Dearly Departed: Eulogizing 'The Chicago Code' & 'Human Target'
May 11th, 2011 9:45am EDT
FOX, I'm not talking to you anymore. Not after you cancelled my two favorite series, The Chicago Code and Human Target.
No, this article is directed at the people still coming to terms with the network's decision to bring the hammer down on those two series Tuesday night. This is for the dismayed fans, for the casts and crews that are now in need of other jobs. I had the pleasure of working on both Code and Human Target for their entire runs. (In addition to fellow victim Lie To Me this season.) I wasn't just a critic, I was also a fan. I'm just as upset as the viewers, and I sure as heck am not letting these shows go without getting up on my soapbox to say loud and proud how good they both were.
These were two unique and wonderful series in a broadcast landscape where it gets harder every year to find a new idea or at least one that is distinctive. Over its two seasons, Human Target brought us a light high-adventure series that was the television equivalent of a classic action movie. It was Indiana Jones in a Michael Bay world. The show let three actors who didn't often get the praise they deserved take center stage - Mark Valley, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley - and they made an unlikely but perfect trifecta. Its throwback title sequence and main theme, as well as consistently jaw-dropping stunt sequences, were nominated for Emmy Awards in its freshman year. I found it to be the most fun show on TV.
Then along came The Chicago Code, which is everything I love about a television series; this is a show that makes me, as a screenwriter, say, "Damn, I wish I had written this." With all the TV I have to watch in my job and have watched over two decades, it's difficult for me to find a show that still opens my eyes, and Chicago Code does that. It legitimately impresses and surprises me, not just once or twice but on a regular basis. Like Target it cast people who are not household names - Jason Clarke, Jennifer Beals, Matt Lauria, Delroy Lindo - and those people rock it. This is television that I often long for but rarely see: a program for a smart, mature audience.
But I could go on and on about these shows on screen. I already have; I rhapsodized on both Chicago Code and Human Target in features this year. So let's take as read what I've already said and what others will surely join me in saying. What I really want to put in this column are the things that no one else can speak to. These were great shows, but more importantly, both of them made me better for having seen them.
Maybe it's because I am simultaneously also a writer and a fan, but I can't ever look at any TV series as just a detached critic; to me, working on a show is about more than penning articles. It's about coming together with a group of people, from the creative team to the publicists and the fans, and the experiences we share. Both The Chicago Code and Human Target were valuable to me both professionally and personally, probably the two most important series I've worked on so far in my career.
For me, Human Target started with my enjoyment of the original DC Comics character as a child, and continued with my love of Mark Valley from his time on another FOX series called Keen Eddie. Putting those two things together was a great thrill on its own. But it also ended up being the show on which I made my name. That began with series creator and season one showrunner Jon Steinberg, who took notice of my weekly recaps and reached out to me. He and I kept in touch, and I learned a lot from him. Jon is one of those people I could sit and talk shop with for hours. He was always a supporter of my journalistic work, and I have no doubt that he made me a better screenwriter.
I've also gotten to meet and chat with Mark, Jackie and Chi, as well as original series composer Bear McCreary. They are all great people. As a Mark Valley fan, you can imagine how much it meant to me to finally meet him last year; it's going to go down as one of my favorite moments in my life, no question. Like Jon, Mark took an interest in my work and also in me as a person. It floored me that he remembered me when we met the second time and asked how my recovery from a major surgery was going. He even checked up on me when we did a conference call a few months after that. It all still blows my mind when I think about it.
With these people who had welcomed me into their lives working on a wonderful show, it was a given that I was going to help campaign for a season two, and even my fellow critics began to associate me with the series. I turned up at San Diego Comic-Con wearing my HT sweatshirt and a good friend of mine whom I hardly ever see in person said, "When that got renewed, I immediately thought of you." Somehow, I started jokingly being referred to as "the President of the Human Target Fan Club." This was how people started taking real notice of me, and I certainly can't complain about how that turned out.
Enter season two showrunner Matt Miller. We met at the convention and ended up exchanging emails. Matt has always been one hundred percent supportive of my work on the show, behind me just as much as I was behind him. He named me the official President of the Human Target Fan Club and that is something I will always be extremely proud of. From Jon to Matt and everyone in between, I got a level of support and inclusion from the Human Target team that no other show has ever given me. They always treated me as one of their own, and so it is the least I can do to make sure they're recognized for not just the show they put on, but what good people they are.
Now we come to The Chicago Code. Not just one of my favorite shows now, but one of my favorite of all time. A cancellation hasn't hurt me this much since ABC axed Sports Night, and to put that in perspective, I still think about that show more than a decade later. Chicago Code is the show that got me excited again about what television can do as a medium. As a writer, it energizes me not only to write but to aspire to write to its standard. As a fan, this is the show that has me fired up. I've talked to my TV, cried, yelled, and I threw my remote once - and I love that I can be that invested in something. It so rarely happens, but when it does, it's a fantastic ride.
This journey was also profoundly personal. I have a background in criminal justice; at one point I wanted to be a homicide detective myself, and I was headed that way. I can speak about how the series strikes home with me because it actually articulates the emotional and mental struggles I went through in my law enforcement career. I can't even put those into words myself sometimes, but I've looked at this show and said, "That's real. That's what I felt like. That's what I dealt with." It isn't just the respect of getting it right but also the relief of feeling like someone understands the intangibles that still haunt me. Beyond that, The Chicago Code has actually made me reconsider my decision to abandon a police career - not because TV makes it look cool, but because it reminds me of the reasons why I wanted to be a cop in the first place, and makes me recall the good memories just as much as the tough ones.
The show also introduced me to one of my favorite actors in Jason Clarke. I had never even heard of him before this; I ran into him in January and failed to make the most of it because I didn't have a clue how he was about to amaze me. I've been wanting that moment back ever since. It's an honor and a pleasure to watch him every week; I've found myself with my jaw hanging open more than once, and his work has inspired me to write a character for him in a project of my own. I am honestly heartbroken that our paths might not cross again now, because damned if I don't want to find out how he blows my mind.
I finally got to meet and get to know series creator Shawn Ryan, who didn't only appreciate my work, he also validated my entire screenwriting career. I'm not exaggerating. I've sometimes been teased because of my approach as a screenwriter, but when I asked Shawn how he crafts such great characters, his process was almost exactly the same as mine. It reinforced to me that I could succeed my way and needless to say, no one teases me about how I write anymore. I also was lucky enough to do interviews with Jennifer Beals and Matt Lauria, who are both wonderful people in addition to being great actors. Matt will go down as one of my favorite interviews ever. He's as polite and also as fun as they come. I can't say enough good things about him.
The Chicago Code further served as a starting point for other things that improved my life. Matt persuaded me to watch Friday Night Lights and needless to say, I was hooked. Thanks to my newfound appreciation for Jason Clarke's talent, I ended up watching his previous series, Brotherhood. That show has also become one of my all-time favorites. Through my writing about that series, I ended up meeting the show's creator, Blake Masters, who's also made me a better writer through our discussions and whom I'd consider a friend. I wouldn't have seen either show or formed that friendship if The Chicago Code hadn't existed.
Which brings me to the last, but certainly not least, thing that matters about these two shows. I have enjoyed an amazing relationship with the fans of both series over their runs. Not just as critic and audience, but a personal bond. I've made so many friends because of these shows that I wouldn't have otherwise. And you, the readers, have been here as well, watching along with me, reading what I have to say, encouraging me and sharing your thoughts in discussions that enrich the experience. I've gotten to be part of two strong, amazing fan communities that I am so proud of. Your passion for your shows is a reminder to me of why I do this job at all. And when you've gone through the health problems and the resulting isolation that I have, knowing that you're not alone means more than I can ever tell you. Thank you all for being here for me and being a part of my life.
It will seem ridiculous, but I'm also very proud of having launched and run ChicagoCodeFan.com, because doing that was a huge challenge for me, one I never wanted to attempt before. I've been so moved by both these shows that I've accomplished things I wouldn't have otherwise even tried. I just wanted to be in the fight in any and every way possible, and even though we lost on both fronts, I don't regret any of it.
I covered every minute of Human Target, and I'll still be writing about The Chicago Code until the final frame. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. They're not just TV shows to me; I know that I am a better person because of them. I'm incredibly grateful for the existence of both of these series, which only makes losing them even more of a tragedy.
That's my story; now let me hear yours, Code and Target fans. Let's talk about what made us love these shows. And most importantly, let's take some time to thank all the countless people in front of and behind the cameras that brought them to us. It's something they deserve to hear. What parting words do you want to say?
Related: Brotherhood, Chi McBride, Delroy Lindo, Human Target, Jackie Earle Haley, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Beals, Mark Valley, Matt Lauria, Shawn Ryan, The Chicago Code, Starpulse Exclusives, Television, Action & Adventure, Drama, TV Networks, FOX
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