What’s the appeal of the extended universe? Is it the familiarity? The redundancy? One might argue that the beauty of an extended universe, regardless of screen size, is that it allows an opportunity to truly dig in. To get to know characters. To explore a world. Unfortunately, as proven by Chicago Justice, the fourth arrival in NBC’s Chicago-centric television world, sometimes an extended universe of interconnected storylines and characters is nothing more than another opportunity to rehash hackneyed tropes and tired stories with nothing to say.
The premiere of Chicago Justice is an hour of television where everyone has a lot to say, but none of it’s new. First of all, most of the characters aren’t new. It’s unclear whether one should even call this the series premiere, as most of these people and the setting have already appeared, only in previous Chicago shows, including Chicago Medical, Chicago Fire, and Chicago P.D. There was even a crossover episode, aired on March 1st, that predates the premiere.
The cast of Chicago Justice immediately lets us know what we’re dealing with: the screen is cluttered with bland characters spouting expository dialogue, including a naive female Assistant District Attorney (Anna Valdez), a hardboiled investigator who makes bland observations (Jon Seda), a cheap imitation of Saul Goodman, and a bored Carl Weathers. Even worse is that the narrative of the pilot is immediately cheap and obvious: a guy died in his jail cell because someone punched him, and now Peter Stone (Phillip Winchester) and his team of blands have to press charges against someone. Enter a Grand Jury. Enter cell phone videos. Enter a Chicago reverend, a grieving mother, a noble defense attorney…you get the drift.
From here, we get a handful of obvious courtroom scenes, interspersed with characters exchanging expository dialogue. Most scenes end with them running out of things to say before one of them decides to walk out of the room. Throughout it all, of course, we have a handful of obvious and uninspired observations on the American condition. How could we not?
Unfortunately, the show doesn’t seem very interested in having a dialogue about any of this. It seems more that this is an episode that evolved from headlines. It’s a television outing based on the Wikipedia article for Police Brutality in America, but with anything controversial edited out. It’s the Drunk History retelling of Ferguson. It is, quite simply, terrible television.
Oh, but perhaps the show does have something to say. Here are a few moments from the premiere, provided free of context, in which Chicago Justice might be trying to have a message:
- “The videos speak for themselves”
- “I’m not gonna ask where this came from.”
- “If Kev killed that kid, that kid needed killin’”
- “Our country is coming apart at the seams.”
- “He’s just a guy. Worse than some, maybe, but better than most.”
- “What we did – what we do – we do it for the right reasons.”
- “Hell of a world. A murderer has more credibility than a cop.”
Ultimately, those who believe in the system get the last word in every scene. Carl Weathers gives a press conference in which he assures everyone that, while the offending officer is put on trial, it will proceed “without the unnecessary civil unrest we’ve seen in too many other cities.” This is one of the characters on the side of the prosecution of police brutality, explaining that “civil unrest” in “other cities” is “unnecessary.” Huh? I guess David Simon isn’t involved in this franchise. Hope they’re paying you well, Carl.
Of course, without spoiling anything, the plot of the pilot finds a way to end without indicting, convicting or disparaging any element of either law or order. The resolution is obvious from the opening scene, and the characters are all still friends.
Actually, on second thought, Chicago Justice is so bad that it deserves to be entirely spoiled: in the final courtroom scene, the prosecuting attorney turns to the indicted cop, now proven innocent, and says “I’m sorry.” Charges are dropped and the real killer, a bar fighting Latino, is headed to prison.
To be fair, a show doesn’t need to be thoughtful or poignant in order to be worth watching. If Chicago Justice were suspenseful, that could be enough. It could be redeemed by having characters who are compelling, charming, intriguing, frustrating in their humanity. It could be redeemed by its authenticity, its artistic merits. It could be redeemed by exciting action scenes or funny dialogue. Unfortunately, Chicago Justice has no such redeeming qualities.
As of now, the best one can say of it is that it’s another one of those Chicago shows. So hey, if you watch all those, you might as well watch this one, too. If not, just stay away.
Chicago Justice is perfect for diehard fans of Chicago Fire and its other spinoffs. Everyone else though should steer clear.