Chicago is no stranger to the small screen, but 2016 saw a record-number of TV shows filmed in city limits, ahead of the 2017 season. A lot of that’s thanks to Illinois’s cushy tax credit, which gives 30 percent of production spending back to filmmakers. That’s why Fox’s Empire films here, though it’s set in New York. But not every show plays bait-and-switch, with plenty taking full of advantage of Chicago’s unique cinematic feel: the architecture, the history, the electric pulse of the L. Here are six shows set in Chicago—and filmed in Chicago—that lovingly showcased our city in 2017.
The Dick Wolf Chicago Series (Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, Chicago Justice)
Our first pick is technically four shows—one of them recently canceled (R.I.P., Chicago Justice)—but they’re hard to delineate. Chicago Fire started the trend in 2012; its popularity allowed producer Dick Wolf to spin off three follow-ups, all centered on different public services in Chicago, and all with seasons that aired in 2017. Each series is filmed exclusively in the city, and uses real locations—like a Near West Side firehouse where they reportedly film 22 times a year—in establishing shots. Even tourists have flocked to the historic firehouse since Chicago Fire debuted.
This beloved Netflix series filmed all over the globe, per the parameters of its plot. Focused on a group of international characters who suddenly find that they’re psychically connected, the show was on-location in cities as diverse as Seoul, South Korea, and Reykjavík, Iceland. Showrunners Lana and Lilly Wachowski also used their hometown of Chicago as a main setting. The Bean features in the opening credits, the City Methodist Church (in neighboring Gary) is a major set piece, and the characters eat at Superdawg on more than one occasion. The show was sadly canceled after its second season aired this year, though it will air a series finale in 2018 due to popular demand.
This one’s cheating a little, since the first season, filmed and set in Chicago, technically ended in late 2016 (though it was part of the 2017 TV season) and production relocated to Vancouver for season two. But it’s still absolutely a Chicago show, as season one established a moody vibe specific to certain neighborhoods, like in Andersonville—where the main family, the Rances, live and are tormented by a demonic entity—and in Back of the Yards, the setting of the church the family attends. The show is a sequel to the 1973 film of the same name, and does for Chicago what the original did for Washington, D.C.: finds the horror in the ornate, historical architecture of a wholly American city.
Chicago isn’t just a setting on Shameless: it’s a character. Showtime’s mega-hit series just entered its eighth season, but you don’t have to tell that to Chicagoans. The show, following a poverty-stricken Back of the Yards family led by alcoholic patriarch Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) and his resilient oldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum), has filmed everywhere from the Wabash Brown Line stop to the shores of Lake Michigan to the Double Door in Wicker Park, a major set piece in the latest season. Though most of the show is filmed in Los Angeles, it takes residency in Chicago for a few weeks every year to get exteriors, which lends a unique vibe and texture to the fast-paced, high-energy show.
Mumblecore director and Chicago semi-native Joe Swanberg wrote a love letter to the city in the form of this Netflix anthology series, which features small stories about sex and friendship and community. Swanberg’s intimate knowledge of Chicago means that we see locations that aren’t always given the cinematic spotlight. In the first season, characters visit neighborhood-y spots like Lost Lake, Handlebar, Subterranean, and City Lit Books. The second season, which dropped this week, offers much of the same: characters wander near the Logan Square Blue Line stop, sip cocktails at Best Intentions, attend readings at Unchartered Books, and catch up at Lula Cafe. More than any show on this list, Easy feels like Chicago really feels: quaint, familiar, comfortable—or uncomfortable, depending on who you bump into in these familiar spaces.
Amazon’s underrated spy drama Patriot is the brainchild of Steve Conrad, a Northwestern graduate whose previous credits include The Weather Man and The Promotion, both set in Chicago. He continued the tradition with his first TV series, which brings danger and espionage to the quiet Midwest, with a vibe that feels part Coen Brothers, part Christopher Nolan. Chicago is mostly there as a tone-setter, the show washed in the neutral yellow and grey glow of the Dark Knight movies, with downtown buildings framing characters as they walk through plot. It’s a pretty show, and a cool show, and Chicago looks pretty and cool because of it. Seeing the architecture of the city laid against the people moving through it makes you wonder: Why isn’t everything filmed in Chicago?
2 years ago