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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
(written by Shawn Ryan; Charles McDougall; TRT: 42:56)
The network's description: "The city of Chicago is a paradox that serves as the setting for RIDE-ALONG, a new drama from Shawn Ryan ("The Shield," "The Unit"). During a ride-along, a civilian spends a shift in the passenger seat of a squad car, observing the work day of a police officer. But in this series, the audience is the passenger, taking an unpredictable ride through the streets of Chicago and navigating crime and corruption with the most respected - and notorious - cops in the city. JAREK WYSOCKI (Jason Clarke, "Public Enemies," "Brotherhood") is a local legend and larger-than-life veteran of the Chicago Police Department. Like the city of Chicago, Jarek is razor blades and brass knuckles wrapped in politeness and egoless charm - a man who throws away partners the way others throw away tissues. TERESA COLVIN (Jennifer Beals, LIE TO ME, "The L Word") arrived at the pinnacle of the Chicago Police Department in a short period of time. She's determined to implement changes before the mud that is Chicago politics clogs her office. As a result of Teresa's difficult choices, she has made some powerful enemies along the way, including two street gangs, the police officers' union and a city alderman who proves to be a dangerous adversary.
Jarek's new partner, CALEB EVERS (Matt Lauria, "Friday Night Lights"), is a smart and observant young detective who desperately wants to prove himself. He is savvier and more observant than most people give him credit for, and just might make the perfect yin to Jarek's yang. Also in Jarek's charge is his niece, VONDA WYSOCKI (Devin Kelley, "Tease"), a rookie beat cop whose father, Jarek's brother, was killed in the line of duty when she was young. Jarek keeps close tabs on her and is less than thrilled to discover she's falling for her partner, ISAAC JOINER (Todd Williams, "In Plain Sight," "CSI"), a charismatic cop who takes unnecessary risks on the job that land him and Vonda in some dangerous situations. ALDERMAN RONIN GIBBONS (Delroy Lindo, "Kidnapped") is a building-magnate-turned-politician who has ruled his ward with a velvet glove for three decades. Jarek and Teresa are convinced Gibbons and his cohorts, including LIAM HENNESSEY (Billy Lush, "The Black Donnellys"), an Irish tough guy in Gibbons' construction empire, are dirty to the core, but they've never had the evidence to prove it. When a murder investigation leads them to Gibbons, they are determined to bring him to justice and clean up Chicago - if that's even possible."
What did they leave out? Stay tuned.
The plot in a nutshell: "If you can't love Chicago, you can't love anything," Detective Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) explains via voiceover while in the middle of a high speed chase. "When my father pinned the shield of the Chicago PD badge on me, he told me to shake hands with the good citizens of this city using a velvet glove but keep a razor blade hidden in between your fingers for the ones who forgot their manners. He also told me the moment I ever felt safe to remember I was just a dumb Polack who's as capable as the next idiot of getting my head shot off." Yup, it's just another day in the life of the Chicago Police Department, or at least its most finicky detective. It seems Jarek has a reputation of eating his way through partners like chewing gum, and his latest isn't up to snuff either. Fortunately, the newly appointed superintendent Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) has arrived with another one in tow, Caleb Evers (Matt Lauria). And he should do fine, or at least last the day, as long as he doesn't break any of Jarek's rules: don't believe what you've heard about him, no swearing and no mention of a certain baseball team on the North Side.
Colvin, herself one of Jarek's partners from back in the day, also has an offer: carte blanche to look into some of the city's most high-profile cases, beginning with the notoriously oily, but never convicted Alderman/construction magnate Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo, in full awesome mode). It seems a young couple has been murdered in the middle of Grant Park, one of whom was about to blow the whistle on her company's shady dealings with Gibbons's company. And so begins our descent into the rabbit hole of Chicago politics and policework. Along the way we meet Jarek's ex Dina (Amy Price-Francis) with whom he still shares a spark (and an occasional bed); Jarek's niece Vonda (Devin Kelley), a beat cop whom he warns not to fall for her reckless partner, Isaac Joiner (Todd Williams); Liam Hennessey (Billy Lush), a low-life thug who just may be the key to taking down Gibbons' empire; and Antonio Betz (Manny Montana), Colvin's street urchin-turned-aide.
What works: The show takes a 90 degree turn in the final act that is just plain epic as what initially appears to be an enjoyable-albeit-boilerplate procedural becomes a white-knuckle, holy-shit-what's-going-to-happen-next-thriller. Credit the wonderful Shawn Ryan - who wrote the book on how to balance serial and standalone elements on "The Shield," and put out a second edition with "The Unit" - for giving us another revealing tour of the souls that protect us, in this case my home city's police department. Spearheading the acting front is Jason Clarke, whose good-natured-but-slightly-tortured Jarek Wysocki sets the tone for a multifaceted cast with Beals's equally velvet-gloved/razor-bladed Colvin and Montana's Betz as her stalwart protector among the standouts.
My favorite relationship however has to be Jarek and Caleb's as the eager young detective fails miserably to make small talk and gets sent on fool's errands, quietly proving himself as more than the empty shield Jarek expects in the process. The show also offers up a distinct narrative structure as virtually everyone gets to narrate their story in an ethereal, omniscient way we rarely see in series like this. And, on a personal level, it's always great to see Chicago on the small screen again.
All in all, "Ride-Along" is the type of television show I absolutely adore: a toybox of well-rounded characters put in a distinct landscape with stories and attitudes that can be anything from funny to terrifying to heart-breaking, never knowing which is coming next.
What doesn't: As a native Chicagoan, I can attest none of the actors sound like they are from Chicago. That and the unabashed White Sox love is unacceptable! I'm just kidding... sort of.
The bottom line: Make an appointment for this one.