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tv review

Lyons: Chicago PD Loves Brutality, Eschews Originality

Chicago PD is a bad show. The dialogue is predictable, the acting is marginal, and the plots are the swept-up leftovers from the Dick Wolf Idea Factory. At one point on tonight's pilot, which airs on NBC at 10 p.m., a team of cops rush into a decrepit house looking for a suspect. He runs off. They stick around to search the premises, and lo and behold, they hear rustling in the closet. I bet there's a tender, innocent child in there, I thought. Guess what? There was a tender, innocent child in there.

CPD is a spinoff of NBC's surprise medium hit Chicago Fire, but it feels more like Southland with all the energy, ideas, and drama sucked out. Jason Beghe (who's been in everything, but made the strongest impression as Matt's HIV-positive Navy boyfriend on Melrose Place) stars as Sergeant Hank Voight, a role that originated as a villain of sorts on Chicago Fire; here, he's just your average dirty cop who is in charge of things, à la Vick Mackey — but with all the energy, ideas, and drama sucked out. He's flanked by your average TV cops: the pretty girl, the other girl, the guy, the younger guy, the hothead guy. The Asian guy? Why, he's in charge of the tech and gadgets, of course. That pink slime machine took a break from squirting out Chicken McNuggets and instead produced Generic TV Police Product, just for Chicago PD. Are there leather coats? Boy, are there.

If Chicago PD was just boring, that would be one thing. But it has the dubious distinction of being both dull and morally bankrupt: The show absolutely glorifies police brutality. Plenty of shows (current and past) depict torture, but it's been a while since one so blithely endorsed it. It's one thing when a character behaves abhorrently, but it's another when a show positions that abhorrence as a reason to like — or even worse, dislike but respect — someone; I'll watch a show about an unethical person, but I can't stomach a hagiography of one. The abuse of power on CPD is par for the course, a perk of the job, and a barometer of seriousness and loyalty to one's fellow officers. That's appalling.

Voight is shown psychologically torturing suspects, and in the second episode, he hands a knife to one of his fellow officers and — in a full-throated scream — encourages him to stab out a man's eyes if that man does not give them the information they're looking for. "Do what you gotta do!" he yells, because God forbid we write interesting dialogue to go along with our moral transgressions. The violence is relentless. A different officer closed-fist punches a handcuffed "perp" in the face, repeatedly, as part of his victory dance; a third officer, after being verbally teased by some dude, walks up to him, initiates a shouting match, and then punches and kicks him until the guy falls to the ground. This is supposed to be a sexy mating call to the she-cop, and it sort of works. On the second episode, a suspect is repeatedly denied access to a lawyer. "Abogado," the man pleads. "No!" says the cop. Not till you tell him what he needs to know. That's how human rights work, yes? You only get them sometimes, and you only get them after the police assault you for a while? (The show eventually indicates that some of the bad behavior is an attempt to catch other, more-dirty cops, but that doesn't really help the guy who thought his eyeball was going to get stabbed out.)

I hope all these characters go to prison. (Or in Voight's case, back to prison.) Maybe there they will have time to learn about Chicago's long and lurid history of police torture — and we're not talking ancient history here. Just a few weeks ago, Stanley Wrice was freed after 30 years in prison for a rape he confessed to only while being beaten by police officers. On CPD, the police brutality is presented as evidence that these cops just care so much about justice that they can't control themselves or be constrained by silly things like laws or human dignity. This is complete bullshit.

On a lighter note, there is one moment of Chicago PD that made me laugh out loud, though the show did not intend for it to be humorous. Sophia Bush, best known for her work on One Tree Hill,  plays the world's least convincing police officer, and she and her partner are hassling a store clerk about giving them more information. "Maybe we put some bracelets on him" and bring him back to the station, she suggests. It's like hearing a Disney princess suddenly talk like Andy Sipowitz.

Dick Wolf gave the world Law & Order, and we will forever be grateful. But giving us CPD really stings.

Photo: NBC