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Guest Review: Chicago Justice

Today's guest reviewer is Jason R. Tippitt of The Mental Nomad, discussing the cancellation of Law & Order: Chicago... I mean, Chicago Justice. Take it away, Jason:

 

 

I'm not surprised, given that Chicago Justice wasn't mentioned -- one way or another -- at the time NBC announced its fall schedule.

The one-and-done fate of this series follows the similar course "blazed" by Law & Order: Los Angeles. You would think that just remaking the original formula LAW & ORDER in different cities would work ... but it hasn't. (At least no characters played by Skeet Ulrich were harmed in the making of this show.)

When Elizabeth Donald asked a couple of weeks ago what people thought of the Chicago franchise headed by Dick Wolf, I was frank in putting Chicago Justice in the last place in terms of my enjoyment. It was more of a procedural show than the other series, and its character-building moments were all over the place.

Some bits were good -- an early episode where a judge is murdered outside a bar in the company of the (always young, always female) assistant prosecutor who had appeared in his court earlier that day to argue a case, and she refused to say whether they had a sexual relationship because it was no one's business. The episode with Richard Jones reprising his role as Robinette was another keeper, with nods to the original Law & Order aplenty, but not enough to scare off anyone who hadn't seen it, I would think. And the recurrent references to lead Philip Winchester's troubled relationship with his dad -- ADA Stone from the original Law & Order, played by Michael Moriarty -- had me hoping we'd see that character in the second season.

Some character bits were bad -- Jon Seda's character Dawson was mainly reduced to complaining about his ex-wife after having been a strong second character on Chicago PD (and after being the first character to launch not one but TWO spinoffs). Joelle Carter was cast in that same character beat -- investigator who got hooked on painkillers after being shot, now complaining about her child custody arrangement with her ex.

But mostly, the character bits were dull. I'm mainly using the actors' names here because I didn't come to care for the characters enough to remember their names. And in the case of Carl Weathers as the DA, his politics were all over the map in such a way that I never got a grasp of who he was supposed to be or what he stood for, and that may be the worst indictment of all -- and it points to a structural defect, perhaps, that helped doom the series in the development room.

Remember how on Law & Order, the people were represented by two separate yet equally important groups? The police and the prosecutors?

Well, here -- and on the equally ill-fated Law & Order: Trial by Jury -- the role of the "police" was played by investigators who worked for the prosecutors. And from what I remember LO:TBJ, that formula worked the way it might in real life: other police (off-camera) worked the case, and the episode began with an indictment already in place, or at least with enough evidence to hand off to the DA's office, and the investigators were looking for holes in the case or patching them.

On Chicago Justice, the investigators in the DA's office seemed to be no different than the police department detectives on Chicago PD. They seemed to be working the cases from as soon as the body showed up until the trial, which made me wonder what was the point of making them investigators for the DA's office and not, let's say, a priority homicide unit. It wasn't as big a break from reality as anything that happened on a CSI series ever, but it felt poorly thought through. Jon Seda and Joelle Carter either needed to be playing actual police -- with a lieutenant of their own, an actor or actress of similar longevity to Carl Weathers, serving as a balance to him -- or their work needed to be less "just another cop show" in nature.

And there you go. Probably more words written about Chicago Justice than at your major entertainment and TV sites combined.

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