Friday, June 23, 2017

Chicago Should Resemble Chicago

Your assignment: You must novelize a popular TV show, past or present. The catch: you must change its genre. What show and what new genre? Give us a taste of the plotline and character arcs. 

By now, everyone knows that I love Chicago, and I intend to mine it's dramatic and comedic riches in perpetuity. So I have to pick a popular television show and novelize its plot and characters. Seems simple enough, except I generally avoid all things on television that depict my city, because I don't mind telling you—and risking the ire of folks in the industry I may have to encounter down the road—this current wave of Chicago-based shows frickin' stinks.

See, my hometown needs a realistic crime drama. One where all the plots and subplots aren't played by beautiful twenty-somethings from everywhere but Chicago. Where the cops don't come with perfect abs and a decided absence of push broom mustaches. Where partners aren't making love in the shower because it's against the rules but also as the job makes you hideous. Oh, and where the chief isn't the only black person in the squad house in a city that is evenly divided between black folk, Latinos and varying flavors of ethnicities that identify as white on the census but are everything but Anglo-Saxon.

It also needs a medical drama, where the doctors aren't idealistic, the nurses aren't all perfect white feminists (even if they're dudes,) the administrators aren't all hard-driven numbers people, and the emergency rooms don't run like clockwork taking care of patients who can actually afford the care. Where alcoholics are fired and don't come back in big reunion episodes.

For reasons of legacy, and that the current fire department show makes me cringe, it needs a firefighter or two that represents the community where actual people live. No one has PTSD from a run gone bad. No hotshots bearing a grudge who take too many risks but get results because, truth told, being a Chicago firefighter is one sweet ass gig. At least until you're holding a hose or swinging an ax after November when ten-below feels like a heat wave. Where there are real rules for staying alive while saving other people's lives. Where again, there are a lot more black folks in the firehouse than the chief, because there's really only one chief, everyone else in charge is a captain or lieutenant and ranks are rarely spoken aloud because it's corny and damn who is writing this shit and why didn't they hire me and lemme stop grousing now.

Oh, and get some legal drama action in there. Where the prosecutors were born, raised, educated, licensed and employed only in Illinois. You know, like how it works normally. Where city, state, and county buildings actually look like places that drain you of your soul, not to mention the color in your cheeks. Courtrooms need to be bathed in gray paint and fluorescent light, making everything and everyone look hideous. Where there isn't an Atticus Finch or Clarence Darrow or Thurgood Marshall or Notorious RBG in sight.

Finally, nothing—and I mean absolutely nothing—should occur north of Division Street, and I frickin' mean it. No shooting exteriors in the safe neighborhoods in Andersonville or Irving Park and passing them off as the South side. Oh, y'all g'on see some black folk in Danny Gardner's drama. And some white folk who look like they actually dwell amongst them. No Mexican actors being cast as Puerto Ricans from Humboldt Park, and no gorgeous Spaniards being passed off as true Chicago Vatos either. We keepin' it true to the Windy.

So seeing that I can't get all of that from any of the Chicago-based (ha!) television shows of the present, I have to dig into the past. Ladies and germs, I give you the next great series novelization:

GOOD TIMES, by Danny Gardner.

James Evans returns from a years long, deep SpecOps mission the Middle East with the burning desire to put his family back on track and get them out of the projects. Unfortunately, the Chicago Housing Authority and their construction demolition contractors beat him to it. He finds everyone scattered:

Florida earned her nursing degree from Everest College before the government shut it down (for those frickin' commercials) and now works at Cook County Hospital, which really ain't E.R., Gray's Anatomy, St. Elsewhere, wherever. She's dealing with the latest influx of shooting victims, which are always routed there, even though there are university-affiliated hospitals on the South side but they won't allow ambulances to route the gang injured to their facilities.

J.J. didn't finish art school but instead became a cop on the tactical squad. The jokes stopped. He's quick with the excessive force. Nothin' funny about that.

Michael is a lawyer in the State's Attorney's office, his idealism beaten out of him by a corrupt system that's rigged against the most vulnerable. He thinks about running for mayor, but no one in their right mind would want that job.

Thelma owns and operates a small chain of hair and nail shops in the city. She's trying to pick up the pieces since Keith was cut from the Chicago Bears after he led the season in yards but was then busted for performance-enhancing drugs.

Wilona is a three-term alderman who is vying for a Senate seat. Her and Florida fell out over her lack of support for Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. She actually married Bookman, the superintendent of their old project building. She still calls him Bubble Butt. He doesn't mind. She pays the bills so she can call him whatever she wants.

Wilona's adopted daughter Penny grew up to become Janet Jackson, because Janet Frickin' Jackson.

I figure I could squeeze about seven novellas out of this one. Maybe even sell the television rights. Then I'd executive produce and show run and write the pilot and white-knuckle grip the entire production so that a Chicago drama actually resembles Chicago.

- dg


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Great post, Danny.

Alan Orloff said...

Very nice. Maybe you should create a TV show called "Chicago Writer."

Paul D. Marks said...

Good stuff, Danny. Love all your points about Hollywood. And also your Good Times take.

Unknown said...

Nice post..!Thank you for posting this blog.

Unknown said...

As a fellow Chicagoan, I totally agree. Also, I would read the shit out of those novels.