When Chicago Justice was announced, many people asked "Do we really need a Chicago lawyer show?"
Based on Chicago Justice Season 1 Episode 1, the answer is we most certainly do.
"Fake" is everything that Chicago Justice needed to be and everything that a great legal drama should be. It's a smartly written hour with genuine suspense that provokes meaningful discussion, and the Law & Order references are a very nice touch for anyone who knows their Dick Wolf series history.
The episode wisely stays away from simplifying its legal drama down to "Chicago PD catches bad guy and State's Attorneys bust bad guy." It actively attacks the police's investigation of the massive warehouse arson and encourages the audience to do the same.
It even gets particularly thorny when State's Attorney Mark Jefferies, who is as politically minded as he is legally minded, makes his top litigator Peter Stone aware that both Stone's career and his are riding on the outcome of this case.
That's an uncomfortable moment for viewers; it'd be easier if he was just giving a "go team" speech. It could even come off as self-serving. But Chicago Justice doesn't shy away from showing everything involved in a prosecution.
Enormous tragedies make career cases. You win this one, it could make your career. You lose, it could destroy mine.Jefferies
It even does a surprisingly good job of making us resent Chicago PD heroes Hank Voight and Alvin Olinsky. Audiences know from the start that Voight and Olinsky are lying about the suspect's confession. Antonio Dawson (nice to see you back, Jon Seda!) even covers for them.
But Chicago Justice puts us in Stone's corner, where we know there is no confession and that it could ruin his case. Not only that but we share his anger that they did something that's not only illegal but also unethical.
If this were PD we'd probably not mind and be happy that the cops did everything they could to catch the responsible party. It doesn't work that way in the world of Justice.
That's what legal dramas should ideally do. They're not about just putting away the bad guy or having an argument or who can be wittier in a sharp suit. They provide opportunities to start a discussion and provoke debate. If Chicago Justice can do that as well as it did in this episode, we're in for a potboiler of a show.
Antonio: Did he confess, Al?
Olinsky: The son of a bitch killed Lexi.
Justice rests significantly on the broad shoulders of Stone, played by former The Player star Philip Winchester. It's incredibly strange not to see him punching someone in the face, but that's what makes this a brilliant bit of casting.
Winchester brings as much strength and gravity to his monologues as he did to his action sequences. He's the lawyer you don't want to cross, like PD has Voight and Fire has Chief Boden. And he's already got the "I will kill you where you sit" death stare on lock.
We're not huge fans of pulling in the idea that Stone once had an affair with a woman while she was separated from her husband; it may add a personal element to his part of the story, but it already seems slightly out of character for a man who operates so within the lines.
But otherwise, keep your eyes on Winchester because he's going to deliver a next-level performance, possibly one of his best.
The casting here is great all around, honestly. One Chicago fans have been waiting to see Jon Seda back as Antonio Dawson, and the new dynamic between Antonio and Stone is a juicy part of "Fake."
They obviously don't get along as much as they do, and that's great fodder for the inevitable conflicts between an investigator's point of view and what's within the law, just like the whole fake confession deal. Imagine the arguments these two will have and how much they will prompt other arguments.
Bradley Whitford makes a more than adequate foil as defense attorney Albert Forrest. It's as if the slightly self-assured attitude of Josh Lyman from The West Wing took a very wrong turn. And as much as we loved Josh, that's how much he makes us hate Forrest.
Monica Barbaro plays Stone's second chair Anna Valdez, and how will their partnership develop? She may be new around here but she constantly questions Stone and plays back at him, which holds out hope that Valdez will be more than just the woman who sits next to Stone in court.
Joelle Carter and Carl Weathers are their usual tough selves in "Fake," holding down the fort on their respective sides of the case even though they don't get as much to do.
And we can't overlook Tovah Feldshuh, who reprises her role from Law & Order as Danielle Melnick, former defense attorney turned judge. Likewise, she only has a few lines, but if you're a Dick Wolf fan it means something to see her in the big chair.
I just like to know which team I'm on before the game starts.Nagel
It's that combination of dependable casting and exceptional writing that will make Chicago Justice succeed. A proper exploration of stories as relevant and painful as the Oakland warehouse fire (on which this is based) needs people who respect the material and can convey it.
And these actors deserve the best material because they can drive it home just like they do in this episode. Watching Winchester and Whitford in court is like an awesome verbal chess game. The final ten minutes are the kind of TV that makes you stop and give it your complete attention.
So many TV trials pale in comparison to the investigative part of shows. They're either tacked on or into a cop drama where they're not the focus, or audiences can get disengaged because they're all talk and no action.
Having a right and doing what is right, they're two completely different things.Stone
But what some people don't realize is that talk can be action, if it's well written enough. Words have their own power; there are lines here that are worthy of being not just quoted but remembered.
And actors can give those words meaning and emotion if they deliver them to the best of their ability. Law & Order did that particularly with its cross-examinations and closing arguments, and in "Fake" that's exactly where Winchester drives this home.
He has us eating out of the palm of his hand with his closing statement. If I can offer up my personal experience, I have a degree in criminal justice and while studying for it I spent several years doing exactly what he did on Wednesday - pretending to be a prosecutor.
The way I did that was to make it personal and I took it as my mission to get a guilty verdict for every fake case. And I see that same fire, that same sense of purpose, in his performance. That's not just what this show needs; it's the kind of thing that affects people.
Antonio: Did he confess, Al?
Olinsky: The son of a bitch killed Lexi.
But there are questions here, as there are with any new series. How will Chicago Justice do when it's on its own and not the tail end of a three-hour, heavily promoted Chicago Crossover event? Especially on Sunday, which is owned by The Walking Dead, Homeland, et al?
Also, could it continue this idea of prosecuting existing cases? It would be incredibly rewarding for fans to see someone arrested on Chicago PD and find out whether or not they're convicted on Chicago Justice. It wouldn't even need to be a crossover; at the most just a cameo from someone on PD to testify, just like the PD people drop onto Fire and Med all the time.
It would take some hard work from the writers, though, so we'll have to see what path Justice takes.
Wherever it goes, the bones of a great series are present in this episode of Chicago Justice. It has a perfectly cast ensemble to deliver compelling stories every week, and it seems like the guest stars will be on an equally high level.
As long as the scripts give them something to sink their teeth into we're looking at a hit - not just for One Chicago but for NBC and for all of TV.
Chicago Justice moves to its regular night and time this Sunday, March 5 at 9/8c on NBC. Chicago Justice Season 1 Episode 2 is called "Uncertainty Principle" and features another familiar face opposing Peter Stone in court. Will Stone be able to overcome an old friend to win his next case?
Meanwhile, if you want to rewatch "Fake" again, you can watch Chicago Justice online. Don't forget to stop below and give us your thoughts on the series premiere. Did it convince you that a fourth One Chicago show is needed? Will you be watching the next episode?
Brittany Frederick is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.