Hollywood is changing. With the rise of streaming, there's more room for more productions, and now more diverse voices are forcing their way into those spots by virtue of the distinctive stories they have to tell.
"There's a lot of exciting things happening on TV," says Aymar Jean Christian, a Northwestern University communications professor and the founder of Open TV, a local platform that over the last few years has supported a number of webseries created in Chicago. "I think the industry realizes that its own survival is predicated on expanding who gets to make TV."
These days it's more and more often the case that the people who make it to TV are those who first make webseries, and Chicago is a hotbed for the industry. The success of the last year's Chicago-made series Brown Girls got the attention of major networks; its creators are now working with HBO.
What will be the next big thing to come streaming out of the city? Whether or not any of these three Chicago-made series coming out this year hit it big, they're still worth watching as views of the world still lacking on major television networks—for now.
Premiering spring 2018
Karan Sunil spent months talking with South Asian millennials across the country to gather inspiration for this ensemble comedy. His goal was to create something he never saw in sitcoms growing up: a group of main characters of color relatable to viewers no matter their background.
"I want to tell stories that are American, stories about the American experience, about the millennial experience that we can all relate to, but the details and the nuances are through a South Asian experience," Sunil says. "A scene in the show has cultural details, but the scene is about something bigger like lost love and jealousy."
In the pilot we meet the five main characters—all played by Chicago stand-ups and improvisers—in their jobs, on dates, and, in one instance, passed out on the floor of a house party. The characters, all second-generation South Asians, are of different nationalities and religions and have different personal goals. Within the first ten minutes of the series they deal with racism, white ignorance, microaggressions, parental pressure, and the perils of finding roommates on Craigslist—all in a way that's lighthearted and genuinely funny.
"The most important thing is that the show is meant to tell stories that I think are not often told but stories that are very common," Sunil says. "I always feel like, How can I expect the industry to answer my pleas and do what I want when I should be taking initiative to do it myself?"
- Kappa Force
Premiering March 2018
This fantastical show written by mixed-race actor-writer Addison Heimann is as far from a DIY confessional webseries as it gets. The story follows five crime- and patriarchy-fighting sorority sisters who join forces with a group of college freshman to defeat an evil frat boy known as the Douche.
"The biggest thing is that it's very pro- female without being quirky twentysomething realist," says series director Hannah Welever, who's also the cinematographer for Brown Girls. "It's way more over-the-top, and it's the women who are doing the fighting and the talking and being the most interesting people onscreen."
When Welever says fighting, she means it: Kappa Force uses a small budget to create big action sequences with hits coming from every angle, the heroes dressed in shiny spandex, the villain throwing out comic-book-style quips.
"What was cool about this show in general was there were so many times that things we've always seen on movies or TV or things we've always thought would be so cool to do, we did them," Welever says. "The fight scenes are the perfect example. She's using a quarterstaff to beat up these dudes, and it totally works."
- The T
Premiering summer 2018
Bea Cordelia, the cocreator and cowriter of The T, is poised to be a breakout star. She plays Jo, a white trans woman who lives with Carter, a queer black man (played by cocreator and cowriter Daniel Kyri) who just happens to be her ex from her pretransition days as a gay man. From the second the pair's onscreen there's a palpable yet complicated chemistry between them that promises a compelling story in the episodes to come. Meanwhile, in her solo scenes, Cordelia gives a heartbreaking performance without saying a word, deftly tapping into universal emotions of love, loss, and confusion.
"It's going to be supersincere," says Christian, who's distributing the series. "It's a really complicated story that we don't normally see in terms of, what are the kinds of tensions and points of solidarity amongst different kinds of LGBTQ-identified people? I think it's breaking a lot of boundaries." v