You will be stunned to learn, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel says in this week's fifth episode (of eight) of CNN's series "Chicagoland," that "The Second City is now known as the Startup City." That pronouncement — news to me — comes as he is talking to a bunch of techies here trying to sell their ideas for big money to investors.
Money is a large theme in this episode, getting it and losing it. There are the would-be tech moguls competing for some "$5 million" available from venture capitalists gathered at the House of Blues to listen to their pitches; a superfluous storyline that doesn't come close to capturing what an innovative thinker like J.B. Pritzker had in mind when he and others opened 1871 Chicago, a Merchandise Mart-based nurturing space for digital designers, engineers and entrepreneurs. And there is the public school system, trying to deal with the $68 million slashed from its budget as well as the worry over many kids walking to new schools along Safe Passage routes. Fenger High School principal Liz Dozier is back, doing her best to rally her staff and teachers for the opening of school last August as she desperately seeks to find students who have vanished during the summer and figure out how to deal with a severe budget shortfall.
And then there is the mayor. As narrator and series co-writer Mark Konkol says, "Like Liz, Rahm tries to rally school spirit," and he does so at a number of schools, telling stories to and high-fiving kids. But, from Konkol again, "as he bounces from school to school, he can't escape protesters."
And indeed, there are contrary voices, or at least this one from an unnamed protester: "(Emanuel) prefers to go into staged environments. When a megaphone goes on, he goes out the back door."
Staged environments? You'll have plenty of choices.
So have a look and a listen — "The mayor is no stranger to crisis," says Konkol — as the mayor, in very controlled and camera-ready settings, tells one classroom that "there ain't no mayor in America who doesn't like opening schools," even as we are reminded that he closed about 50 schools and learn that has resulted in some classrooms swelling to 39 or 44 students; recalls the "slugfests about politics" that often took place around the family dinner table when he was young; offers his take on working in the Clinton White House; and gives details about losing a portion of one finger, and how the "this-close-to-dying" experience provided him with a guiding philosophy: "I'm not gonna let a day go by when I don't make a difference."
What might seem self-deprecating to some — "I looked forward to recess," he says at one playground press conference. "It's the one thing I excelled at in school." — will come off as merely grandstanding to others. I, for one, have seen just about enough of the mayor. I get it: interesting guy, powerful politician, national figure. But how about some members of the City Council? Or one of the hundreds of people doing good and fascinating things in and for this city?
In addition to Dozier, a few familiar characters return in small doses: the police department's Garry McCarthy and Leo Schmitz, talking and fighting crime. Most African-Americans featured continue to come from the narrow realm of teachers, pint-sized rappers, angry protesters and gangbangers. A white fireman, Fire Capt. Joel Burns, shows up and gets considerable screen time. He's a genuine Chicago character, and he and his men battle a blaze, which always makes for lively TV. But beyond that, so what?
With only three episodes left, I remain hopeful but far from confident that the series will begin to go deeper and further than it has. Ratings locally and nationally are holding firm, the pleased network folks say. But the clock is ticking.
9 p.m. Thursday; 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday; 9 p.m. and midnight Sunday; 3 a.m. Monday; CNN
Rick Kogan will review all eight parts of "Chicagoland" Thursdays in A+E.
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