The original Law & Order seems like such a distant, and classy, memory these days. Dick Wolf's mini-empire within NBC now runs on a higher octane of lurid overkill. While Chicago Fire is a harmless enough, though largely forgettable, soap about telegenic first responders, its no-brainer (and brainless) spinoff, Chicago PD, is the most arrogantly conceived display of bare-knuckled hooey since the mercifully short-lived Ironside reboot, which polluted the same Wednesday 10/9c time period last fall.
Though he played a villain on Fire, Jason Beghe's pugnacious Sgt. Hank Voight has inexplicably been chosen to lead an elite, no-rules Intelligence (perhaps the most over- and ill-used word of this TV week) Unit comprising PD's grungier ensemble, which includes the overqualified Jon Seda and, as if she'd caught Beghe's rasp, Sophia Bush as Voight's street-smart protégée. Voight doesn't share intel, he doesn't play well with others, he has nothing but snarling contempt for protocol, and when push comes to shove, guess who's doing the lion's share of shoving. "Do what you gotta do!" the Alpha Cop barks at an associate in a future episode, tossing him a blade to extract some desperately needed information from one of the many cartoonishly villainous perps they encounter. Milking every known cop-show cliché, PD glorifies brutality on both sides of the law, and its mix of sadism and schmaltz — Voight helps rescue a kid from the mean streets, so he can't be all bad — is nauseating. At one point, Voight bullies his crew: "If you go over my head, it'll be the last head you go over." Fat chance anything on Chicago PD will go over anyone's head.
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Wolf's long-running Law & Order: Special Victims Unit isn't much more subtle — many weeks, its sordid stories can make you pine for a shower to wash off the ick — but it can be riveting. Case in point: this week's follow-up (9/8c) to the harrowing season-opener ordeal for Benson (Mariska Hargitay), who was tortured for days by the sadistic William "the Beast" Lewis (Pablo Schreiber, chillingly smirky) before she got the best of him. Or did she? It's now time for the trial, and the diabolical Lewis will employ every manipulative trick to turn the proceedings into an outrageous circus of horrors, subjecting the traumatized detective to a symbolic form of psychological violation and humiliation that somehow allows Lewis to appear the victim. "Try not to catastrophize," soothes Benson's therapist (Bill Irwin), using a verb I've now happily added to my vocabulary. But Benson has every reason to fear the worst in this she said/he screamed scenario. Even at its most improbable, Hargitay and Schreiber sell it, knowing Emmy bait when they see it. I can't say if I'm dreading or eagerly anticipating what seems to be an inevitable Round Three.
LIGHTENING UP: It takes a con to know a con, but as USA Network's effervescent Psych (10/9c) heads to London for its eighth-season opener (co-written and directed by series creator Steve Franks), fake psychic Shawn (James Roday) may have met his match in the continental enigma he only knows as debonair thief Pierre Despereaux (Cary Elwes), who's now passing himself off as a Scotland Yard operative. Summoned across the pond to help Interpol conduct a sting, Shawn and Gus (Dulé Hill) — who's wearing wizard robes in hopes of making it to a (Harry) Potter-Con convention, being a "Grint grunt, loud and proud" — haplessly infiltrate a thuggish crime gang led by Vinnie Jones, who gets a kick out of Shawn's tomfoolery. "Whatever level of daftness you're talking about, I'm dafter than that!" Shawn boasts, and who would contradict him. While our heroes continue to puzzle over whether their handler is actually playing them, good old England has rarely been jollier.
THE WEDNESDAY GUIDE: Seen to excellent effect as a Canadian crime boss on Justified Tuesday night, Dave Foley returns to comedy as Brick's school therapist on ABC's The Middle (8/7c), when the little weirdo starts overreacting fearfully to news alerts on his iPad. ... ABC's comedies are all new, with a double dose of Super Fun Night sandwiching the night's most popular show, Modern Family (9/8c), in which Phil somehow ends up behind bars. ... Speaking of popularity, find out which movie and TV faves will take home People's Choice Awards on CBS (9/8c). ... The survey says: GSN's new comedic game show Mind of a Man (8/7c) asks female contestants to guess how a random sampling of 100 men answered multiple-choice questions, with a panel of comedians offering advice while The Love Boat's Ted Lange tends bar. This man is sticking to Jeopardy! ... It's more than a "rumour:" Stevie Nicks is visiting the witches of FX's American Horror Story: Coven (10/9c). ... A new season of MTV's Real World (10/9c), set in San Francisco, is subtitled Ex-Plosion for a reason. Not long after seven strangers move into this year's house, they're ambushed by their exes, with whom they have complicated pasts. Let someone's idea of fun begin. ... For those with more adventurous tastes in reality adventure, PBS presents the three-part Chasing Shackleton (check tvguide.com listings), following a team of scientists aiming to re-create the legendary 1914 Antarctic expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who (reflecting recent headlines of another ill-fated crew) had to scramble to survive when his ship was trapped and crushed by an ice mass. Will history repeat itself?