The Chi Review: Showtime's New Drama Is Heartwrenching And Raw

Coogie on his bike

It's no secret that the world of TV is in a bit of a renaissance at the moment. There's a wealth of great content being produced, from places like network tv, cable, premium channels, and now streaming services. While channels like HBO and Showtime used to be the home for challenging and adult dramas, services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are definitely giving them a run for their money. Luckily for Showtime, its managed to produce some winners lately. SMILF is getting a ton of positive attention and was already renewed for Season 2, and now The Chi will bring a new soon to be acclaimed drama, focusing on a wide range of characters in the city of Chicago.

The Chi was created by recent Emmy Award winner Lena Waithe. Waithe recently made history for being the first African American Woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing. Her win comes from her work on the acclaimed Netflix series Master of None, and now she's able to create and write for a new series about her hometown of Chicago. The Chi follows a large ensemble cast, who make up the denizens of one Chicago neighborhood. With equal parts drama and heart, we see as the many characters function within their microchasm, especially in the wake of tragedy.

The narrative opens with Coogie (Jahking Guillory) a 16 year old boy who is riding around his neighborhood. We get a feel for what the community is like, and see as he takes care of someone else's near starving dog. But things quickly take a turn for the worse, as Coogie stumbles upon a dead body. The audience is shown how scared the community is of the police, and Coogie decides to steal the necklace, shoes, and wallet off of the body. This split decision quickly ripples through the rest of the cast, including both the victim and Coogie's family.

Brandon doing prep work in the kitchen

As each new character is introduced, we don't quite know what they have to do with the main story. We meet an aspiring chef Brandon (Straight Outta Compton's Jason Mitchell) who wants to start a restaurant with his girlfriend Jerrika (The Following's Tiffany Boone). Before the end of the episode, their connection to other characters become clear, as Brandon is actually Coogie's older brother. This is largely how The Chi plays with its large cast. We slowly peel back layers to each of them, and the series truly comes through as an ensemble piece.

The Chi's pilot episode should be enough to hook most TV audiences, as it's shot and written to near perfection. The first episode was helmed by film director Rick Famuyiwa, and his film sensibility can be seen in the cinematography. It's shot very much like a film, and the city feels like another character that we're following. Famuyiwa is the perfect guy to start off The Chi's story, as his work on films like Dope followed a different set of young people of color.

The cast's performances are seriously stellar, and The Chi seems like the perfect show to win some Best Ensemble awards come next Awards Season. Because the series has both charm and tragedy at its forefront, the cast is able to give a variety of performances. But the show really shines during its moment of drama, and there are plenty of absolutely heart wrenching scenes that will find you reaching for the tissues, and pretending you just have something in your eye. In particular Armando Riesco's performance is stellar, as he plays a police officer trying to do the right thing for the community he serves. Although major gang activity, access to guns, and the hatred from the community makes this almost impossible.

Alex Hibbert as Kevin

It certainly seems like The Chi has everything it needs to become a majorly successful series for Showtime. The show's cast reportedly clamored to be included, as it meant working with the recently lauded Lena Waithe. The series is already being referred to as the modern day The Wire, considering the large scope and cast of characters that The Chi focuses on. Although Detective Cruz is really the only real law enforcement officer that the story follows, as the regular community at large takes up most of the show's runtime. Still, The Wire is considered one of the best shows in TV history, so this is high praise coming from cinephiles.

The Chi is just the latest in an exciting line of TV shows that focus on people of color. Indeed, the 2017 Emmy winners and nominees featured many more people of color than before, including Donald Glover for Atlanta and Lena Waithe for Masters of None. And with the great Spike Lee even coming to the small screen for Netflix's She's Gotta Have It, there are more shows about and produced by African Americans than we've ever seen. And in addition to being a step forward for proper representation, the quality of these shows (including The Chi) prove why a diverse pool of directors and producers are needed in Hollywood.

Overall, The Chi is a beautiful series that packs a series emotional punch. Showtime would be remiss to cancel it anytime soon, so hopefully it'll follow along the lines of SMILF and get a speedy renewal.

You can catch The Chi January 7th on Showtime. In the meantime, check out our midseason premiere list to plan your next binge watch, and our cancellation list to se if your favorite show go tthe chop this year.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.