Cast: Jahking Guillory, Jason Mitchell, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Jacob Latimore, Alex Hibbert, Tiffany Boone, Yolanda Ross, Armando Riesco, Shamon Brown, Michael Epps, Sonja Sohn
The Chi was created by Lena Waithe, a Chicago native who won an Emmy last year for an episode of Master of None that she co-wrote, becoming the first black woman to win for comedy writing. Lena is attempting to paint a more realistic portrait of Chicago, something that The Chi’s predecessors have failed in.
The pilot opens with a Coogie, a luscious-haired teenager on a bike, riding past murals of Obama with Chance the Rapper playing in his headphones. On a routine visit to feed a stray dog in the neighborhood, he happens upon another boy’s dead body. After his initial shock, he makes a bad decision: to take the dead boy’s necklace and sneakers, setting off the chain of events that affects every other character.
The characters in The Chi, most of whom are African-American, generally appear to assume that the city and its institutions are more likely to ignore them and limit their futures than invest in their safety or economic security. Without a reliable criminal justice system, people often take matters into their own hands, making a lot of individuals affected by violence. The result is that, while it unfolds from a crime, it’s not really a crime story. It’s about an increasing number of people who would rather be doing anything besides dealing with the repercussions of a murder. It’s a rare drama that bothers to remind us that even when somebody in your family dies unexpectedly, you still have to work, pay rent, survive.
The show has been described as a coming-of-age drama (the young character Kevin, portrayed by Moonlight’s Alex Hibbert, is particularly good), but the central characters – Brandon (Jason Mitchell), Emmett (Jacob Latimore), Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) – are of varying ages, and at various levels of culpability for the problems at hand.
The fact that the creator Lena Waithe and The Chi’s writers and directors care deeply about the complexities of the city and the people in it is apparent in every frame.
> Mar Martínez