Chicago Code

What a week for fans of crime dramas that try to raise the bar. Two winners premiering this week are set in USA's midsection — one rural, one urban (which I'm thinking you might have heard about on Super Bowl Sunday) — and they're so good it makes you wonder why Law & Order never took its act to the heartland.

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We'll be discussing the second season of FX's spectacularly entertaining Justified (returns Wednesday, 10/9c) later this week. Inspired by an Elmore Leonard character, this Kentucky-fried caper sneaks up on you, its laid-back attitude punctuated by shocks of grisly mayhem.

By contrast, Fox's muscular new The Chicago Code — from The Shield's Shawn Ryan — grabs you by the collar as it plunges headlong into a treacherous labyrinth of big-city corruption. Like ABC's under appreciated Detroit 1-8-7, this drama benefits greatly from the authenticity of being filmed on location in the city it represents.

Code's heart is on the dangerous streets, where pugnacious local-legend detective Jarek Wysocki (Brotherhood's Jason Clarke) works cases with a ferocity that wears out his partners, whom he discards about as frequently as most people change their socks. A tough guy, yes, but he doesn't tolerate profanity in his presence, which already makes him an original. (He also declares an appreciation for Audrey Hepburn that certainly endears him to me.) Lucky for him, he's got a friend at the top of the food chain: his former partner-turned-boss Teresa Colvin, Chicago's scrappy and perpetually embattled first female police superintendent (tersely played by Jennifer Beals) who turns to Wysocki to be his eyes and ears on the street.

On the job, Colvin is making few friends, targeting deadwood — or "oxygen thieves," in her combative lingo — in the police ranks. You don't measure up, you're out. At City Hall, she's at war with crooked, cunning alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo, savoring every ounce of smooth menace), who controls her department's purse strings while manipulating city contracts to his benefit. Cross him and you're dead. But Colvin isn't backing down. Lucky she has Wysocki covering her back, with the help of an earnest young partner (Friday Night Lights' Matt Lauria) who's not as green as he looks.

"[Chicago] works in a lot of different ways," says Gibbons, and so does The Chicago Code, which includes multiple voice-over points-of-view from characters including Wysocki's cop niece and a scruffy undercover cop infiltrating the Irish mob. Tension runs high throughout this densely layered story, which is well worth your time. Hope all the Super Bowl exposure pays off for this one.

The Chicago Code premieres Monday, 9/8c, on Fox.

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