Aside from New York City, Chicago is arguably one of the most recognizable backdrops in the realm of film and television.
The city was the playground for the idealism and angst of teenage adolescence given to us by John Hughes. Its frenetic pace bred the tense and taut sequences in the 1993 thriller The Fugitive; the sleek and sultry curvature of its freeways were tailor-made for Darius Lovehall to take Nina Mosley on a romantic joyride on his motorcycle in Love Jones; and the patchwork of city and suburb set to the tone for the chaos brought to you by the long-running Showtime drama, Shameless.
Known across the country as the “Windy City," Chicago has become more associated with its alarmingly high rate of gun violence than its eclectic set of museums, Navy Pier and deep-dish pizza. However, in recent years we’ve witnessed filmmakers such as Lena Waithe lend humanity to the city with critically acclaimed dramas such as The Chi. The midwestern city also serves as the silent backdrop for Steve McQueen’s Widows. Hoping to offset the media portrayal of Chicago with something more nuanced is the upcoming comedy show South Side, which has its premiere on Wednesday on Comedy Central, from Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle. The end result is a serviceable comedy that humanizes a portion of Chicago that is often either missing, maligned or misrepresented in mainstream media.
South Side opens up with a scene of a news report announcing another senseless act of violence in Englewood, before cutting to a news reporter who is quickly interrupted by two graduates of Kennedy King Community College. These individuals are Simon and Kareem, our two protagonists. The spitting image of Black Boy Joy, the duo flaunt and flash their degrees, their lapels, and subsequently make our Caucasian female reporter uncomfortable. In some ways, the scene encapsulates the spirit of the Black community; it’s a lesson to never underestimate our capacity to keep the buoyant vibes alive and kicking in the face of violence. Joy is our default and humor has served as our antidote for survival.
The plot for South Side is deceptively simple. Simon (Sultan Salahuddin) and Kareem (Kareme Young) earn community college degrees while working at RTO, a rent-to-own shop that rents out couches and television sets to its south side denizens. South Side begins to pick up during the second half its first episode, where we see Simon take his kids to the Adler Planetarium after getting fired from his new job. It’s a simple reminder that residents of the south side are just working-class folks trying to make a living. This sentiment is further punctuated by a game of 2K between Simon and a fellow south side resident, in which the latter states he’s "just trying to get by."
As Simon and Kareem, Salahuddin and Young showcase their comedic chops with ease and excellent timing. Kareem, an astrophile whose desire to work at the Adler Planetarium and love of astronomy holds potential for some excellent character development down the line.
South Side premieres on July 24 on Comedy Central. Chandra Russell, Zuri Salahuddin and Quincy Young also star. Guest stars for the first season include Lil Rel Howery, Nathaniel “Earthquake” Stroman, Jeff Tweedy, LisaRaye McCoy, Kel Mitchell and Ed Lover.
Photo: Comedy Central