Living by 'The Chicago Code' on Fox


In the 1987 movie "The Untouchables," a tale about Chicago crime, cops and corruption penned by Windy City-born playwright David Mamet, a Canadian Mountie involved in a violent liquor raid says to Al Capone foe Eliot Ness, "I do not approve of your methods!" Treasury Agent Ness, also a native Chicagoan, fires back, "Yeah, well, you're not from Chicago."

Writer/producer Shawn Ryan -- who created FX's "The Shield" and partnered with Mamet for CBS' "The Unit" -- may not be from Chicago proper, but he's from the northern Illinois city of Rockford, and he's imbued with the lore of, as poet Carl Sandburg called it, "The City of the Big Shoulders."

On Monday, Feb. 7, Fox premieres Ryan's new drama, "The Chicago Code," which focuses on a group of Chicago cops, led by the city's first female superintendent, Teresa Colvin (Chicagoan Jennifer Beals), and her cat-and-mouse relationship with a powerful ward politician, Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo).

Also starring are Jason Clarke as Detective Jarek Wysocki; Matt Lauria as Wysocki's partner, Caleb Evers; Devin Kelley as rookie beat cop Vonda Wysocki, Jarek's niece; Todd Williams as Isaac Joiner, Vonda's partner; and Billy Lush as Irish mob insider Liam Hennessey.

"It's just a fascinating arena," Ryan says. "Having said that, you can look at that and say, 'That's not the way things should work.' And at the same time the city is just gorgeous. They've gone on this explosion of building and construction.

"It really is beautiful, and a lot of things run really, really well. It's the kind of city where things get done. You look at New York City, and the way that there's still a hole in the ground at the World Trade Center -- they wouldn't let that happen in Chicago. In Chicago, that stuff would be rebuilt by now."

But just how that stuff would be built -- how the permits would be obtained, the financing, the labor, the land, etc. -- is open for discussion. If you watch "The Untouchables," you can see a smiling alderman offer a bribe to Ness, who emphatically rejects it.

"How about that?" Lindo says. "Certainly when they came to me with the offer to do this, the idea of playing a politician was very attractive. Specifically, the idea of playing a Chicago alderman was interesting, knowing a little about that history."

"The 'Chicago code' itself," says Ryan, "is that the city is unique, and things just get done in a very specific Chicago way. It's just an interesting combination of Midwestern ethics with a kind of down-and-dirty Midwestern politics.

"Chicago is just unique in the way the city runs and the way the people are -- unique in bad ways and in good ways. People from that part of the country, as I am, carry a real pride not only about the strengths of that area but also the deficiencies. We like the way we are."

As to whether Alderman Gibbons considers himself a hero or is aware that he's skating around the edges of legality, Lindo says, "Certainly there's an awareness of skating around the edges, but also an awareness of, 'This is the way it's done. This is Chicago. This is how things get done in this city.' I didn't have a sense of being a bad person doing bad things, absolutely not, but rather a person who is very pragmatic and very realistic about the environment in which he is functioning.

"He's functioning in such a way to get things done for the people of Chicago. That was fundamentally the position I had, psychologically and emotionally. I absolutely did not think of myself as a bad person in this."

Obviously, in the last few years, the term "Chicago politics" has become very familiar -- and seldom in a complimentary way -- and a Google search on "corrupt Chicago politics" returns more than four million results.

With former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel returning to his hometown in hopes of running for mayor of Chicago, the focus has shifted from Chicagoans in Washington, D.C., back to retail politics on the streets of the city.

"You wish you could be a fly on the wall for some of those backroom conversations," Ryan says, "know what those deals are about. 'You drop out (of the race), this is what you'll get.' "

But no matter who wins the mayoral race, Ryan hopes "The Chicago Code" will capture the nation's imagination.

"That's the code," he says. "It's a mindset. It's a way of getting things done at a time when, in a lot of parts of the country, things don't get done. But it's also a way things get done that can be questionable at times, without a doubt.

"It's a pride. It's a Midwestern blue-collar attitude, and hopefully (the show is) going to be fun entertainment for everyone in America."

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