A new kind of TV kitchen on The Chi
Lena Waithe, the actor/writer/producer behind Master of None’s game-changing episode“Thanksgiving,” has a new endeavor that’s much bigger in scope, but feels just as fresh. The Chi tells the story of a half dozen people on the south side of Chicago who are connected through a web of romantic entanglements, family ties, and dalliances into criminal activity. It’s a compelling show right out the gate, full of characters that you want to learn more about.Brandon, a prep cook at a trendy downtown restaurant, is arguably the most endearing denizen of the neighborhood.
In the pilot, Brandon gets a shot at working the line at the restaurant. The promotion would bring him one step closer to fulfilling his dream of someday opening a place of his own with his girlfriend, Jerrika. Due to an unexpected turn of events, Brandon’s audition couldn’t come at a worse time for him, but his boss is sympathetic and offers him the opportunity to take the day off. It’s a nice gesture, but Brandon chooses to work through his anguish. It’s clear from the pilot that many of the big changes in his life will start in the kitchen.
Like “Thanksgiving,” one of the big themes of The Chi is people embracing new identities that their friends and family don’t completely understand. When Brandon volunteers to look after his teenage half-brother, Coogie, he decides to make him a “PB & J” sandwich for lunch with a few embellishments he has lying around the house. When his little bro asks him what the heck he was just served, Brandon explains: “It’s pork belly and apple jelly. Just culture yourself — trust me.” His mother is similarly skeptical of his new calling. When Brandon arrives home after a day of work, his mom asks him: “You still washing dishes, or they let you sweep the floors now?” Without missing a beat, Brandon replies: “I had a great day, thanks for asking.”
Many movies and TV shows depict kitchens as caustic environments where the protagonists must take their lumps from pompous, egotistical chefs before they can get ahead in the game. But throughout the pilot of The Chi, the kitchen is portrayed as a place where Brandon has opportunities to learn, grow, and even cope with the forces outside the restaurant that he can’t control. If the first episode is any indication, Waithe and her crew are introducing a new kind of kitchen to the TV landscape — and the timing couldn’t be better.