Story by Kai Acevedo & Ralph Bristout
Showtime’s new series The Chi is many things. It’s gripping, intense, and personal, yet at the same time, there's a lot to consume, from its multi-character cast to its stretching plot. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that much is presented in the premiere episode of the Lena Waithe-created, Chicago-set drama that debuted Sunday night (January 8).
Waithe, who became the first African-American woman to win a comedy writing Emmy Award for Master of None, offers a bracing microscopic view of life in Chicago’s South Side, turning statistics into faces in a humanizing story that tugs at the heartstring. For a neighborhood that oft gets an inflamed amount of bad rap, The Chi digs past the stereotypical headlines and into the circumstances behind them, thus drawing similarities in execution to, its obvious aspiration, The Wire.
In the end, between the surprise turns, personal layers, and connections between characters, the execution raises promise in the series and episodes going forward. For now, following the debut of the pilot, directed by Rick Famuyiwa, here are three quick takeaways.
1 | One of the early takeaways from the first episode is the deep connection between the main characters, which is revealed in atypical fashion. Instead of laying out these relationships in the conventional in-your-face sense, the show leaves it up to the audience’s gradual discovery. For example, we first meet Coogie (Jahking Guillory), a frizzy-haired teen who bikes throughout the South Side neighborhood. His discovery of a murdered young male kicks off the show and thus unleashes a flood of findings that ultimately opens a Pandora's box of connections, which are all tied together by either blood or happenings.
2 | As often as Chicago’s South Side gets demonized by the general public for its crime statistics, this show’s aim to overturn the stereotypes is clear. Instead of playing to the preconceived notions, it offers some context to the never-ending cycle of violence that doesn’t only plague the Windy City, but also inner-cities around the country.
3 | Another interesting element to the series is the youth. The unfortunate series of events that unfold in The Chi’s opening episode, and that essentially bring the story together, revolve around the interactions of the series’ young characters. The growing pains encountered along the typical journey to adulthood can alone be overwhelming, but when the combination of murder and revenge is added to the equation, the results can be devastating. Continuing the age-old 'nature versus nurture' debate, the Showtime series offers a glimpse into how the dire circumstances faced by these young characters affect everything from how they talk to girls to how they respond to witnessing a murder.
WATCH: REVOLT TV's interview with Lena Waithe, producer of Dear White People.