To say Chicago P.D. hits the ground running would be an early candidate for understatement of the year. Within the first episode of Law & Order producer Dick Wolf’s new series, a spin-off of Chicago Fire, the intelligence unit of the Chicago Police Department’s District 21 sees one of their own gunned down, becomes the target of a high-stakes kidnapping, discovers a few severed heads, and weathers the return of Sergeant Hank Voight (Jason Beghe), their potentially still-crooked ex-con leader.
The ensuing business is peppered with some Windy City flavor (a set piece on Lower Wacker, a tough-love farewell in front of Lou Mitchell’s, etc.), but the show’s histrionic drama drowns out any and all local character. It’s all so strained, harsh, and very, very serious, which is a high price for the occasional flash of involving procedure or sexual innuendo. More characteristic is the posturing monologues about duty and the city, and serviceable action sequences, ranging from street-level foot chases to undercover arms deals to face-offs with sadistic cartel members.
The cast, which also features Jon Seda, Sophia Bush, Elias Koteas, and Amy Morton as Voight’s fellow officers, works diligently through the action, severe dialogue, and an ocean of backstory, a portion of which is held over from Voight’s storyline on Chicago Fire. Not unlike its progenitor, however, Chicago P.D. feels bogged down in its various slow-burn arcs. The show’s pace is alert and consistent, but the entire endeavor banks on the audience’s instant and unwavering dedication to the ominous, vague end the writers are constantly building toward, with little respite beyond the boilerplate pleasures of any other cop show in the meantime.
The series teases massive secrets, often through Voight’s meetings with his mysterious handler (played by Robin Weigert), with a calculated sense of withholding, coldly engineered to seduce the viewer into the dense, ever-twisty plot. It would all be so much easier to take seriously if the tone weren’t so desperately and ceaselessly high-strung in its machinations. Indeed, unlike Law & Order, Chicago P.D. doesn’t possess a crucial shagginess, a sense of experience and knowledge in these supposedly weary and seasoned characters that cuts through the hardened cynicism of the show’s atmosphere. That the series also displays a potent indifference to the rhythms and history of the titular, beloved city doesn’t help matters. Rather, Chicago P.D. defers to a familiar, nondescript urgency to work through this particular depiction of a troubled but no less honorable civil institution.