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New ‘Chicago Justice’ like ‘Law & Order’ with lesser talent

Monica Barbaro (from left), Joelle Carter and Jon Seda play part of the crimefighting team on "Chicago Justice." | NBC

If you’re still in the market for a “Chicago” show, another one is rolling off the assembly line.

Like its NBC companions, “Chicago Justice” is as irredeemably ordinary as TV gets — but then, as with the old Model T’s, prestige-level quality is not the manufacturer’s goal. It’s all about consistency and marketability, as Dick Wolf and his Chicago studio churn out time-filling, well-polished, mediocre (and interchangeable) parts that make no demands on your intellect or attention span.

At 9 p.m. Wednesday, those parts unite for a three-hour crossover that links “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med” and “Chicago PD” and concludes with a preview of “Justice.” NBC did not make that crossover conclusion available for preview, but nothing in the regular time-slot premiere at 8 p.m. Sunday gives any reason to either hope for better or fear for worse than the franchise already provides.

As with Law & Order, the New York-based ’90s classic that turned Wolf into a one-man network, “Justice” divides its time between the law and order sides of the judicial equation. Laura Nagel (Joelle Carter) and Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda, transferring from “PD) investigate for the State’s Attorney’s Office, run by Mark Jefferies (Carl Weathers) and his assistants: rookie prosecutor Anna Valdez (Monica Barbaro) and ambitious Deputy Chief Peter Stone (Philip Winchester). (He’s the son of the original “Law & Order’s Ben Stone, played by Michael Moriarty.)

And there you have a convenient symbol of the decline of Wolf’s TV empire in a casting nutshell. Moriarty was already an Emmy and Tony winner when he came to “Law,” bringing with him a sense of command and an edgy, unbending, intellectual strength. Winchester is a leading-man action star, last seen in NBC’s stunt-heavy 2015 flop “The Player.” Perhaps this will be the show that proves he’s more than a fast fist and a handsome face, but that turnaround will require better material — and a more confident performance — than what’s on display Sunday.

Unfortunately, the only lessons one can take away from Sunday’s premiere is that Carter is being criminally wasted, and that the franchise is running out of new tricks. Pretty much every plot twist is telegraphed, including the unearned cop-out of a conclusion.

Still, for those who retain a fondness for the original “Law,” the real tragedy is not that “Justice” is an insult to that Emmy-winning show’s memory; it’s that it makes you question that memory. Was the writing always this pedantic and on the nose and we just didn’t notice, because we were blinded by novelty, a far stronger ensemble, and those fabulous New York theater guest stars?

Because that’s what happens when you turn out too many lemons: We begin to question the entire line. Rating: ★★

Robert Bianco, USA TODAY