Law & Order creator Dick Wolf pretty much owns network crime TV, with a hit-vs.-miss ratio unparalleled by virtually anyone save perhaps Steven Bochco.
So, it's all the more conspicuous when he misses, as he does with Chicago PD - a spinoff of sorts from Chicago Fire - which will have its series premiere Wednesday.
An unruly, confused piece of TV police work starring Jason Beghe, Jon Seda, Sophia Bush, and Elias Koteas, Chicago PD has a high profile among the crop of new and returning cop shows this winter.
Other eagerly awaited - and heavily hyped - new entries include the sexy Tricia Helfer vehicle Killer Women, premiering Tuesday on ABC. The eight-episode first season features Helfer as a Texas Ranger who each week goes after one twisted psycho-killer chick after another. "The deadliest women in America, and only one woman can take them down," says the promo. "Eight weeks, eight killers, and one dangerous Ranger!"
More sedate - and smarter - is novelist Nic Pizzolatto's dark, dark, very dark psychological murder-mystery True Detective, debuting Jan. 12 on HBO, infused with mucho macho gravitas, thanks to its leads, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. They play two Louisiana detectives who are on a 17-year mission to capture a serial killer.
Chicago? It's his town!
Wolf's Chicago Fire premiered on NBC in October 2012 to lukewarm reviews and decent ratings. The second season is winding down just in time for Chicago PD to make its entrance.
Beghe stars as Sgt. Hank Voight, an old-school detective who is so hard-nosed, so old-school that he landed in jail - for a yet-to-be revealed crime. As the pilot opens, he's been sprung - the star witness in his case died under mysterious circumstances. He's now reinstated by the police department, and he's been put in charge of an elite, super-secretive intelligence unit. Lucky guy!
Beghe, 53, a veteran character actor with dozens of TV credits going back to the mid-'80s, lends his trademark gravel-scraped voice to a role that seems to have originated from a comic book or a Cracker Jack box.
He's tough, he's probably corrupt, and he likes to practice enhanced interrogation techniques. The opening scene has him throwing a drug dealer out of Chicago, literally - he actually drives the dude to the city limits. Drawing a line in the gravel with his boot, Voight barks, "Stay out of my city."
Overstylized to the point of parody, Chicago PD tries too hard to capture the vibe of shows such as The Shield and The Wire. It tries too hard to get down and dirty in the messy mire where crime happens. It just ends up messy, but without any real grit.
Give Canada a chance
Next week will see the second season of ReelzChannel's Cracked and King, two Canadian procedurals set in Toronto. They're not as sexy as those other Canadian imports, Rookie Blues or the explosive Flashpoint, but they have charm to burn.
Cracked stars David Sutcliffe as a cop and The 4400's Brooke Nevin as a forensic psychiatrist. They're teamed as part of the fictional Psych Crimes Unit, which handles crimes with a psychiatric component. Well-written, compassionate, and intelligent, Cracked has a unique take on the crime drama. It doesn't fetishize the crime or the mystery, but rather devotes its energies to developing incisive character studies about men and women, already teetering at the brink of insanity, who are pushed to commit sometimes heinous crimes.
Far more lighthearted is the romance/crime/drama King, a sort of Ally McBeal take on the genre. A remarkably charming Amy Price-Francis stars as the stylish detective Jessica King, a fast-talking, opinionated lipstick feminist approaching middle age and heading a major-crimes task force. It's her job to take cases other departments can't close. She's a brilliant detective and interrogator - and an obsessive collector of designer shoes. She's also a two-time loser when it comes to marriage. She's finally settled down with husband number three and is trying, with some desperation, to conceive a child before it's too late.
King is a fun, guilty pleasure that takes elements from Jessica's messy personal life and mashes them up, for the sheer fun of it, with details from the cases she's investigating. What comes out isn't always logical or even comprehensible, but it's never boring.
And don't forget . . .
Other crime shows making their season premieres this month include CBS' Elementary, returning for its second season on Thursday; Justified (Tuesday on FX); Banshee (Jan. 10 on Cinemax); Wolf's successful reality show Cold Justice (Jan. 17 on TNT); Sherlock (Jan. 19 on BBC America); and The Following (Jan. 20 on Fox).