Spoiler Alert: this article contains a thorough recap of “The Chi’s” pilot episode
“The Chi,” literally and figuratively, premiered with a bang. Showtime’s new original series, created by Chicagoan Lena Waithe, is primarily a realistic depiction of the city’s violence-plagued South Side. The show starts with Coogie (Jahking Guillory), donning an array of pastels and styling his hair like former Bulls center Joakim Noah, riding his bicycle on 79th Street. Coogie, a charismatic loner who is always seeking a bargain, visits a dog that he cares for. While feeding the canine, the youngster witnesses a fatal, gang-related drive-by shooting. Coogie proceeds to hover over the blood-soaked body and steal his jewelry and sneakers.
Within minutes, authorities apprehend Coogie and drive him to the local precinct for questioning. Detective Cruz (Armando Riesco) interrogates the preadolescent, quickly determines that he was uninvolved in the slaying, and releases him. At approximately this moment, the victim is identified as a gifted athlete named Jason. Jason, apparently an ambitious go-getter who avoided trouble, was raised by his mother, Tracy (Tai’isha Davis), and surrogate father, Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine). Tracy is inconsolable and she urges Ronnie to avenge Jason’s murder. Ronnie networks with neighborhood locals and is eventually provided with Coogie’s description and typical routine. Later that evening, Ronnie confronts Coogie outside of a corner store and observes that he is wearing Jason’s necklace. Infuriated, Ronnie draws a firearm and mortally shoots Coogie in the presence of a middle school student, Kevin (Alex Hibbert). Ronnie subsequently returns Jason’s chain to Tracy and then wanders back onto the streets.
Coogie’s older brother, Brandon (Jason Mitchell), is devastated when he learns about his sibling’s death. Brandon, a skilled cook at an upscale eatery in the West Loop, is verbally abused by his alcoholic mother, Laverne (Sonja Sohn who played Kima on “The Wire”), at Coogie’s funeral. Brandon has been thriving at work and he attempts to maintain his composure. However, a chance meeting with an everyday guy leads Brandon to the homicide’s lone witness, Kevin. After some prodding and negotiating, Kevin identifies Ronnie and assures Brandon that he was the lone perpetrator. The program concludes with Brandon mulling whether or not he should kill Ronnie as retribution for Coogie’s ultimate demise.
Overall, “The Chi” was an engaging, and often riveting, 60-minute program. Waithe’s characters are layered, believable and viewers could become invested in their welfare. In particular, Brandon is a driven, goal-oriented man whose culinary career is prospering. Will he jeopardize his livelihood, and potentially his freedom, to retaliate against Ronnie?
Conversely, Lena Waithe’s pilot experienced some hiccups and one of her key plot twists was far too coincidental. After all, what is the likelihood that Brandon would stumble upon a man who happily helped him locate his brother’s murderer? It’s also worrisome that “The Chi” was littered with a few geographic inaccuracies that strip the show of some of its South Side authenticity. Most egregiously, how could Coogie clearly view the Sears Tower from 79th Street? Lastly, Waite’s premiere focused almost exclusively on its male actors in favor of its female leads. Will Waite eventually expand and evolve her female personalities to match the males’ importance?
Despite such drawbacks, and while there is ample room for growth, Waithe’s show is brimming with promise and it may develop into one of television’s elite dramas.
“The Chi” will air its second episode on Sunday, January 14, at 9 p.m. CST.