From the ’90s Bulls to politics, 5 streamable shows that tell a Chicago story

By Zoë Takaki, Staff Reporter

Elias Gonzalez

With the weather getting colder, it’s time to pop the popcorn and start the list of television shows for streaming this fall.

These five TV shows are a good introduction to the city, as they showcase Chicago’s many different personas.

South Side

“South Side” is a 2019 Comedy Central show created by Bashir Salahuddin, Diallo Riddle and Sultan Salahuddin. The workplace comedy follows two recent community college graduates and their coworkers on Chicago’s South Side, as they encounter bizarre hijinks and genuine storylines.

Robyn Bahr, television review writer for the Hollywood Reporter, discussed the authenticity found in the show’s filming process in their 2019 review.

“Filmed on real Chicago streets and brimming with nonprofessional actors/real-life South Side residents, the sitcom pulses with upbeat authenticity. But don’t mistake the writers’ empathy for softness — the show is damn funny,” Bahr wrote in their 2019 article.

The New Yorker staff writer Doreen St. Félix’s 2021 review of the show said “South Side” has “crafted a fun-house portrait of Black life in the Second City,” showing a reflection of the South Side through a comedic lens.

“South Side” is available on HBO Max. The show also has a podcast on WBEZ, currently available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the WBEZ website.

The Last Dance

“The Last Dance” is a 2020 10-part series, directed by Jason Hehir, that tells the story of the iconic 1998 Chicago Bulls team and Michael Jordan’s rise to fame through neverbeforeseen archival footage and intimate interviews of the athlete.

In explanation of how the film had this incredible archival footage, the director included the quote in the film, “As preparations began for the 1997-98 season, Jordan and the Bulls granted unprecedented access to a film crew for the entire year.”

In an Insider article by Jason Guerrasio, entertainment correspondent, he said the footage was locked in a vault for 18 years and eventually presented to the director who took on the project with enthusiasm.

Daniel Fienberg, chief television critic for the Hollywood Reporter, said in their review, the series is a “ridiculously fun assemblage of spectacular basketball footage and reasonably introspective interviews with almost everybody you’d hope to hear from on the subject.”

“The Last Dance” is available on Netflix.

Work in Progress

“Work in Progress” is a 2019 comedy series created by and starring Abby McEnany, a former student at Second City, a Chicago comedy institution featuring a comedy club and school. The series follows a mentally struggling 45-year-old lesbian as she navigates relationships, society and mental health in Chicago.

B.L. Panther, film reviewer for The Spool, discussed the show’s honest portrayal of queer life in modern society in their review.

“The series digs at the loneliness and isolation one can feel as a queer person under capitalism, where one is stigmatized for an array of things that make daily life drudgery,” Panther said.

Chicago Sun-Times entertainment columnist Richard Roeper described the series in his review as a “dark and frank and wickedly funny profile.”

“Work in Progress” is available on Showtime.

City So Real

“City So Real” is a documentary series directed by Steve James and produced by longtime Chicago production studio Kartemquin Films, that documents historical moments in Chicago from 2019 through 2020. These events include the 2019 mayoral election, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Jeff Spitz, associate professor in the Cinema and Television Arts Department, teaches “Big Chicago: Chicago Film History,” a class that paints a picture of Chicago history through cinema. He said he likes to show the series to his students to demonstrate Chicago’s reality.

Spitz said the series shows “that what is real and contentious in urban America, [such as] race, politics, corruption, sports, labor, violence, rapid transit, trains, etc., is always happening here. Chicago is a city so real.”

Brian Tallerico, editor of the popular movie review site, describes the series as a portrait of the major American city at a crossroads in their 2020 review.

“[The series] has a remarkable cumulative power” and “the ambition of ‘City So Real’ is remarkable,” Tallerico said.

Review writer for the New York Times James Poniewozik said the series portrayals Chicago honestly.

“‘City So Real’ doesn’t hide Chicago’s problems, but it’s a complicated mural of civic life that lets its subjects speak for themselves and resists reducing their concerns to bumper stickers,” Poniewozik said.

“City So Real” is available on Hulu.

The Chi

“The Chi,” a series created by 2006 Columbia alum Lena Waithe, has been on air since 2018, with five seasons available for streaming on Showtime.

Spitz recommends the show as a good way for people to get some exposure to the city. He also points out that the show is made in Chicago by native Chicagoans.

“I love that it is local crews, local stories, local locations. You feel like you’re in Chicago because you are,” Spitz said. “And Lena is true to Chicago and I love that.”

The show takes place on the South Side of Chicago and follows a group of Black characters going through a range of milestones in life, from school children to the adults that take care of them.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly by Nick Romano, Waithe said, “It’s not ‘Let’s show Black people in Chicago in a positive light,’ it’s, ‘I want to show people in a human light.’”

The Guardian’s contributing writer Kyla Marshell touched on the true joy that the characters emit in the show in their 2018 review:

“Watching Black characters and a Black creator who are not forced to represent anyone but themselves.”