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TV Review: Dick Wolf’s ‘Chicago Justice’ on NBC

Variety logo Variety 3/2/2017 Sonia Saraiya
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As fans of the franchise already know, the “Chicago” dramas differ from Dick Wolf’s previous (and ongoing) mega-franchise “Law and Order” by emphasizing character over case-of-the-week. It’s made for a tapestry of principled characters across various public-facing institutions — emergency rooms, police stations, fire departments. “Chicago Justice” brings this formula to courtrooms, but the pace still feels familiar. The show is deeply rooted in the concept of celebrating the heroism of public-service occupations, which goes towards explaining just how comfortable and consistent “Chicago Justice” already feels.

“Chicago Justice’s” premiere was the third part of a three-part crossover event with “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Fire,” depicting first a fire at a rave and then the investigation into the arson. By the time it gets to “Justice,” the case is thorny and complex, with personal investments that span departments and family histories. It’s a bit silly and a bit grave and totally delicious, a multi-part event that is soothingly wonderful to watch.

The new show is led by Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Stone (Philip Winchester), a newly minted, differently located Jack McCoy of “Law & Order.” His delivery isn’t quite the same as Sam Waterston’s — whose could be? — but the premiere allows him a closing statement that is the exact beautifully overwrought courtroom finale “Chicago Justice” is trying to produce.

Winchester is a square-jawed, glint-eyed actor who is preternaturally comfortable in a suit; as Stone, he radiates principle, which is the firmament of this entire franchise. The cases in “Chicago Justice’s” first two episodes are also finer quality than the ones seen in “Law and Order” — much less lurid and “ripped from the headlines,” making for a far more thought-provoking path to bittersweet justice. The second episode jumps right into the fray with a look at a police brutality case that divides the city.

Winchester is backed up by Carl Weathers as his superior, the State’s Attorney, as well as Jon Seda, imported from “Chicago P.D.” Joelle Carter, best known as Ava Crowder from “Justified,” delivers an eye-catching performance in the tiny role of Seda’s character’s new partner.

Of course, the “Chicago” franchise is a bit boilerplate. But in investing in so many diverse characters united by common mission, it feels like a broadcast formula with a necessary jolt of contemporary vision. “Chicago Justice” is not going to change our notion of courtroom dramas, but for what it is, it’s solid, satisfying stuff.

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