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Chi-Raq, Chi-Town, the Windy City… call it what you want but Chicago is a dangerous city to live in, at least according to the news headlines that continually paint it as the face of violence in America. Now step outside the stigma, and into The Chi, a TV series that welcomes you to a different Chicago that you rarely hear about.
Released in 2018, and created by Lena Waithe, The Chi is a coming-of-age drama that follows the lives of Chicago residents caught in an unfortunate series of events that threatens to tear their lives apart even as it connects them to one another.
If you have not already found this gem, and binge-watched it from beginning to end in a day (it is that good), here are five reasons why it is one of the best shows of 2018 and why you must watch it before we cross over to 2019.
1. Award-winning creator Lena Waithe
The Chi is the brainchild of award-winning filmmaker and actress Lena Waithe who made history in 2017 as the first African-American woman to win a comedy writing Emmy for her work in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None.
Born in Chicago herself, Waithe tries (and succeeds) to paint a different picture of the violence-ridden Chicago, as she seeks to humanise it and save it from its stigma.
In the end, Waithe doesn’t only redeem a city, she also takes her flawed characters through a journey of redemption as they grow from the mistakes they have made – from the reluctant young father who embraces his role to the remorseful surrogate father who must man up to face the consequences of his actions that ended a young life.
She reminds us over and over that there is more to Chicago, and that beneath it all, Chicagoans are just ordinary people trying to make sense of their flawed lives.
2. Outstanding cast
More than anything, The Chi gets its casting right with outstanding performances from actors who are as strong as individual characters as they are as multiple protagonists caught in one big messy fate.
Here, you will meet the middle-schooler Kevin, an instant show-stealer played by Alex Hibbert who came into the limelight in 2016 for his first acting role in Moonlight.
The Chi also features familiar faces like Sonja Sohn who played Detective Kima Greggs in The Wire, Jason Mitchell from Mudbound and Straight Outta Compton, who delivers an Emmy-worthy performance as Brandon – a passionate chef whose dreams are shattered by a tragedy.
3. The storyline
The Chi debuts its pilot episode with two murders – the second one caused by the first one in a retaliatory act that ends the life of a free-spirited young boy who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s a tragic turn of events, emotional too, that causes a ripple in the lives of the residents of Chicago’s South Side who at first may not share more than living in the same neighbourhood until fate connects them together.
Get ready for the preteen Kevin who just wants to hit on his crush, the ambitious Brandon who’s looking to open a restaurant, the jobless Ronnie whose poor decisions cost a boy his life, and Emmet, a horny teenager struggling with the idea of being a father, as their different lives collide.
4. Potential for winning major awards
It’s a shame that The Chi is yet to receive any notable nominations, having been snubbed by the Emmys earlier in July, but take comfort in the fact that The Wire, a TV show whose cultural impact was so phenomenal that it made it onto Harvard’s curriculum, also never received any major nominations for the Emmys.
Some critics have even labelled The Chi “The Wire of the South Side.” But time will tell, and Lena Waithe is creative enough to take the Emmy Awards head on.
5. Music and art
Chicago is home to great artists like Chance the Rapper, Common, Jennifer Hudson and the man we now all call Ye, just to name a few.
Therefore, it’s only fair that The Chi pays homage to great music with its soundtrack, featuring Queen of Funk Chaka Khan’s Let’s Roll and Chance the Rapper’s All We Got against a mural of black art including that of fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama in the opening scene – a moment that captures the optimism of The Chi.
The show also offers a platform to little known emerging artists from Chicago like Noname, Kiara Lanier, theMIND whose names you’ve probably never heard of.
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