“Do you put your hand on your gun every time you see a cell phone?” — Latino Chicago police officer to his white partner in the CBS series “The Red Line”
Before the opening credits appear in the first episode of the CBS limited miniseries “The Red Line,” an innocent, unarmed black man has been gunned down by a white police officer.
The scene is set in a convenience store. An armed gunman enters, beats the store owner, takes the cash and flees.
The lone customer in the store, a doctor, moves to help the store owner, who is cowering behind the counter, in a state of panic.
A Chicago patrol car arrives on the scene and the officers exit the vehicle with guns drawn.
One of the cops sees what he perceives to be a struggle between the black man in the hoodie and the store owner, and he opens fire, killing the man.
“Find the gun!” exclaims his partner.
But there is no gun.
We watch this tragedy unfold with a sense of dread — and a sense of familiarity. Sadly, this fictional and fatal incident rings all too true for Chicagoans, and for Americans in many other towns and cities.
“The Red Line” is Chicago through and through, starting with the title, which of course references the north-south CTA route which spans some 23 miles, from the 95th/Dan Ryan stop to the Howard station in Rogers Park, and is a metaphor for the different worlds occupying various stops along the way.
Executive-produced by Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) and Greg Berlanti (“Love, Simon,” “Riverdale”), based on a local stage production titled “A Twist of Water” and set and filmed in Chicago, this eight-episode series debuts April 28 with two episodes, followed by three more two-episode runs on the successive Sundays. (Talk about getting thrown into the deep end of the ratings pool; they’ll be going up against the final season of “Game of Thrones.” But that’s what DVRs and streaming options are for.)
At one point on the night I was watching preview episodes of “The Red Line,” the sounds of fictional Chicago police sirens on my screen were nearly drowned out by the sounds of real Chicago police sirens piercing the night. Some of the disturbances police were responding to on this particular night were taking place within footsteps of the State/Lake Red Line station. (Fortunately, there were no serious injuries or major crimes committed.)
Talk about art imitating life imitating art.
“The Red Line” follows the stories of three families connected in various ways to that police shooting of the unarmed man:
• Daniel Calder (Noah Wyle, who spent his fair share of time in Chicago when “ER” would come to town for location shoots), is a white public school history teacher who was married to the victim, and is now a single father with an adopted, African-American teenage daughter, Jira (Aliyah Royale), who loves her father but is determined to find out about her birth mother. “I need MORE family,” Jira tells her dad.
• Tia Young (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is running for alderman of the 6th Ward, going up against a well-respected old guard lion (Glynn Turman) who condescendingly tells her to wait her turn. Tia has a 6-year-old daughter with her husband Ethan (Howard Charles), who operates a Red Line train.
• Paul Evans (Noel Fisher) is the white cop who is haunted by his shooting of an innocent man, even after he is exonerated from facing criminal charges. (A civil suit still looms.) Paul comes from a family of Chicago police officers, including his brother Jim (Michael Patrick Thornton), who was shot in the line of duty, leaving him in a wheelchair and filled with bitterness.
“You got a little of ours back, brother,” Jim says to Paul about the shooting.
“It was the wrong guy,” replies Paul.
“You didn’t know that,” says his brother, as if that somehow justifies shooting someone without warning.
(As Paul’s female partner says to him after the fact, “You’re supposed to say something. … You’re supposed to say something BEFORE you fire!”)
Some plot threads are handled with more subtlety than others. The melodrama over Jira’s attempts to find her birth mother is delivered in mostly heavy-handed, soap-opera fashion, as is the moment when Daniel confronts the man who shot and killed his husband.
More often, though, “The Red Line” rings true and packs a powerful emotional punch, e.g., a realistic news conference/protest staged in the shadow of “Flamingo,” the bright orange Calder sculpture in the Federal Plaza, or when Daniel still looks at a text in which he told his deceased husband, “Just come home.”
After just one episode of “The Red Line,” we care about these people, we care about what happens to them, and we feel their pain and their triumphs.
They feel like real Chicagoans.
‘The Red Line’
7 to 9 p.m. Sundays starting April 28 on WBBM-Channel 2