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So this is what's become of the legacy of Law & Order.

For decades, Dick Wolf's bifurcated legal drama was one of TV's best series, a thoughtful exploration of the vagaries of the justice system wrapped in an elegantly designed puzzle. But years pass, tastes change, and shows weaken, as the original gave way to inferior spinoffs, which themselves gave way to Wolf's Emergency-like mediocrity, Chicago Fire.

And now, as if the winter were not already brutal enough, Wolf and NBC bring us a badly cast and even more badly written salute to police brutality and network stupidity, the Fire spinoff Chicago P.D.(* our of four). Designed for people who want the legal clock turned back, not just to before theConstitution, but before the Magna Carta, Chicago P.D. is an insult to Chicago, police departments and viewers alike. Against stiff competition, it claims the title of NBC's worst series since last fall's similarly atavistic and quickly canceled Ironside, which at least had Blair Underwood going for it.

For PD, you instead get Jason Beghe, Chicago Fire's crooked cop Hank Voight, who is free from jail and, much to the predictable dismay of the brass around him, in charge of a special intelligence unit. He has his own team whose members play by their own rules, which — as has become the sad norm in these uniformed-vigilante TV throwbacks — sanction abductions, beatings, and all forms of threats and violence against suspects and witnesses. They may not go by the book, but in TV terms, they behave by the numbers: You'll see each moment coming, and cringe as it approaches.

As for the team, you have your standard rookie, your equally standard squirrelly veteran, and a dishwater-dull mass in between. (More faces will become familiar given time, but for now, you will probably recognize Jon Seda and Sophia Bush.) The team is, however, about to change, as any savvy viewer will know the moment we start hearing too much about one of the cops' private life.

For its debut, P.D. begins a two-episode story built around the unit's pursuit of a Colombian drug lord nicknamed Pulpo (ludicrously overdone by Arturo Del Puerto, who would be twirling a mustache had the makeup folks provided one). Thanks to Pulpo in particular and gangs in general, two children are at risk: A kidnapped boy and a boy being pressed into a gang. In a depressingly crude bit of sentimental exploitation, their plight is used as a justification for all manner of police misbehavior, from beatings to bribes.

When did Wolf's work, which used to show some grace and wit, become this ugly, plodding and crass? You can only imagine the next spinoff, Chicago DA, where the prosecutors are eternally frustrated as their cases are thrown out of court for constitutional violations.

If you think that's too awful an idea to make it at NBC, trust me. Chicago P.D. proves it isn't.

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