The Chi acts as a bridge between the 80s – 00s Black Renassiance to the modern one by reviving familiar stories, continuing ones that got cut short, as well as featuring characters who were seldom seen or heard.
|Ronnie||Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine|
|Greavy||David Alan Anderson|
|Kevin||Alex R. Hibbert|
|Maisha||Genesis Denise Hale|
|Papa||Shamon Brown Jr.|
|Miss Ethel||LaDonna Tittle|
|Hannibal||Chris De’Sean Lee|
|Detective Cruz||Armando Riesco|
|Detective Wallace||Brian King|
|Sergent Clemmons||J. Nicole Brooks|
For most of the characters, the death of Jason and Coogie within the first two episodes changed their lives depending on how close they were to the epicenter. For Jason’s loved ones, Ronnie, who was like a dad to him is deeply affected. Especially since, despite him no longer being close with Jason, or Jason’s mom Tracy, it was like, for a time, Jason was his kid. That is, until Ronnie became distant.
But with Jason’s death came Ronnie making the rash decision to kill Coogie and then that begins affecting a multitude of lives. Brandon, Coogie’s older brother, loses it a little bit and in the process of trying to handle his emotions, he does something which nearly destroys his relationship with his girlfriend Jerrika. Then in terms of Coogie and Brandon’s mother, Laverne, she is so distraught it pretty much pushes her to become even closer to this man she is seeing Greavy and even get married.
Though it isn’t just the families that are affected. An old gangster named Quentin, who left for Cuba years ago, with the state of his old hood returns and starts asking questions. Especially since he thought when he left his turf in Trice’s hands, things would have stayed running smoothly. Meaning, for kids like Jason who have a future, for Jason it was with basketball, no harm would come to them. Yet, so it has and corrections to a broken system have to be made.
Yet, it doesn’t just affect the adults. One kid, named Kevin, witnessed Coogie’s murder and Ronnie saw him. This leads to his life becoming complicated as he goes to his friend Jake for protection, Jake gets something from his older brother Reg, who works for Trice, and then Brandon gets involved. All the while, Kevin is dealing with this crush on this girl Andrea, their friend Papa is trying to help as Jake slowly becomes a thug, stops going to school, and becomes “about that life” and let’s not forget Maisha’s crush on Kevin causing issues.
And this is but the tip of the iceberg of how those close to the epicenter are affected. The death has a great ripple effect as the characters named interact with new people they never would have before and influence their lives for better and worse. All because of two people being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Brandon & Jerrika
The first two subheadings are perhaps the driving forces of the show. When it comes to modern media, less and less we find Black couples. Especially young Black couples. Much less young Black couples whose relationship isn’t filled with internal drama. So to say Brandon and Jerrika are a breath of fresh air would truly be an understatement.
For truly, these two are relationship goals. Both work, Brandon as a chef and Jerrika in her family’s realty business, and there are even conversations about them owning a place together. You don’t see a large amount of co-habiting, goal oriented, Black couples on TV. The only thing missing is a marriage proposal at this point.
Yet, don’t get it twisted, while things are quite nice between these two, there is a sort of 90s urban drama vibe to them. Especially as Brandon deals with the struggles of Coogie’s death and that hood negro in him combating this man he is trying to be. Now, don’t misinterpret that to mean Brandon is a reformed man, did a prison or juvenile detention stint or anything like that. More so, Laverne was the kind of mother who seemingly kept things up but wasn’t supermom. So, for a lot of things, with her being a single mom, Brandon had to handle things on his own. Which led to him becoming a little bit street smart but, thankfully, not “about that life.”
However, with them being in a part of Chicago where things happen, as Coogie is an example of, there is always the possibility of getting robbed, being part of an altercation, or more. A constant threat for Brandon as he associates with people of that life but is trying to not get dragged in. Especially since Jerrika, like many women in those 90s urban dramas, don’t play that.
Kevin, Papa, Jake
When you look at Kevin, Papa, and Jake, similar to Jerrika and Brandon, you get a 90s vibe. However, with them, it is the feeling you are watching the kids of nearly every 90s urban drama or comedy. You know, before they jumped forward to when everyone was an adult. And with that, it is like you get to experience what for some movies, like in my opinion Love & Basketball, were the best parts of the film.
Yet, just because these are kids, that doesn’t mean they are watered down or accessories. Much less, they aren’t treated as equals to the adults. Led by Alex R. Hibbert, of Moonlight fame, each kid is given their own journey that could be a standalone show. For Kevin, he is dealing with his first real introduction to violence, while dealing with having a crush on this girl and dealing with her cousin. Jake, seemingly knowing what his brother was into, finds himself forced to get involved in a way that he is hesitant to at first, but then takes to like a frog to water.
But then there is Papa. There is something about Papa that may come off strange and comical to you, like the weird kid, or sidekick, on a Nickelodeon or Disney Channel show of the 90s to early 00s. Yet, as comical as he may seem, he is in on the joke. Heck, really, there isn’t a joke for Papa is who he presents himself to be and is comfortable in it. Whether it is dressing up for the school production of The Wiz, being cool with hugging other guys or buying tampons, Papa is that dude. Someone who is a rare soul, and character barely ever seen in this capacity. Making you hope that his character gets to be developed more in terms of us meeting his family and getting a real focus vs. being a supporting role in Jake and Kevin’s lives.
The strength of Quentin’s character is how he ties multiple characters in the outer rings of the reverberation of Jason and Coogie’s death towards the center. He is the character which helps boost Emmett from a basically deadbeat dad to someone you wouldn’t mind seeing often. His battle of wits with Trice and Reg are some of the highlights of the show. But what makes Quentin really cool is that he is an old school gangster. He isn’t trying to be flashy and cause much in the way of waves. Yeah, he causes trouble, but that’s because you done f***ed up and need correction. You are messing up the balance.
But, even outside of the gangster aspect, Quentin gave the show so much. As noted, there is his interactions with Emmet and acting like a father figure. Seeing a bit of his softer and sentimental side with brother Sonny, and then that being combined with his troubling past which makes it a bit more difficult to be pro-Quentin. For you learn he did something which makes you want to ask questions for you want to believe so badly Quentin isn’t as bad as someone makes him out to seem.
Miss Ethel is the type of character which makes you wonder why no one has thought of an urban version of Golden Girls. You know, maybe a bunch of southern grandmas who have lived and now are just dealing with the issues of getting old, dysfunctional families, and things of that nature. For characters like Miss Ethel are the kind you think shouldn’t just be tacked onto someone’s storyline and then disappear once they aren’t needed anymore.
Especially since, alongside Quentin, you don’t see a lot of shows featuring characters their age. It is usually teenagers to those in their 30s or 40s. So for so much time to be given to Miss Ethel and you getting this vibe you know her, even if no one in your family is similar, it makes the possibility of her just being there one season frustrating in ways you can only imagine.
Prejudice Being Shown Not To Be Only A White thing
Often times when racism and prejudice are brought up, it is usually a Black and white thing or white vs. any ethnicity. Things are a bit different on The Chi as we see Emmett talk disparagingly when it comes to Amir and Habib who own a corner store. Though he is trying to work with Amir, when it comes to his sneaker hustle, there is him talking about terrorism and saying some things which seem quite thoughtless. Proving that when it comes to Islamophobia, it is an issue in a multitude of communities and not an issue solely exhibited by white folk.
Hannibal speaks an Asian language, is a software designer, and while a bit of a shut-in he still goes out and has an appreciation for his culture and community. The reason he gets highlighted is for the same reason as Papa, he is different in such a way where you feel like you’ve seen him before but not in this capacity. For me, I think of Wade from Kim Possible, when I think of Hannibal, just in his adult years and in Chicago.
And while Hannibal isn’t a huge part of the show, even while Brandon is seeking him out for advice and investment, you have to take note of these gems the show has. For you truly will be hard-pressed to find another Hannibal, in live action, with this much screen time, who isn’t treated as solely the tech geek or maybe an episodic villain.
There is a special place in my heart for Maisha. If only because we kind of got a bait and switch with her. Like with Papa, there is this idea she is going to be some kind of joke character for, more often than not, heavyset and Black = joke. Something Erika Alexander mentioned when it came to why her career doing comedic roles didn’t go so well. Yet, with Maisha, while you could argue they softened her up through showing she was living in poverty, and how Andrea probably messed with her, it let her keep her dignity.
What I mean by that is, usually, when a character is introduced to us as someone tough, they break them down until they are pitiful before reintroducing them as a human being. With Maisha, it is more so a natural, peeling the layers back to see behind the curtain than full-on ripping the curtains down, opening the door, and treating her like an animal in a zoo. She is allowed to slowly come into the light and you have to appreciate that.
It Showed Mothers Mourning
There is a joke at the beginning of Don’t Be A Menace about how mothers in the films that production parody barely featuring the mothers. True to the 90s vibe this series is on, it presents the same kind of mothers we got a glimpse of but expands their role so their hurt can be seen. It isn’t just the girlfriends, cousins, and best friends who we see affected. Mothers get to mourn, show the difficulty of trying to cope and attempt to move on if they can.
And while, as noted, their pain is pretty much the core of their character, there is potential for growth in future seasons.
Representation Across the Board
When it comes to Black shows, diversity is limited. While the shows on OWN have diverse skin tones, as does HBO’s Insecure, they don’t feature young, old, fat, skinny, dark-skinned, and light skinned all within one program. The Chi does that and not even in a tokenism kind of way. When it comes to love interest, we got everything from Jerrika’s complexion to Andrea. We got characters as skinny as Laverne to Miss Ethel, and it goes for the men too. Hannibal and Brandon are thick boys while Emmett clearly hits the gym. Nearly everyone gets represented and even though his role is small, we even get representation for non-Christian Black folks in the form of Rafiq. Also, Kevin’s moms are queer and it is odd to Kevin’s friends, but no one else really seems to take much note of it. And, I should add, they are as affectionate as any hetero couple as well.
All of which seems natural, without this idea of trying to push inclusivity or representation. The Chi simply is trying to keep it real with you because these people exist and don’t deserve exclusion or minor roles just because their body type, skin tone, or age isn’t what usually is marketed. They all have a story and, as the highlights have shown, are nearly all built to for a spin-off, even if just in the form of a web series to support the show during hiatus.
This Show Barely Lets Women Be More Than Wives, Mothers, Grandmas, and Love Interest
While you must praise how diverse the women look, and the mothers getting to mourn and not be pushed aside as they do it, they aren’t really developed that much. Jerrika is Brandon’s girlfriend and it barely goes above that. Yes, it is established she has a realty license, but that just becomes a plot device to eventually lead her back to Brandon through Laverne wanting to sell her house.
Speaking of Laverne, outside of being Brandon and Coogie’s momma, Greavy’s bride, there isn’t much else to her. She likes to drink and smoke, party a bit, but likes and dislikes beyond that? Dreams and fears? Your guess is as good as mine. The same comment can be applied to Tracy, Miss Ethel is just this eccentric old woman who loves her grandson Ronnie, and Jada you see some effort to establish more than who she gave birth to, but once it seemed they had to put in effort or let Jada go, off she went.
Amir and Habib Just Got Written Off With No Warning
Despite being a consistent presence for a good portion of the season, Habib just disappears and Amir does the same not too long after. Which is unfortunate since their corner store seemed quite popular in the community and with them having a bubbling storyline, you’d think it wouldn’t have fizzled out the way it did. Making it so, by the end of the season, you start wondering what happened to them?
The Cops – Especially Detective Cruz
Detective Wallace, Detective Crus, Sargent Clemmons, these three are so far removed from the rest of the characters that you forget they exist. But what makes it worse is that there is this vibe they should matter. Take for instance us learning about Detective Cruz’s personal life and that he is going to become a father. This seems like an important moment right? Something you should care about? Yeah, because of how d…r…y… his character is, you just hunch and suffer through his scenes.
Making the fact he will likely be returning in season 2 unfortunate, but at least there is a whole lot of room to grow.
On The Fence
Like Detective Cruz, Ronnie is a bit dry. Not callouses dry but in comparison to the energy of everyone else, Ronnie is like a walking virus. A catalyst just to set things in motion for other characters and then walk away. He is the catalyst for Kevin and Brandon’s early drama and even Tracy a bit. He helps rile up Ms. Ethel and gives a bit of an adrenaline shot to Detective Cruz’s story. Not enough to make him interesting, but he is probably the sole character who keeps him relevant.
There are times where Emmett feels a bit out of place on this show. While everyone else is presented as a full-fledged person, Emmett has this almost comic relief vibe. Something which gets taken down a notch as Quentin gets involved in his life, as well as EJ and Tiffany become a stronger focus with his character. However, between the selling sneaker thing and his situation with Amir, as much as you can see the potential of the character being a young father, trying to do right by, well at least one kid, and showing that struggle, there are also these silly and goofy moments which go beyond the general tone of the show.
Brandon & Kevin’s Relationship Just Ends
With Kevin being raised by two moms, and only having an older sister, who he seeks guidance from, but no brother, it was unfortunate that when Brandon came into his life, he didn’t stay or check up on the kid more. Realistically, you can understand why he didn’t but considering how much brotherhood and men stepping in was shown with other characters, it was unfortunate Kevin didn’t get his male role model in the form of Brandon.
Overall: Positive (Watch This) – Recommended
You don’t often see shows that can encompass so many aspects and perspectives of being Black in one program. Yet, even with such diversity, every character is given some form of potential. In terms of the women, the potential isn’t realized to the fullest, but considering how they are handled even when not given proper due, I can imagine them taking over season 2.
Leading to why the positive label: People talk a lot about this being a Black renaissance but there hasn’t been anything really to bridge the old and new. The Chi creates that bridge. It gives you all those late 80s to early 00 vibes with its characters and helps them transition to the year 2018. All the while bringing the same pain, same beauty, and same struggle which made so many classics in the past. Yet, while this show may exhibit how it was inspired by its forbearers, it pushes things forward. Making it so for many characters whose stories often got cut short, they finally get expanded or continue. Thus giving them new life and making The Chi feel fresh.
Has Another Season Been Confirmed?: Yes, according to Variety.
|The Chi seems like the evolved form of the urban dramas which dominate Black late 80s through early 00s nostalgia.|
|The Chi still treats its female characters dirty, but as it delves deeper into Chicago post-Jason and Coogie’s death, there is hope for others.|
|As Ronnie’s life continues to get complicated, the women of The Chi finally begin to be developed – somewhat.|
|Violence begets violence, and there can never be peace as long as revenge links together like chains. In other words, things only get worse for damn near everyone.|
|While the title of the episode maybe, “Today Was a Good Day” that doesn’t necessarily apply to most of the characters on the show.|
|As Brandon and Sarah grow closer, a major piece of evidence comes into Detective Cruz’s hand. Though considering the moves Quentin is making, Jason may not remain his focus for long.|
|People pay for their deeds, good or otherwise, and while some are as sweet as a kiss, others are as brutal as a bullet.|
|As Brandon figures out how to start his next chapter, Quentin treks backwards to prove a point to Trice and Reg of who not to f*** with.|
|What goes around comes around isn’t just about karma in this episode, but also what happens in darkness will eventually be exposed by the sun. Whether you walk into the light or not.|
|The Chi ends in a polar opposite way to how it began. There is peace, little to no drama, and rather than focusing on endings, it is all about new beginnings. Though not necessarily of the positive kind.|
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