek audience with the mayor himself for what she needs—or, for that matter, take the mayor’s aide up on his suggestion:  go ask Alderman Gibbons for them.  I get it, he’s villainous.  But, he’s also the Alderman.  Translation:  It does not constitute a breach of her integrity or any code of ethics to ask him to approve something that she legitimately needs for her department.  In fact, it would involve him doing his job properly for once and without personally lining his pockets in the process.  So no dice on her motivations this week, though I did like seeing how savvy she can be in reminding the obnoxious political aide that she’s equally capable of applying a little political pressure back up the ladder if she gets pushed too far to the margins.

Jarek and Caleb end up carrying the episode more or less start to finish.  They’re becoming a couple of samurai swords sharpening their blades against one another with their little side conversations, which are turning into the show’s most appealing moments.  This week their adventure begins with a nice backstory in Jarek’s voiceover explaining that way back in 1893 the Chicago Police started a long tradition of “fooling the bad guy” when they put a bunch of plainclothes cops amongst fairgoers in order to catch thieves and other ne’er-do-wells red-handed.  It was a quick and effective flash to the city’s past, better for its brevity than some of its brethren in earlier episodes (and much better than the clunky history lesson about powerful women later in the episode, which is easily Teresa’s worst voiceover and contender for worst overall.  It’s over-eager to the point of being embarrassing).  More to the point, it transitioned nicely into a fun scene where Jarek and Caleb snag a whole family of low level druggies by pretending to be repo men come for a flashy street race car.  They play it nicely and roll the one kid quickly to get his brothers, and it’s a double victory when we discover Jarek stole the arrest from Moose and his merry band of unsharpened pencils. 

The brothel case is a nice cream puff to throw Jarek’s direction even though it seems to be a waste of his time at first.  It pits Jarek against a lot of the elements of Chicago’s moral fabric which most disgust him, womanizing being among them, however hypocritical that may be.  More prominent is his disdain for the upper class amorality and the socialites who cling to it for a living.  He’s repulsed by what’s going on inside the brothel (and I thought it was well played by the show to avoid portraying the place as ridiculously seedy—the “services” provided are all hidden behind closed doors, as they would be in reality) but he’s equally repulsed by the “jackholes” who make their living spending daddy’s hard earned money, or in the case of Taylor and Emily, the money of wealthy men who are willing to pay handily for the company of an open-minded young woman’s company.  It was also a nice touch to parallel a moment of concern for Vonda at the end of the episode—a girl he has spent a lot of time turning into a successful cop and an upstanding woman—with the grotesquely twisted worldview of the young Taylor who explains her willingness to prostitute herself with the repugnant but all-too-common vacuous explanation that she’s “young and she’s having fun.”  Jarek’s expression when she lays that one on them says it all.

It was fun to watch the whole case evolve rapidly past some clichéd outcomes and manage to surprise by coming full circle to the mook of a drug dealer it began with (the traffic light photo was a convenient deus ex machina, but at least it provided a twist).  Avoided were the simple explanations of Teddy’s dad being the killer as a result of his own involvement with Emily *yawn* as well as the rather simple-minded idea that Teddy himself took Emily’s life.  It was even more fun to watch Jarek escalate the proceedings because he simply can’t walk away from evildoers once he’s onto their trail.  He clearly had Emily’s murder in the bag the moment he was handed the envelope containing the photos, but he’s got bigger fish to fry knowing that the city’s wealthy are being given special treatment because the politicians are turning a blind eye to a brothel which provides them with, uh, “special treatment.”  Seeing Jarek track down an aged judge who could give two flips about his political status (as long as Jarek promises to nab that son-of-a-bee Tommy O’Reilly if he sees him at the club) is a pleasure because of how well it fits the character he’s become.  It all amounted to a really enjoyable little chess match between Jarek and Caleb and the city’s politics and a frustratingly well informed “pimp”, as Jarek accurately refers to her.  If this episode weren’t saddled with the issues I made a big scene about above, it might have been one of my favorites for the season.  I’ll start operating under lessened expectations next week (which looks Liam-centric, blerg) and we’ll see how the show stands up when I ask very little of it, but let the record show that it saddens me greatly to have to do so.

Overall Score:  8.8/10   Expository Dialogue Deductions:  -2.3

Great Lines, Interesting Moments, Whatnot and Occasionally What-Have-You:

Jarek’s seamless incorporation of disparaging nicknames for Caleb into his casual conversations is becoming a fun little comic motif from week to week.  Tonight he calls him “Northwestern” and “Big Ten” after his college and “Boy Wonder” after his impotent sidekick status (at least from Jarek’s perspective).

Jarek’s best line of the night (at Caleb’s expense, of course):  “No I’m about to go in and when I get out I’m gonna be in the mood for a tangy and refreshing dessert.”

The quick shots of the suspects tattoos, shoes and hair in the interrogation room was an odd little non sequitur in the show’s general visual style—it seemed too impressionistic and pseudo-artsy for a show that doesn’t generally lean that way.

Teddy senior’s view of women is repulsive—and probably one of Jarek’s motivators for pressing the issue with the bar:   “There are women you enjoy and there are women you bring into your family.”  Anyone vocalizing or living by views like that is human trash.

Caleb’s moment when he realizes Taylor is only helping them out because she’s found her “black card” is great—he gets to show backbone and some personal disgust which is usually Jarek’s realm of expertise.  It’s about time they give him more to do.

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