‘The Chi’ Review: Showtime’s South Side Drama Best When It Shuns Convention

After all the demonization Chicago and its gun-violence statistics have received from the likes of Donald Trump, Showtime’s The Chi aims to put human faces on the real circumstances. Debuting on January 7, the series created by Lena Waithe is a solid effort that could be quite good if it would get out of its own way and drop the convenience of convention.The offering from the history-making Emmy winner and Master of None writer alternates between going deep into the lives, loves and losses of residents of the Windy City’s South Side and just skimming the surface of multiple shootings with the overly familiar and unnecessary police tropes of a typical network TV drama. The latter storyline unsurprisingly becomes such a drag on The Chi that re-entry into the series’ far more captivating elements becomes successively harder and harder, as I say in my video review above.

With obvious and often worthy aspirations to the heights of The Wire, the series executive produced by Common and showrun by Elwood Reid is at its best when it drills into the minutia and intimacy of its wide cast of characters. No spoilers (and you can see it in the pilot that the premium cabler put up online last month), but one of a number of truly arresting moments from the episodes I’ve seen occurs when Alex Hibbert’s pre-teen Kevin defies the mocking of those around him, and his own hesitation, pursuing a role in a school production of The Wiz to get a girl’s attention.

Sitting overall in the center of the greater coming-of-age narrative with a young life that clearly has already seen too much, the Moonlight alum is joined by Straight Outta Compton vet Jason Mitchell, Jacob Latimore, a great Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Yolonda Ross, Armando Riesco and Tiffany Boone in a pretty strong cast.

Take a look at my video review above to see more of my take on the strengths, and shortcomings, of the Fox 21 TV Studios-produced series, and how losing the latter may reveal even more of this oftentimes poised and soulful drama.