Chicago has been the capital of gang-violence and murders in America for decades now. The city has earned a bad reputation and has seen violence in the streets between African-Americans and the police. Creator and writer Lena Waithe tries to change that perception of Chicago with The Chi.
The Chi is a nuanced drama that intricately describes the struggle for success that comes with living in the south-side of Chicago. It is one of the few shows that have been able to weave a cohesive and exciting story with Black Americans as the protagonists.
1. Quick Review
The Chi is a show that weaves a web of inter-connecting plotlines and characters. Its themes explore the cause and effect relationships that form and percolate through different layers of society.
A series of coincidences and choices make a mesh-like storyline that often leads to drama fatigue.
The Chi is supported by strong performances both from their experienced veterans and the fresh young faces. While the initial episodes may be painful to follow due to the lack of a central protagonist, it’s a story that changes your perception of a community.
2. Is It Worth Watching?
The show highlights and exaggerates the drama that the people living in South Chicago face in their lives. Handled with class, the characters have interconnecting arcs, and the story never descends into unnecessary melodrama.
The Chi is not the story of a particular person or family. The show captures the effect of events on a community. The show has a fluid style of storytelling that manages to capture stereotypes without explicitly showcasing them.
The pilot features a young boy Coogie, riding his bicycle along the streets of Southie, past murals of athletes, and Obama. He finds the body of another teenage boy who has been gunned down at a corner. Coogie, against his better judgment, decides to steal the deceased’s sneakers and necklace.
Peppered throughout the narrative are three men talking about their responsibilities to their families. A similar trio of high school boys also navigates romance and crime in the neighborhood.
This sets in motion a chain of events that involves multiple families in the murder investigation. While romances spark up in school between teenagers, their families struggle to cope with the aftermath of the crime.
II. Cast & Characters
There are many characters and storylines which clutter the narrative and make it difficult to judge performances as many don’t get enough on-screen time. As Brandon Johnson, an aspiring chef, Jason Mitchell, carries the burdens and expectations of his family on his back.
He gives an emotionally resonant performance in his many roles as son, husband, and father.
Alex Hibbert, as Kevin has great moments with his friends in school as they navigate romance and relationships. The scene where he participates in a school play to impress a girl gives a humane portrayal of childhood innocence, showing that we’re all the same as children.
Armando Reisco plays the Detective who has been put in charge of investigating the murder. The community as a whole is not hostile towards the police, but due to their past encounters with the law, they don’t expect much help from him.
They don’t think he’ll be able to accomplish anything, and this case will just be a statistic. This is a constant source of frustration for Detective Cruz as he navigates a community’s tension towards the police.
3. Final Thoughts
Two linked crimes drive much of the story forward, and their devastating impact on families in the community is explored in the show. The Chi manages to weave a complex and layered narrative based around families, loyalties, and relationships in the city.
Creator Lena’s portrayal of black men as more emotional and sophisticated humans is refreshing.
The story often gets muffled and confusing, as many arcs take a long time to converge. The massive cast and characters also don’t make it easy to keep track of what’s happening.
The Chi’s most significant accomplishment is depicting the breadth and multitudes of the people living on the south side of Chicago.
Violence is pictured with all its consequences and devastating impact. This is the best way to combat stereotypes and highlight that we are more alike than different.