#TheCHI: A Black Male Situation

It’s no secret I had problems with the freshman season of Showtime’s The Chi. The series, created by Emmy winner Lena Waithe, got off to a solid start yet somewhere between episodes 3 and 5, it dipped and became somewhat incoherent. The flow was gone, mainly with the storyline that involved the character Ronnie. It didn’t feel believable (the actor, especially) and made me want to check out of several episodes. The one shining light that emerged over that time and kept me coming back and actually looking forward to a second season was Shamon Brown, Jr. who plays the character Papa with such confidence and valor sometimes I wonder if he could carry the show on his own.

Thankfully, Season 2 has been a lot smoother, and although it still has a Ronnie problem (the showrunners have done everything they can to attempt to rehabilitate his image, including creating crutches for him to lean on like a sudden alcohol problem and PTSD, but it’s still the actor that doesn’t sell it), but honestly, that’s the only problem it seems to have. The character development has been admirable, as if the new team took everything that worked during the first season and amplified it. Gave it new life, and in turn room to breathe.

And it all starts with the relationships between the Black males on the show.

The bond between Brandon (played with such subtle grace by Jason Mitchell) and Kevin (brilliantly played by Alex Hibbert) has been on display since the first season. As we all know, Brandon lost his little brother Coogie, who was wrongly executed by Ronnie, and Kevin witnessed the shooting. This forced the two together, and it’s been such a great pairing. The two have become the brothers they both need, with Brandon being a male figure in Kevin’s life he doesn’t have at home, and Kevin filling the massive void for Brandon left with Coogie’s untimely death.

So that worked last season. And it’s just gotten better. The scenes with the two have been equally sweet and heartbreaking, with this past week’s haircut scene in the running as one of the best scenes on television. Ever. Goodness.

And it’s not just Brandon and Kevin. The budding, hustle based relationship that’s building between Brandon (clearly The Chi‘s common denominator) and the irresponsible Emmett (played with a loose joy by Jacob Lattimore) has been a delight as well. What started out as a pure money grab for Emmett has turned into a mutually beneificial brotherhood. As much as Emmett is happily and eagerly teaching Brandon the art of the hustle (the difference between gym shoes and sneakers, the gift and the curse of social media, the need to diversify your selling model), you can slowly see the influence Brandon is having on Emmett, making the perpetual baby daddy a little more responsible and aware of the way he treats those around him, including his mother and his children’s mothers. 

The other major relationship on the series that continues to shne a light on the importance of Black male bonding is between Kevin, Papa and Jake (Michael Epps). The three boys attend the same school but clearly exist in different worlds. Kevin has nothing but women in his life, while Papa is the son of a preacher man. And Jake? Ugh. He’s learning the gang ropes from his older brother Reggie and sometimes gets so angry he doesn’t know what to do with himself besides lash out and resort to violence.

Except… this season the boys have become even closer than last season. You see their reliance on one another, the curiosity about each other’s worlds, and even the respect they have for Papa, who is so confident and wise beyond his years, there’s no room for the bullying that would normally be rained down upon a character so different to even exist between the three. They are a joy to watch.

Even as awful as the scenes between Ronnie and Rafiq (Common) are, they’re still necessary as the show Black males communicating and showing a vulnerability that you hardly ever see on television outside of This Is Us. 

The Chi is on a roll through the first half of its sophomore season. The character development has been so good to see. Here’s hoping that the just-renewed-for-Season-3 series continues to explore the relationships that definitely exist betwen Black males.

Yup. Even Ronnie. I guess.


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