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'The Code' is More of the Same From CBS
April 9, 2019  | By David Hinckley

No network does snappy procedural dramas better than CBS. Even letter-perfect execution of the game plan, however, doesn’t always guarantee a win.

The Code, which premieres at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday on CBS, couples the law and the military, a seemingly sure bet that turns out to have a drawback or two.

Captain John “Abe” Abraham (Luke Mitchell, top) is a devoted legacy Marine who was taken out of combat after being wounded and now prosecutes legal cases inside the Corps. Like court martials.

Captain Maya Dobbins (Anna Wood, top) is an equally dedicated Marine attorney who often finds herself on the opposite side of the table from Abraham because she represents defendants in court martials.

Theirs is not the classic good guy/bad guy relationship of opposing lawyers. They’re colleagues who respect each other, and their relationship is comfortable enough that they place side bets on minor bits of courtroom drama – like who will be the first to get a particular judge to mention his Purple Heart.

No CBS procedural is allowed to leave the writers’ room without its quota of humor – witness The Code’s fellow military drama NCIS. Still, as that example suggests, The Code may not yet have figured out the most seamless way to insert it.  

Because Abraham and Dobbins move in the same relatively small legal circle, they regularly encounter, among others, Colonel Glenn Turnbull (Dana Delany) and Major Trey Ferri (Ato Essandoh).

As befits Marines, they are stern and rigid about following rules to the letter. The Marines, after all, run on discipline. They also have hearts, as Turnbull shows when she lets Abraham skip a legal planning session to accompany the body of a slain fellow Marine back to his home.

The death of that fellow Marine also becomes Abraham’s case of the week, as he and Dobbins wrestle with the question of whether extreme combat trauma constitutes a mitigating circumstance for a killer – and beyond that, whether Corps doctors have a responsibility to monitor soldiers for signs of psychological as well as physical debilitation.

It’s an interesting question with obvious applications in the real world these days, though The Code wisely seems disinclined to preach.

This being a CBS procedural, it all wraps up in a way that’s as fair and just as can be expected from a situation born in tragedy.

At the same time, the first episode suggests a potentially more serious problem: the nature of the Marine Corps.

More than any other branch of the service, or most American institutions in general, the Marines command respect. We think of the Marines as solid, dedicated, incorruptible, and The Code treats the institution with exactly that reverence. That’s the tone, that’s how the actors play their roles.

Procedurals, however, need bad guys, and since much of the work Abraham and the other lawyers will be doing seems to be internal, that means finding a stream of bad guys inside the Corps.

Bad guys who have been Marines long enough to have reached a position where they could do something seriously wrong.

Now, sure, in real life, some Marines undoubtedly do things that are illegal and/or immoral. They are, after all, still human beings.

But The Code isn’t real life. It’s a television drama that seems determined to salute the organization at the same time putting a spotlight on its internal breakdowns.

It’s doable. It just may not produce the kind of bad guys and sweeping menaces that create the best television drama.  

The Code has a solid group of writers and actors who carry out their mission. They just may have landed on the wrong shore.

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