This version of Chicago is tough and lethal ... with a promise of joy ahead

The opening hour of cable's "The Chi" was a tough ride, but underneith the tragedy were great characters ... and a promise of better things ahea. You can still catch the opener (which reruns almost every night this week) and stop reading when you get to the spoiler alert. Or read the whole thing and start with the second episode, at 10 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 14) on Showtime. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

The opening hour of Showtime's “The Chi” was a rough ride for

Two promising teens
were killed ... one for mysterious reasons, the other mostly by
accident. Now there's more talk of revenge and retribution.

But the people
involved have a quick promise: There's also a lot of joy – in the
fictional “Chi” and in the real-life Chicago.

“I look at my
youth as a joyful time,” said Common, the rapper-actor who's one of
the producers. “Chicago is a place where ... there may be some
violence, but there's so much spirituality. It's barbecues, block
clubs, skating ... just spending time with friends.”

The good parts
prevail, said Lena Waithe, who created the show. “Black people are
masters at finding joy in the midst of pain and sorrow. Because we
have seen our fair share of (sorrow) in this country. So I think we
know how to find a smile.”

She grew up copying
the people around her in some ways -- “I was cursing like a sailor
at 8 and 9, because ... I grew up in a house with a lot of women who
cursed” -- and not in others. Last year, she co-wrote a “Master
of None” episode, based on her own coming-out experience with her
mother; that script made her the first black woman to win an Emmy for

Now, at 33, she's
finding new black actors. There's Tiffany Boone, who grew up in
foster homes in Baltimore, where her dad was killed when she was 4 or
5 ... Alex Hibbert, who's from Miami, where he landed a role in the
Oscar-winning “Moonlight” ... and Jason Mitchell, who is busy.
Waite calls him “a black Tom Hanks”; Common adds: “It's like
having LeBron James in his prime.”

Mitchell plays
Brandon, a guy trying to beat the odds. He's a cook, with dreams of
opening a restaurant with his girlfriend (Boone); he's focuses on
beating the odds ... an impulse Mitchell understands.

“Like Brandon, I
had the inner hope,” Mitchell said. “I could look around me and
see a bunch of beautiful people in a bad situation.”

That was in New
Orleans, where, he says, he went to one of the “four worst schools
in the nation.”

Then his life
transformed. “When I was 22, my best friend was killed,” Mitchell
said. “After that, I was just like, 'Well, maybe making new friends
might be the way to go ....

“I went to this
random acting workshop that was only, like, eight weeks and was just
passing through New Orleans, and I just loved it.”

An agent visited,
Mitchell said, and told the class: “'This young man's life is about
to change.' I was sitting there, like, 'Me? I can't believe this!'”

It quickly became
true. Mitchell drew praise and nominations as Eazy-E in “Straight
Outta Compton” and as a World War II veteran in “Mudbound”; at
30, he's at the core of “The Chi.”

those who still plan to see the “Chi” opener should skip the

In the opener,
Brandon's younger brother happened to see and loot the body of a
slain teen. He was arrested and released ... but then was
accidentally shot by the father of the first victim.

Now two people are
dead and Brandon is looking for revenge. There are dark possibilities
ahead ... but Waithe and Common promise they're headed for something
more joyful.

-- “The Chi,” 10
p.m. Sundays, Showtime.

-- Opener (Jan, 7)
reruns often, including 10 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 9); 9 and 11:32 p.m.
Wednesday; 10:30 p.m. and midnight Thursday; 7:15 p.m. Friday; and 8
and 11 p.m. Saturday.