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This show is drawing major comparisons to 'The Wire.' Are they warranted?

This show is drawing major comparisons to 'The Wire.' Are they warranted?
Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe premiered her Showtime series "The Chi" earlier this year, featuring actress Sonja Sohn (left) as Laverne, Jahking Guillory as Coogie and Jason Mitchell as Brandon. (Matt Dinerstein - Showtime)

Showtime announced Tuesday that it renewed Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe’s series “The Chi” for a second season, adding that the show averages four million weekly viewers across platforms, according to a recent press release.

And as this Twitter user put it, many of us are wondering: “Is it too early to say ‘The Chi’ is this generation's version of ‘The Wire?”

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Since the premiere in early January, Twitter and online reviews were flooded with comparisons to David Simon’s critically acclaimed HBO series, which for five seasons depicted story lines about Baltimore: drugs, violence, law enforcement, education, corruption, politics, media and the Baltimoreans affected by it all.

Created by Waithe and executive produced by artist Common — both Chicago natives — “The Chi” tells the story of several residents of South Side Chicago whose lives begin to intertwine after a tragic event. It stars a predominately black cast, including “Straight Outta Compton” and “Mudbound” actor Jason Mitchell, Alex R. Hibbert (“Moonlight”), “The Wire” alumna Sonja Sohn and Baltimore native Tiffany Boone (“The Following”).

“The Chi can be bigger than The Wire,” said one Twitter user.

“The Wire is untouchable. The Chi wishes,” tweeted another.

Cast mates with Baltimore ties, however, see the value in both shows.

Boone, who plays character Jerrika, the ambitious girlfriend of Brandon (Mitchell), too compared “The Chi” to “The Wire” in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.

“A lot of people felt heard and seen because of [‘The Wire’]. Reading [The Chi’s] script, I felt that Lena was trying to do that for her city,” said Boone, who was born in Baltimore and raised in Columbia.

“[Waithe] was trying to tell a real human story behind the headlines that she reads. She was trying to show that these are smart, loving, caring people that are trying to survive, and that’s not something that you read every day.”

Sohn, who starred in “The Wire” as Detective Kima Greggs and who plays the recurring role of Brandon’s mother Laverne in “The Chi,” said the commonality between the two shows heavily lies in the creators knitting true fabrics of their respective communities.

“When they stepped out to tell that tapestry of stories, I feel like you could trust it. When you have two prominent artists and entities really, such as Lena and Common, like, ‘Hey, we’re going to tell our stories, our own narratives.’ I’m all about that,” she said.

But Sohn emphasized that with both shows, it’s just as important to celebrate the similarities as it is the differences — and they are different.

“They’re different hood experiences, African-American experiences, class experiences,” she said. “We’re not a monolithic, homogeneous group of people.”

In response to an email from The Baltimore Sun, Simon, whose latest work is the HBO series “The Deuce,” weighed in.

“I don't think it's necessary or relevant to compare any and every other narrative that is staged in an urban environment to ‘The Wire,’ or anything else for that matter,” he wrote. “After all, it seems to me that the folks working on ‘The Chi’ are entirely aware that they have their own story to tell and they seem committed to that story. But speaking generally, I'm delighted that ‘The Chi’ was greenlit, produced and broadcast. I'm always glad when television -- which stages so much drama in predominantly white and affluent settings -- makes room for storytelling about people of color and about all manner of life in American cities.”

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Waithe, too, said the comparisons aren’t warranted.

“I think our shows are being compared because there are a lot of black people on screen and they both take place in complex cities. If people watch more than a few episodes of ‘The Chi’ they'll see we aren't really like ‘The Wire’ at all,” Waithe said in an emailed statement to The Sun. She emphasized that a major difference between the two is that “The Wire” is more intricate, focused on many parts of the system, including law enforcement and those who are policed. “The Chi” purposely focuses more on the policed, she wrote, adding that the cops in the show are viewers’ least favorite aspect.

“I just think there hasn't been a show about black folks, in a long time, that doesn't follow someone trying to be a rapper, a drug king pin, or an athlete,” Waithe stated, but she doesn’t take the comparisons as a slight.

“We feel like a breath of fresh air - and that's exactly how ‘The Wire’ felt when it first aired. It was something different. It was something special,” Waithe said. “So whenever someone compares us to ‘The Wire,’ I take it as a compliment because we remind them of the feeling they got when they watched ‘The Wire’ all those years ago. But I'm also aware we're giving them two very different shows.”

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