Each Sunday, Chicago has a new responsibility.
On TV, it represents all of urban America. It’s the backdrop for:
— “The Red Line,” from 8-10 p.m. on CBS for four Sundays, starting April 28.
— “The Chi,” at 10 p.m. on Showtime. April 28 brings the fourth of 10 episodes.
Both aim for the city’s complexity. “There are two Americas living side-by-side,” said Erica Weiss, the “Red Line” co-creator.
And both offer raw emotion. “I have never (had a script) move me like that,” said Noah Wyle, whose passionate speech provides a peak for the first “Red Line” night. “I can’t even talk about this show without getting upset.”
He’s not exaggerating, said Aliyah Royale, who plays his adopted daughter.(They’re shown here.) She saw Wyle (of “ER” fame) seeming overwhelmed. “He’s a legend. (What) could break this man? And they did it.”
As “Red Line” starts, Wyle plays a white teacher, gay and married to a black doctor, with a black daughter. We meet a black politician and her Latino husband, plus a white cop. Their stories merge.
“The Chi” has an even broader set of characters, mainly black. It centers on an emerging chef whose girlfriend sells upscale real-estate and whose childhood friend is in a gang. It also ranges from young schoolkids to a convict.
Both shows are set in a place that is sometimes dismissed as murdertown. That’s just a speck of the Chicago story, say both shows’ producers.
“I look at my youth as a joyful time,” Common said when “Chi” debuted last year.
Lena Waithe, the “Chi” creator, agreed. “Black people are masters at finding joy in the midst of pain.”
She and Common grew up in Chicago; Parrish and Weiss, the “Red Line” creators, arrived there to study theater at DePaul University.
“Caitlin and I were forged in Chicago,” Weiss said. “We are from the Chicago theater scene and that (is) in everything we do …. It really is the perfect microcosm to tell an American story.”
A decade ago, they wrote a play centering on a father and daughter, the people now played by Wyle and Royale. Parrish now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and has written for “Supergirl” and “Under the Dome.” But she’s continued to write plays with Weiss, who became a busy director and playwright in the thriving Chicago theater scene. “That’s our artistic home,” Weiss said.
Symbolizing the city is the Red Line, a train that, Parrish said, covers “pretty much every neighborhood and demographic. As segregated as Chicago is, there is this means of transportation that touches on every kind of person in the city.”
Or separates them. The show’s title, producer Ava DuVernay said, suggests “two parts of a city, divided by a red line.”
— “The Red Line,” 8-10 p.m. Sundays, CBS; four weeks, starting April 28.
— “The Chi,” 10 p.m. Sundays, Showtime.