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Review: NBC’s Chicago PD Is a Cop Show From Another Era

By on January 6, 2014
Pictured: Jason Beghe as Hank Voight -- (Photo by: Matt Dinerstein/NBC)

Pictured: Jason Beghe as Hank Voight -- (Photo by: Matt Dinerstein/NBC)

Chicago P.D., a spin off from relative newcomer Chicago Fire, is the latest TV offering on NBC from executive producer Dick Wolf. The new series kicks off Wednesdays from Jan. 8, but with only one season behind it, does Chicago Fire actually warrant a spin off?  We’re only just getting to know the guys from Firehouse 51, and so I sat down to review the first handful of episodes feeling that perhaps it’s all just a bit premature for another Chicago whatever show.

As it turns out the only thing premature was my rush to judgement. Three episodes in, and this show has all the grit, action, and layered characterization of cop shows of another generation.  It’s Hill Street Blues meets NYPD Blue (the good one with Dennis Franz).  A pilot is rarely flawless in execution, characters or plot, and often carries evidence that the producers and writers are still finding their way.  Chicago P.D.’s pilot however was pretty seamless.

Let me start by saying if you love Chicago Fire, there is no guarantee that you’ll even like Chicago P.D.

It’s more of a Breaking Bad replacement than a companion piece for Chicago Fire and we understand this from the moment we see our anti-hero Sergeant Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) roughing up an informant.  I should say, we “hear” Voight, thanks to that unmistakable gravel in his voice. Voight means business, and we know this from the opening scene. Yes, this is the same Voight we loved to hate last season on Chicago Fire as he terrorized beloved Lt. Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer) for his part in getting his son sent to jail for driving drunk and injuring a teen. Make no mistake here, Voight is the star of this show, and he’s got the acting chops to carry the material wherever it needs to go.

Chicago P.D. focuses on Voight and a few of the officers of Chicago Police Department’s District 21. The intelligence Unit, which Voight heads, fights the baddest of the bad guys – organized crime leaders, drug traffickers, etc. Detective Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda), who we already know as Gabriella Dawson’s (Monica Raymund) older brother, joins this team of flawed cops along with Jay Halstead (Jesse Lee Soffer) and Detective Erin Lindsay (Sophia Bush). The last time we saw Jay he was being unceremoniously kicked to the curb like last week’s trash by Antonio’s sister. Good way to pick yourself up young man, partner with Sophia Bush.

These flawed characters are the heartbeat of the show and the reason it will hopefully become must see TV.  We witness Voight taking kickbacks from shady characters also help out a young gang member who desperately wants a different life. We see some history between his character and Det. Lindsay with her telling a fellow detective that “he saved my life.”  Jay beats up a guy for basically being rude to his partner and seems to relish in it.  These aren’t your basic Eagle Scout cops.  Their layers are intriguing. I want to know the backstory between Voight and his young protege, I want to see how the obvious chemistry between Jay and his partner develops, I can’t wait to see the moral dilemmas Antonio faces with having Voight as a partner.

One of the few similarities to Chicago Fire is the small humorous moment added to lighten the mood temporarily. Brief appearances by some ChiFi favorites feel authentic with Hermann (David Eigenberg) showing up to reaffirm that he’s an incompetent business owner no matter where he is.  Dawson and Shay show up at the end, and if you blink you’ll miss them.  Similarities over.  I’d be willing to wager that there will be no miraculous broken neck recoveries with one swift surgery, no overcoming a drug addiction in one episode, and no brain surgery miracle in Chicago P.D. land.  We know from episode one that they’re not afraid of killing off characters we think will be series regulars, showing us the realities of what cops will do to get results, and even endanger a cute kid or two.

This show is not for the faint of heart.  There’s violence (complete with a couple of beheadings), rough language, and heroes who make you question your own morals for cheering them on. But cheer them on I will… every Wednesday night, 9:00 CT, on NBC.