This week saw the arrival on UK shores of the latest Chicago Fire spin-off, the original drama from creator Dick Wolf that has so far spawned Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med. Now CHICAGO JUSTICE has joined them, as Wolf returns to his TV courtroom roots.
Like its sibling shows, the first episode of Chicago Justice is firmly entrenched in the other series that make up the so-called #OneChicago universe. Courtesy of a head spinning canter through events that took place in Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire, we learn of a devastating arson attack on a party in an abandoned warehouse that left 39 kids dead. Where P.D. focuses on the ‘whodunnit’, Justice is about the why.
Crossover episodes being a common occurrence in Wolf’s Chicago anthology, this will appeal to fans of the other shows. It’s a shame for those very same fans that the series are now wildly out of sync in the UK. The fire that triggers the courtroom battle in Justice takes place during Seasons 4 and 5 of Chicago P.D. and Fire respectively, neither of which have aired in the UK. However, the completely uninitiated may struggle to keep up, and the cameos, characters and crossover storylines will almost certainly be lost on them, robbing a tense storyline of much of its emotional impact.
Back to Chicago Justice. We swiftly learn that the primary suspect confessed to the father of one of the fire’s victims, a detective, and his corrupt police captain (both main characters from P.D.), the beginning of a lie that threatens to unravel the entire case. So it’s up to the square-jawed Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Stone (Philip Winchester), leading lady (Monica Barbaro, both unfeasibly beautiful and youthful in the tradition of #OneChicago leading ladies) and a barely used Carl Weathers as their boss. Those familiar with Wolf’s Chicago universe will also recognise Detective Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda), who has transferred from Chicago P.D. to help build Stone’s cases.
Besides a healthy dose of cameos from Chicago Police and Fire, a much-altered Bradley Whitford (of West Wing fame) bulldozes in as an amoral defence lawyer defending the smirking teen arsonist in scenes that will make most viewers’ stomachs curdle.
All of that is mere window dressing. This pilot episode isn’t about introducing memorable characters or a unique twist on the courtroom dramas that made Wolf’s reputation. If you’re tuning in to Chicago Justice, it’s probably because you like the other #OneChicago series or you like courtroom dramas.
So you’re probably already bought in, and if nothing else, it’s likely to be the jumping off point for the next spin-off, with Chicago Streets already greenlit - which will offer the vastly more interesting twist of focusing on the criminal minds at work in the city.
Is Chicago Justice re-writing the rules of the courtroom drama? Not in the least - but that doesn’t make it a bad show. It may not be an essential extension to #OneChicago’s heroic public servants, but it’s a perfectly serviceable one. Chances are, if you’re already a fan of Wolf’s ever-expanding Chicago-verse and have a spare 42 minutes a week, you’ll find a soft spot in your heart (and on your sofa) to tune in to Chicago Justice.
- Aired on Universal, March 30 2017 at 21:00.