Chicago-based drama ‘The Chi’ explores city’s hardships

Set in Chicago, Showtime’s newest drama, “The Chi,” has a predominantly Black cast and realistically centers the conversation on hardships of living on the South Side of Chicago./ Courtesy of Wikimedia

With a plethora of TV shows on the air right now, it can be hard to see which ones will deliver and which ones will not. There are many different reasons why people would rather watch a certain TV show over another; I personally look for a non-mainstream show, as well as something outside of what I usually watch. Stumbling upon the trailer for Showtime’s newest drama, “The Chi,” and watching the first episode on YouTube, I was hooked. “The Chi” is a tale that follows the lives of four African-American men living in the South Side of Chicago. One fateful event suddenly brings them together and their lives are intertwined.

One thing “The Chi” does well is slowly introduce viewers to the four men who are connected, but do not know it yet. It starts off with a murder that leads us to Brandon, an aspiring chef; then Emmett, a teen father who sells shoes for money; Kevin, a 14-year-old who is looking to impress his crush; and Ronnie, a man who is looking for his son’s shooter. As season one progresses, there are multiple scenes that dive into who these characters are and what drives them each day, making them each complex in their own ways.

With minor characters also playing essential roles in the storyline, we get a wide range of ages as well as significant representation. “The Chi” could have focused on using only adults to tell a story, but it also includes teenagers and children. Character development is also key. The personalities of the characters change to the point where you love them and feel bad for them, whether they are good or bad. The actors portray these characters so well and bring them to life.

Another aspect of “The Chi” that keeps viewers watching is the problems incorporated into the show, which are expertly woven in with the storyline to make it more realistic. One of the characters, Emmett, grapples with the hardship of teenage pregnancy. All the characters struggle with poverty, especially Brandon, who seeks to find money for his new business. Kevin and his friends have to deal with high school, as well as the prominent issues of drug-dealing and losing peers to gun violence. With its depiction of real-life issues, the show makes these characters, and their lives, relatable to real people living in America.

“The Chi” has been compared to HBO’s “The Wire.” Set in Baltimore, “The Wire” explores the city’s drug scene. It is widely regarded as one of the best shows of all time, primarily because it is a realistic portrayal of life in the city, just as “The Chi” is. This is what makes “The Chi” an amazing show. It is a glaring reality that requires viewers to confront their surroundings, rather than finding comfort in a fictitious setting.

Critics have noted, and I agree, that there seems to an unending supply of despair in this show. There seems to be no hope for these characters, and if something good happens, it quickly goes to ruins. I have to both agree and disagree with this point. A show with a lot of negativity can obviously start to feel draining, as though there is a distressing event waiting around every corner. Yet at the same time, people living on the South Side of Chicago don’t always have fairytale lives, and things do not always work out for them, especially if they live in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Another critique is that the plot is slow, and at some points I wondered if the story was going to progress into one that made sense. Although at some points, confusion ensues, the season ended up being extremely interesting.

“The Chi” can be weighed against an NBC media franchise called “Chicago”, with sub-series named “Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D” and “Chicago Fire.” While both “The Chi” and this trilogy of shows are set in Chicago, the predominantly Black cast of “The Chi” sharply contrasts the predominantly white cast of the “Chicago” franchise. Additionally, the trilogy focuses on the middle class and the problems its members face at work, while “The Chi” is really all about revealing the issues that plague the working class every single day. In this way, “The Chi” is far more socially relevant than previous Chicago-based shows.

Creator, Writer and Producer of “The Chi” Lena Waithe, of is able to depict some of the real hardships of living in Chicago—hardships that she herself viscerally understands—making the show well worth watching. Ending season one on a strong note and being renewed for season two after just four episodes of the first season, “The Chi” is ripe with hidden promise that is finally starting to be recognized.

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