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TV REVIEW: 'The Chicago Code'/'Traffic Light

“The Chicago Code” (Fox)
Peter Sorel/FOX
"The Chicago Code"

The Bottom Line

Shield creator Shawn Ryan's latest features two main characters you can't take your eyes off of. (The Chicago Code)

Can talking while driving be funny? Fox's new romantic comedy presents a wholly believable situaton that is also very amusing. (Traffic Light)

Airdate

Monday, Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. on Fox (The Chicago Code)

Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 9:30 p.m. on Fox (Traffic Light)

Fox scores with a worthy cop drama and a transcendent romantic comedy.

One easy-to-gauge marker on how a network is doing is consistency. It’s one thing to create a hit, then slip into a fallow period, and quite another to see good series coming out in bunches.

In the fall, Fox missed with Running Wilde but found a gem in Raising Hope, and after a rocky pilot episode, the animated Bob’s Burgers is starting to find a reliable amount of funny moments. But perhaps more impressive, Fox is about to unveil two series that work well in genres that have, through the years, littered television with mediocrity: cops and romantic comedies.

Why anyone would want to create a cop series in the wake of The Wire and The Shield — two of the greatest ever — seems a mystery. Although two recent series — ABC’s Detroit 1-8-7 and TNT’s Southland — are churning out good but fairly routine versions of the genre, neither has become mandatory viewing.

The Chicago Code

The man who created The Shield for FX — Shawn Ryan — comes back with a broadcast network cop drama, though it’s one that doesn’t set out to redefine the field. Ryan has said he didn’t want to dip into that harrowing ride that was The Shield but to tell a different kind of story within a familiar framework. And the fact is, cops make for good stories, and Chicago makes a great backdrop.

It starts with Delroy Lindo as corrupt alderman Ronin Gibbons, who has run his ward for two decades and is easily more powerful and dangerous than the mayor above him. (He is note-perfect and riveting from the moment we meet him.) Trying to bring him down is Detective Jarek Wysocki (another wonderful turn by Jason Clarke), a revered cop whose former partner, the ambitious Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), is now the city’s first female superintendent. She got the job largely because of Gibbons’ influence — he thought she’d be content with the title — but now she’s got a zeal for reform that alienates a lot of people around her. That’s why she gets Wysocki and Caleb Evers (Matt Lauria) to work an unofficial team to bring down Gibbons.

Getting used to Beals as the emotionally distant ball-buster takes time. She doesn’t immediately seem to have the gravitas, but soon enough her Type A drive begins to demand respect.

What works best about the series is that Lindo and Clarke are forces of nature; you can’t take your eyes off their characters. Code is not a game-changer in a genre that likely won’t be changed again for some time, but judging by the first three episodes it’s already gripping television and Fox has found a competitive new drama.

Airdate: 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 7 (Fox)

Traffic Light

It could be argued that Fox has pulled off something even more remarkable with the debut of the less-than-thrillingly titled Traffic Light, a romantic comedy whose concept was imported from Israel: because it is both funny and remarkably realistic.

Do you know how hard it is to create that combination? Nearly impossible. The romantic comedy always seems like a good idea on paper, only to end up horrible -- filled with cliches and the broadest of comic moments and, at the core, a series of relationships that can only be considered normal to TV biz people who watch a lot of rom-coms.

But Traffic Light presents two couples and one single guy in a way that is wholly believable. In the same way that Modern Family has been able to mine comic gold out of everyday struggles,Light keeps the couple-banter and the friend-banter surprisingly relatable and, in the biggest shocker, enormously funny.

The conceit of Light is that three best friends, now in their 30s, are in different stages of their lives. They have jobs, wives, a baby, a live-in girlfriend, etc. So they often carve out time for one another by talking while driving. Initially, this might seem awkward, but it works and produces humor -- partly because they don’t linger on the scenes.

Mike (The Office's David Denman) and Lisa (Liza Lapira) are married with a toddler. Adam (Nelson Franklin) and Callie (Aya Cash) just moved in together. Ethan (Kris Marshall) is the happy bachelor. Nobody in the cast is fall-on-the-ground beautiful; they look like people you might see if you were ever to go outside of Los Angeles.

Light sometimes feels like a mash-up of How I Met Your Mother and The League, with doses ofMen of a Certain Age -- comparisons that should be celebrated. It isn’t just a generic romantic comedy. That it has been able to play in that genre and be funny and believable enough to transcend it is quite the accomplishment.

Airdate: 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 8 (Fox)