Good in the Hood
“The Chi” on Showtime
Earlier this year actress and writer Lena Waithe nabbed a Primetime Emmy for her work on Netflix’s “Master of None.” She became the first black woman to win an Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series award. Unsurprisingly, she’s parlayed that combo of fame and talent into her very own TV series. Waithe is the writer-
The show, a sprawling ensemble-cast drama, most closely resembles HBO’s vivid portrait of time and place “Treme.” Instead of post-Katrina New Orleans, “The Chi” concentrates on the down-and-dirty inner city streets of Chicago—the very ones on which Waithe herself was born and raised.
The show’s rapidly coalescing narrative begins one fateful night as floppy-haired teen Coogie (Jahking Guillory) stumbles across a dead body that has just been dumped on a city sidewalk. Unwisely, the kid chooses to jack the dead guy’s expensive kicks. That poor decision lands him in the custody of Detective Cruz (Armando Riesco), a well-meaning cop who quickly deduces Coogie had nothing to do with the murder. Despite a lack of leads, the mysterious death has ever-expanding ripples of consequence throughout the neighborhood, leading us to meet our other characters.
Brandon (Jason Mitchell) is an upwardly mobile young man, working as a prep cook and dreaming of opening a restaurant with his girlfriend. He’s Coogie’s half-brother and often finds himself taking care of the kid when their alcoholic mother goes off on a bender. Kevin (Alex Hibbert) is a shy middle schooler who unwittingly auditions for a school production of The Wiz in order to get closer to a girl he likes. Kevin’s older sister is dating neighborhood player Emmett (Jacob Latimore), who’d rather collect expensive basketball shoes than pay child support for the various babies he’s fathered. (Which is, of course, where those shoes Coogie stole end up.) Finally, we have Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), the estranged father of that poor guy found dead on the street corner. Angry and looking for vengeance, he hits the streets, which brings him—and us—full circle to Coogie.
Many of the show’s interlocking narrative threads center on an ever-expanding cycle of murder and revenge. It’s an attempt to address some of the whys and wherefores of Chicago’s notorious rep as America’s murder capital. (In reality, Chicago doesn’t even crack the top 20 per capita.) The show isn’t all death and mourning, however. In fact, it covers a wide range of stories, both positive and negative. Waithe has an ear for natural dialogue and an eye for evenhanded drama. Brandon’s storyline, for example, shows one man’s attempt to lift himself off the troubled streets by his own bootstraps. And yet, he gets grief from those around him for selling out. (His own mother calls his girlfriend, “a bougie-ass bitch.”) Whether Brandon will be pulled into the South Side’s cycle of violence or rise above it remains to be seen. The pilot itself ends with someone asking the conflicted Brandon, “What you gonna do?” It’s a question that will undoubtedly haunt the show and set the stage for the dramatic season to come.