"This is the greatest job I've ever had," Mayor Rahm Emanuel says in Episode 4 of the ambitious, now somewhat frustrating eight-part CNN series "Chicagoland," followed some minutes later by police Superintendent Garry McCarthy saying, "This is the greatest job I have ever had" (italics mine).
Well, good for them. But we, the viewers, are left to wonder, "How can that be?" "What makes it so great?"
This episode is heavy with questions but lighter on violence than previous shows, though there is one tragic death. The show is — hey, it's summertime 2013 — aggressively more upbeat in general, focusing on such sunny treats as beach volleyball and the outdoors. The mayor, we learn in the narration from co-writer Mark Konkol, "found time to get down at Taste of Chicago" (italics mine).
He also found time to mentor a young African-American named Martell Cowan, whom he meets at a youth league basketball game. The mayor finds the kid "so engaging" that he gives him a job. I am not sure all interns get to ride around the city with the mayor, but this one does.
While cameras roll, the mayor tells the boy, "By the time I'm done promoting you, you're gonna need an agent. I'm gonna get my younger brother to represent you." (That younger brother is Ari Emanuel, the CEO of William Morris Endeavor, co-promoter of Lollapalooza — a controversial connection not mentioned when "Chicagoland" also visits that music bash.)
The most compelling storyline in Thursday's show again has to do with Liz Dozier, the principal of Fenger high school. We meet her elderly mother (in a car and a restaurant) and hear that Dozier's parents met when the mother was a Dominican nun and the father was serving time in Cook County Jail. They fell in love and had Dozier. The mother left the convent and became a schoolteacher. The father eventually got out of prison, and they formed a family for a time before the parents split up.
That story may not be unique to Chicago, but it is moving and perhaps explains why Dozier goes to great lengths to get an early release from jail for a former student convicted and sentenced to prison for robbery.
Like hip-hop? Meet 20-year-old Chance the Rapper, an up-and-coming artist (who will perform at Lollapalooza in August, it was announced Wednesday). Watch him in concert and leaping from a plane in a sky-diving treat. You also see superstar Common.
Is poetry your bag? Visit the Green Mill and its long-running Sunday night Poetry Slam. It is my understanding that many of the poems on the evening of the filming consisted of a lot of "Rahm bashing." At least some of those should have found a place here. It is called balance, and there is the need for more.
So, we are now at the halfway point. Ratings have been way up from the shows that previously occupied the 9 p.m. Thursday slot for CNN. And viewership has been growing with each episode, the network reports. Will that continue?
It depends how effectively future episodes answer the many questions that now hang in the air. Luckily, there are some for which an answer is obvious, as when Emanuel asks his new intern, "Do you think you can teach a Jewish mayor to dunk?"
Rick Kogan will review all eight parts of "Chicagoland," Thursdays in A+E.
9 p.m. Thursday; 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday; 9 p.m. and midnight Sunday; 3 a.m. Monday; CNN