‘The Chi’ premiere recap: wrong place, wrong time

Showtime Mathieu Young/SHOWTIME

Lena Waithes highly-anticipated series, The Chi, debuted on Showtime on Sunday and there’s already plenty of signs you should make this show your new addiction.

While there are obvious reasons to compare The Chi to another amazing series, we think it will set itself apart from the award-winning predecessor. Like The Wire, this show is set in the inner city and features a strong ensemble cast, (including The Wire alum, Sonja Sohn) whose lives are intertwined in unexpected ways. The Chi manages to touch on societal issues that permeate the inner city while diving deeply into the interior lives of its characters.

The Southside of Chicago provides the backdrop for this beautifully shot series that follows several characters grappling with violence in their daily lives.  

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The Characters

Let’s jump right in to the recap because The Chi has a ton of players you need to know about.

In the first scene of The Chi, we meet Coogie (Jahking Guillory), a 16-year-old boy with a beautiful crown of hair and his own swaggy style, riding his bike through the neighborhood. We’re instantly drawn in by his charismatic demeanor and natural charm. We watch as he haggles a discount for beef jerky and pop from the owner of the corner store before making his way to feed a dog he’s sweetly attached to.

The story is set into motion when he unwittingly stumbles upon the dead body of a teenager, Jason, on the corner just before police respond to the crime. He quickly steals the shoes off the dead boy’s feet along with his phone and chain before ditching his bike and attempting to avoid suspicion by blending in with another group of teens walking down the street. His quick thinking isn’t enough for him to escape the police and they tackle him to the ground and bring him into the station.

It’s immediately clear this street-smart kid knows better than to talk to police and he is dismissed after being questioned by a cop (Armando Riesco) who believes he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jason’s mother, Tracy (Tai’isha Davis) identifies her son’s corpse with her ex, Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) doing his best to comfort her as she demands to know who killed her baby. We learn that Ronnie raised Jason as his own, although he’s not his biological father, and he accepts the task of finding his killer because they both know the police won’t make catching their son’s killer a priority.

We meet Kevin (series breakout Alex R. Hibbert) and his sister, Keisha (Birgundi Baker) walking past the same corner store where we first saw Coogie and their close bond is evident and endearing. Kevin’s best friends, Papa (Shamon Brown Jr.) and Jake (Michael Epps) are kids in junior high who are mostly concerned with getting girls and avoiding bullies. Kevin has a crush on Andrea (Mariah Gordon) and she convinces him to try out for the school’s production of The Wiz.  

Coogie’s older brother, Brandon (Jason Mitchell) is a prep cook at a trendy restaurant with dreams of opening his own eatery with his supportive girlfriend, Jerrika (Tiffany Boone). They share a nice apartment in a nicer part of town and it’s clear they’re hell-bent on creating a better life for themselves. Brandon and Coogie’s mother, Laverne (Sonja Sohn) is an unapologetic drunk who demands a ride to the police station from her older son while taking jabs at his “uppity” girlfriend and clowning his career; highlighting the fact that not all parents welcome their children’s desires to do better. Brandon insists on having Coogie stay with him and Jerrika for a while and Laverne reluctantly agrees.

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The Connections

The next time we see Keisha she’s having sex with her boyfriend, Emmet (Jacob Latimore) who is busy looking out the window for his mother, Jada (Yolanda Ross) to return home from work. When she does, he tells Keisha to hide under the bed, but his mother is no fool and quickly calls her out and invites her to stay for breakfast without missing a beat. She knows her son is good for smoking weed and sleeping with girls in her house and it seems like a fight she’s already given up on having with him.

Later, we see Emmet buying the sneakers Coogie stole from Jason’s corpse revealing another link between these seemingly unrelated characters who inhabit the same Southside neighborhood. While Emmet is shopping for kicks at a local shoe store, a scorned lover shows up demanding he pay her child support for the baby she insists is his. Emmet denies that he’s the father and when she doesn’t back down, he demands they go for a paternity test.

We learn that Emmet is indeed the baby boy’s father when his ex drops him off at his apartment unannounced with the test in his diaper bag. Now he’s stuck with a baby he doesn’t know or want and a mother who refuses to be to babysit her third grandchild. She doesn’t know why he continues to have sex without a condom, but he’s going to have to handle his responsibilities on his own.

The Crisis

Back at school, Kevin finally works up the nerve to ask his crush Andrea out on a date but is soon pissed to learn that his pal, Jake, beat him to it. When the boys walk home while arguing about the bro code betrayal, Kevin storms off and sees Ronnie arguing with Coogie.

Ronnie tracked him down using intel from a local drug dealer and he’s convinced Coogie killed Jason when he spots the gold chain he gave his son around Coogie’s neck. Even though Coogie insists he found the chain and tries to give it back, Ronnie shoots a bullet into his chest. Did he mean to do that? Kevin sees the whole thing and freezes when Ronnie spots him and realizes he saw the whole thing. The fear in Kevin’s eyes is palpable and we know he knows what happens to witnesses in The ChiNow there’s another dead teenager to mourn and another innocent kid to worry about. Brandon delivers a heartbreaking speech at his brother’s funeral before his grieving mother  Laverne blames him for Coogie’s death. He skips the burial and heads to work. He’s vying for a place on the line and despite his grief and his boss’ pleas for him to take some time off, he gets right back to business. In The Chi, life goes on no matter what tragedies are unfolding.

Brandon goes to the corner store his little brother used to frequent to pick up the bike that’s still chained to the street sign. Emmet is there and when he realized Brandon is Coogie’s brother, he tells him that he knows the kid who witnessed the murder. He leads him to Kevin’s apartment, and Brandon asks the middle-schooler to show him who killed Coogie. Kevin is reluctant to snitch, but ultimately agrees and leads him right to Ronnie. We see Brandon zeroing in on the man he now knows killed Coogie just as he gets a text message telling him he got the job as a line cook. Kevin looks up at Brandon and asks, ‘What you gonna do?”