On the waning summer days of filming for the new season of the hit HBO Max comedy “South Side,” the Near West Side television set felt a lot like a lovefest.
One week out from the official wrap of taping the third season in late August, good vibes seemed to permeate every corner of the sprawling Cinespace studio space on Rockwell Street, from stage hands, set designers and bit players. The laid-back mood could easily be because many of the showrunners and main cast members are made up of siblings, old and longtime friends, high school buddies and a married couple.
Another reason may have to do with a boost of confidence the show creators say they received from their HBO Max bosses following an abrupt, late summer purge of television and movie properties like the shelved “Batgirl” film following last spring’s merger between HBO Max and Warner Bros. Discovery Plus.
Show co-creator and writer Diallo Riddle said he and co-creator and South Side native Bashir Salahuddin, friends and writing partners since working on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” were no strangers to sudden derailment of projects by a new incoming administration.
“Bashir and I have been at developing with companies and then had a change at the top,” Riddle, who plays public defender-turned-Alderman Allen Gayle, told reporters.
“It’s traumatic because it means a project can go away without it having anything to do with the merits of the project. So we were nervous, but we’ve sort of been assured that this show is unaffected, so now we’re just chugging along,” Riddle said.
The encouragement from company higher-ups came just as the cast and crew were completing the season that started on Comedy Central before moving to HBO Max, which showrunners and stars said greatly boosted the show’s audience.
Salahuddin and Riddle, two confessed science-fiction nerds, promised a more outrageous and fantasy-inspired season, including a set piece comparing the Central City Auto Pound on Lower Level Wacker to Tolkien’s netherworldly Mordor.
Reporters were briefly allowed to view the filming of a scene to be used in the new season’s finale. The interior set was a mock-up of a cave where Sultan Salahuddin, Kareme and Quincy Young make some sort of grand discovery.
“Season 3 is going to be a blockbuster,” promised Bashir Salahuddin, 46, who plays Officer Sandy Goodnight. “We have everything from an homage to Christopher Nolan movies, we have our very first Kwanzaa holiday special,” said Salahuddin, “I’m really proud of it because I celebrate Kwanzaa and it’s super funny, but it also honors the holiday.”
There will also be local cameos galore, including WGCI “Morning Show” host Leon Rogers, legendary Def Jam comedian Adele Givens, rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith and WLS-TV personality Val Warner.
Chance the Rapper returns in the new season as Herbert, a sour currency exchange employee who starred in the Season 2 finale. Comedian and Chicago native Lil Rel Howery also returns as Bishop.
“Herbert is back and he’s causing a lot of mischief and a lot of mayhem in our world this season,” Riddle teased.
Salahuddin, who grew up in South Shore and Chatham, had high praise for the “Coloring Book” rapper and fellow Chatham native. “To me, in some ways he’s like Chicago’s music ambassador. I really do feel like he is the person who’s so connected to both up-and-coming acts and then people who are visiting the city. He has a very ambassadorial spirit about him,” Salahuddin said.
Diallo and Salahuddin confirmed that they filmed scenes at last summer’s Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park.
“I do think the biggest moment this season, without giving it away, is that we reached out to the kind folks at a tiny little music festival called Lollapalooza. We were able to shoot an incredible piece there including with (rapper and singer) Cordae who was performing,” he said. “It’s really one of those things that felt like a pie-in-the-sky fantasy when we pitched it in the writer’s room.”
That episode will show Salahuddin and his wife Chanda Russell, who plays his TV partner Officer Zenobia Turner (Russell grew up in Englewood and Hyde Park).
Viewership numbers for “South Side” aren’t released by HBO Max, but the show has been a big hit with South Side residents who appreciate its surreal landscape looking at the quirky randomness of South Side life. Finally a TV show that South Siders can proudly claim as their own, providing a cynical absurdist worldview as an antidote to the focus of violence plaguing the city.
Outsiders get their fill of widely known Chicago icons like Harold’s Chicken, Wrigley Field and Air Jordans, while also getting a heaping of school rivalry smack talk, and nostalgic city references like the former Evergreen Plaza, the 1990s House music hit “The Percolator” and the storied 50 Yard Line lounge on E. 75th Street in Park Manor.
“We’re giving Chicago the spotlight, the most important character,” Salahuddin, said.“I would say the goal is to do things we have not done yet and I think that does push us away from things that people are expecting.”
HBO Max has not yet announced release dates for “South Side” Season 3.
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