It’s the time of year when shows unveil their holiday-themed episodes, and South Side is no exception — only with a twist. “The Spirit of Kwanzaa” is a collection of sketches made as part of a Kwanzaa-themed short-film competition: Stacy makes a cotillion-based reality show, Alderman Allen Gayle makes a Kwanzaa-themed electro-funk record and music video, and Simon and K create a Kwanzaa-themed ’90s action flick.
The way they play around with each of these storytelling devices is impeccable. It is well known by now that reality TV is partially scripted, and Stacy plots out a dramatic arc for Black debutante life that amounts to her dramatic magnum opus while working her damnedest to sneak in Kwanzaa messaging to meet competition requirements. “I’m a world-class surgeon, and these gifted hands are rated E for every bitch” is a tagline that is Housewives worthy, juxtaposed against absurd gags like someone with uncontrollable arm transplants after a highway accident. There are low-level conflicts with infomercial psychics blown up into high-stakes drama, and issues over tailored dresses reach the pinnacle of discord: “Dr. Princess must have bought those arms at Ross Dress for Less because those dresses are irregular.” There’s a signature cast-member single — “There She Go Queen Cotillion, There She Go, She a Star” — which is about “strength, triumph, me, the days, the nights, the sky, and the ground.” The Kwanzaa plug? It was executive-produced by Kwanzaa Hightower.
Gayle is using child labor to help shoot his music video, which features Officer Goodnight, Quincy, and Lil Rel Howery in his recurring role as Bishop. The theme is so beautifully dated with the four of them on touring-style motorcycles equipped with massive sound systems and green-screened backgrounds and CGI lasers trailing them. Simon and K’s film, Ukelele Barbados Concerto of Death 5: Spirit of Kwanzaa, is true to all the tropes of the ’90s action film; you can almost see Mr. T or Sylvester Stallone in the sizzle reel. Simon is a grizzled retired agent with a bar in Hawaii who is needed for “one last job” to recover an element called “Kwanzania.” The wigs and special effects are comically bad thanks to Cousin Pinky, who was responsible for the VFX.
Kwanzania is, of course, in the clutches of a comically absurd villain prone to excessive monologuing about its powers and sources. It is carefully extracted from the Atlantic Ocean — “somewhere around Georgia” — and one drop is enough to control a Black person’s mind: You can tell someone to be quiet at the movies; you can successfully tell a Black woman what to do. Fight scenes, terrible puns, reckless murders, and wanton sex scenes ensue; Simon literally turns into a Kwanzaa monster, killing his own partner under the influence of Kwanzania, until he hears the word self-determination and remembers the principle of kujichagulia (and the other six principles of kwanzaa, like when he killed the other guy “on purpose,” employing nia). Simon materializes a kinara into a sword, declaring, “Kwanzaa isn’t about controlling Black people. It’s about setting them free.” The ultimate winner? A Kwanzaa-themed holiday carol by Greg and Aaron.
DJ Alderman is another ode to a staple of Chicago’s legacy. Gayle is disillusioned by the reality of his job. Instead of being intimately involved in the ins and outs of the political fabric of the city, he is more of a bureaucratic paper pusher who shows up at local events. Gayle quickly realizes he can gin up goodwill, however, by being an entertaining DJ who plays local hits with existing music mixes. It is low lift and high reward, and the crowd feedback is immediately gratifying in a way navigating the frustrations that plague his district isn’t.
As a result, he abdicates from his role of alderman for a day to play DJ with a new “U Run Ur Hood” model, abandoning the complaints of his constituents who are asking him to address material issues such as the new pothole in front of RTO. Gayle goes to work–pool parties with house music while Simon takes over as alderman (much to the disgruntlement of Gayle’s staff). The problem is that house music is endemic to Chicago’s culture and very recognizable — it’s immediately known that Gayle is cribbing the work of well-known local legends such as Boolumaster and the Twilite Tone.
Meanwhile, the hood is managing an analog futures exchange via an off-the-grid black market for illicit goods speculated against rapidly increasing valuation and inflation. Officer Turner, constantly looking out for her own self-interest, can potentially get a cut of the action — as long as she hands over the main copy of her partner’s “crime book” that he pilfered from the evidence locker. She complies by bringing him over to Shaw’s house under a blindfold after he’s sprayed with a suspicious liquid from a pothole so they can copy the crime book while he believes he is in the hospital. His faux doctors put him through a roller coaster of health-care experiences: faking his near death, applying rubbing alcohol over his bandages, and pouring soda over his hands as a substitute for washing his hands.
Ultimately, Gayle attempts to DJ live on a moving bus with vinyls to prove he is capable of throwing a proper house party — only for a pothole to derail his carefully planned ruse of playing a prepared mix. However, while the gimmick may have been short-lived, Simon was able to successfully use his short reign of power to ensure the torrent of potholes that affected his commute were filled. If only Gayle had listened to his RTO constituents in the first place, perhaps his party bus wouldn’t have gone so wrong, and he could have kept the scam up for just a little bit longer.