BIPOC Voices, Entertainment

‘South Side’ is Chicago’s hilarious and wildly popular love letter

“Everybody’s a loyal customer, it’s Harold’s. Look around.”

words by: Kayla Carmicheal
Sep 23, 2022

South Side is an utterly unique Black comedy — with subtle commentary at moralistic values and its own flavor of skit-like physical storytelling. I could talk about that, but what I really want to focus on is this: South Side, the HBO Max Original, is an effortlessly Black Midwestern love letter to Chicago.

 

I’m from Chicago. And sure, we have our fair share of shows “based” in Chicago (don’t talk to me about The Bear, because it could take place anywhere, but sure as hell not River North). The Chi, Shameless, Family Matters, Good Times, and a slew of copaganda come to mind. But so few of these actually feel like Chicago. For instance, Shameless has establishing shots in Chicago neighborhoods, but just like the other Jeremy Allen White show, it lacks our culture.

 

Enter: South Side. Not only is it shot on location in Englewood — the real South Side — but from the moment you press play, it’s clear this one is entirely different from others that start a scene with an elevated red line train rolling by on State Street.

 

The unique Midwestern Black experience is something that we rarely see executed properly and in depth. There’s merit in shows that do nothing to represent the city in which it takes place. The story, maybe. For instance, The Bear has Black main characters (they’re great), but there’s nothing about them that suggests they’re from Chicago. But the story is good.

 

Meanwhile, on South Side, Zenobia struts into work sporting her leopard-print bonnet and nobody cares. She uses hometown favorite Garrett popcorn as an apology. The West Side/South Side debate comes into play on a Jordan drop day. We talk, act, and think a certain way, and there’s nuances within our culture. And it’s because of where we come from and how we were raised. South Side captures that.

 

“I think the idea simply was, let’s make a really robust comedy, but let’s use the actual types of things that you would see coming from the South Side of Chicago,” the co-creator, Sultan Salahuddin, says. “Because it’s a much more diverse place than we ever really get credit for, especially when you look at the news.”

 

And that’s exactly it. When you think of Chicago, what do you think of? Kanye? A simile that too many use to illustrate rampant violence and crime? What about WGCI or Double Dutch? Bud Billiken? Harold’s Chicken Shack? A place buzzing with culture, beauty, and rich history?

 

The show is effortlessly indicative of the Black Midwestern experience but universally hilarious. Plus, the show’s creators brought family and friends to the show and in the writer’s room, making everything all the more natural. It’s amazing to see my city and people represented honestly. It’s validating — like, we exist, we’re here, and we’re thriving.

 

There’s no better way to illustrate what I mean than the spades and stepping contest episode. “Ed Lover’s Cold Spades and Hot Wings Tournament” is a big deal. Zenobia has to reckon with being horrible at the Blackest local card game ever, and Simon has to reckon with being awful at the Blackest local dance ever, stepping.

 

Outside of the tournament, a hot wing debacle goes down while Zenobia’s spades partner dumps her. Apparently, bringing hot wings instead of enjoying Ed Lover’s is a sign of disrespect.

 

 

And we got a season 3 y’all, thanks in no small part to just how many people love it enough to share it on social media. It’s so much more than a show about two brothers working at a Rent-A-Center-type, it’s an ode to a cultural epicenter of our country.

 

That said, NYC natives, how do you feel about the Dimes Square reality show? Is it legit? (And if you’ve never seen the 1985 Chicago Bears rap and try to dance, I urge you to look up the Shufflin’ Crew’ on YouTube.

 

Photo via Comedy Central