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The Endless Appeal of South Side

The HBO Max comedy may have been canceled, but its top tier jokes make it worth watching again and again.
  • Will A. Miles, Zuri Salahuddin, Aaron J. Hart, Kareme Young, and Sultan Salahuddin in South Side (Photo: Adrian S. Burrows/HBO Max)
    Will A. Miles, Zuri Salahuddin, Aaron J. Hart, Kareme Young, and Sultan Salahuddin in South Side (Photo: Adrian S. Burrows/HBO Max)

    The latest casualty in the ongoing cancellation bloodbath is also one of the most consistently funny comedies in recent memory. HBO Max announced it will not be picking up South Side for a fourth season, but even while breaking the news an HBO Max representative couldn’t help but sing its praises, saying in a statement to Deadline: “For three seasons, this beloved series balanced cutting, hyperlocal social commentary about life on the South Side of Chicago with silly, sometimes zany humor. The result was a wholly unique, ambitious, and fearless comedy that could speak to everyone living the American dream.”

    For now, the series remains in the HBO Max library, and hopefully it stays there, because that unique, ambitious, and fearless approach has made it an endlessly rewatchable series that proves just how funny comedies can be.

    The series, which started on Comedy Central then moved to HBO Max for Seasons 2 and 3, followed various characters through the South Side of Chicago: Simon (played by co-creator Sultan Salahuddin) and K (Kareme Odom), best friends and reluctant employees of a Rent-A-Center knock-off; Officer Goodnight (co-creator Bashir Salahuddin) and Sergeant Turner (Chandra Russell), police partners who could not have less in common; and Allen Gayle (co-creator Diallo Riddle), an aspiring politician looking for fame over municipal change. And as the seasons went on, the cast was rounded out with an ensemble tasked with spitting out as many jokes as possible — there’s barely a single line or gesture in each episode that wasn’t placed there for a laugh.

    South Side succeeded because of its ability to mine jokes from the well of specific, grounded references to Chicago and the Englewood neighborhood. That specificity comes from not only the series creators’ real-life experiences growing up on the South Side of Chicago, but also from continuing to draw from the people who still live there today and often dropping them directly into the show. It ensures that they’re showing audiences something and someone that they’ve definitely never seen on TV before. In the Season 3 episode “Heartless,” for instance, the snow cone man who hilariously roasts Sergeant Turner for choosing the apricot flavor is a real snow cone vendor from the city’s South Side. “He made me laugh my ass off and I was, like, we gotta put him on the show,” Bashir Salahuddin told Chicago-based publication The Triibe.

    At the same time, South Side was able to expand its universe beyond the boundaries of a typical sitcom. This show was built to be episodic, with the main connecting thread being the characters and location. But beyond that, an entry could be as bizarre and nonsensical as the creators’ decided to make it, able to stand on its own if randomly plucked from the show’s library. The Season 2 episode “Life of an Ottoman” is just that — 30 minutes depicting the different eras of ownership of a single ottoman. In the Season 3 episode “Super Speed,” Simon and K seemingly made contact with extraterrestrials, and then it was never spoken of again. The lack of exposition or backstory necessary for that style just frees up time for even more laughs to be squeezed in, because the South Side universe was so expansive and full of possibility, no joke would feel out of place.

    During a Q&A at a Season 3 premiere event at Chicago’s DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center (where the excellent Season 2 episode “Turner and Brenda’s Day Off,” a send-up of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, was filmed), the creators said that editing was one of the most important parts of their process. The editing booth is where they would cut in as many jokes as they possibly could so that every second of every episode would provide laughs. If you need any more proof that the series is endlessly rewatchable, it’s streaming on HBO Max — for now.

    All three seasons of South Side are streaming on HBO Max. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: South Side, HBO Max, Bashir Salahuddin, Chandra Russell, Diallo Riddle, Sultan Salahuddin