Dick Wolf is no stranger to taking a success — even a moderate one — and spinning it off into franchises. So “Chicago Fire,” his NBC drama, begets “Chicago PD,” a series distinguished primarily by its solid casting and Jason Beghe’s performance as a cop who loves his city almost as much as he relishes beating information out of suspects. If some of NBC’s procedural development has felt like CBS Lite, file this one under CBS Dark — which could end up doing for the Windy City, for good or ill, what “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” did for New York.
Snarling like Batman minus the cowl at bad guys (“Stay out of my city,” he tells one whimpering low-life), Beghe’s Det. Hank Voight made his debut in “Fire” as a ruthless cop, and eventually won redemption — or at least a second chance — as the head of an intelligence unit within the Chicago Police Dept.
Even with supposed carte blanche to run his unit, Voight still operates under the watchful eye of his captain (“The Wire’s” Robert Wisdom), and wrestles with the usual politics of such situations. That can make his take-no-prisoners attitude a problem, and he tries to run interference for his subordinates, who wind up in a whole lot of harrowing situations, including an opening two-parter that puts a family member in jeopardy.
That “Chicago PD” braves a slightly serialized element shouldn’t obscure its fairly simple roots, which is to say that the criminals are so bad they require a response that doesn’t just bend the rules of policing, but rather obliterates them.
At the same time, writer Matt Olmstead seeks to humanize Voight through the fact that he truly cares about his team (“OK, everybody, vest up”) and goes the extra mile to help a young kid caught up in a nefarious crowd (a subplot also spread over multiple hours). It’s only when those kids grow up, apparently, that he likes beating information out of them, or feels justified throwing one of his gang a knife as he questions a suspect, barking to his colleague, “Do what you gotta do!”
The well-traveled Beghe nevertheless convincingly sells the gravelly voiced tough-guy routine, and “Chicago PD” plays to the cathartic aspects of crime-fighting, provided one tries not to think too much about terms like “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And the show is aided by having the likes of Jon Seda, Elias Koteas and Sophia Bush on the case, even if most of the plotting has a musty and manipulative aroma.
As for NBC, the series is assigned a mission almost as simple as Voight’s “Clean up the city” mandate: Improve the 10 p.m. timeslot where “Ironside” ran into a ditch, or die trying.
Like Voight’s task force, it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.