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Nina Metz: Showtime's 'The Chi' had real potential, where did it go? What Chicago story is it telling as Season 4 ends?

Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

By the way, this season also saw the mayor shot and almost killed. This has more or less gone unremarked upon by the show’s characters. Let me repeat that: There was an assassination attempt on the mayor of the country’s third largest city and it’s a nonstory? What alternate universe nonsense is this?! Last week, the mayor inflicted so much violence on his City Hall aide/nemesis that the man might be dead.

This is straight up melodrama and the antithesis of the show’s earlier ethos.

Reading back through our recaps from Season 1, my partner Will had a great observation: “The best part of the show is how these random characters who occupy the same few blocks collide with one another. Death and murder can plague the members of single neighborhood. Lives really can intertwine — I’ve seen it happen. Another great aspect, and one that I know from reporting crime, is that the streets are always watching. Even when you think you’re all alone, someone sitting in a car or someone is peeking out their window or someone doing lookout for the local dealer saw something.”

These details have faded away over the seasons, as have nuanced observations about class tensions, all now buried under an avalanche of credibility-straining storylines.

The show has had three different showrunners over its four seasons, which might account for some of this. But I think we can also trace the show’s challenges to a pivotal moment, when it seemingly went into panic mode after Season 2. That was when star Jason Mitchell was fired due to allegations about his off-camera behavior with his female co-star, Tiffany Boone.

There’s no question the show made the right decision. But creatively, it has stumbled since. Mitchell played Brandon, a chef with an entrepreneurial spirit and an instinct for mentoring, and he was the heart and soul of “The Chi.” Without a new lodestar to take his place, the show has been lost. Very little makes sense. It all just feels so empty.

 

Will and I aren’t alone in feeling that way. Here’s a sampling of some thoughtful emails we’ve received this season: “Like you, I find this season troubling,” wrote Kevin. “I can suspend disbelief with the best of them … but I wondered from Day 1 where Douda’s security entourage was after he was elected, and how he could just move surreptitiously around a major city center without another soul to watch him. Where was the union uprising we know would occur if the mayor of Chicago declared a virtual war on his own police department? And how’s the gang he ran getting along these days? Do they have carte blanche on their turf, now that their former boss is now in City Hall?”

All good questions.

Here’s an email from a viewer named Trina: “When ‘The Chi’ premiered, I became an instant fan. The storyline was captivating and the characters felt real and fresh. The actors portraying Reg, Brandon, Kevin, Jake and Papa more than carried their weight and each character offered voices and perspectives that engaged me and made me care about them. To me the magic of the show was 1.) how community connectedness was explored and displayed and 2.) characters were not portrayed as simply good or bad, they were the sum of their life experiences, good and bad.”

But this season, she said, she has “finally accepted that ‘The Chi’ will never again be the great, groundbreaking, intriguing, classic show that it started out as. The show has no heart anymore … there’s no consistency in anything anymore. The tone and cinematography changes from scene to scene. One minute you feel like you are in a Spike Lee Joint, the next minute you are watching some version of ‘The Real Housewives’ (literally and figuratively).”

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