TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Chicagoland TV Poster Image
Sobering docuseries sheds light on city's grim realities.

Parents say

age 2+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

There are positive stories within, but the portrait Chicagoland paints of the city's education crisis and neighborhood violence are overwhelmingly grim. That said, the series suggests that everyday people can make a difference if they fight hard enough for what they believe in.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In spite of the often-grim subject matter, the series puts forth several positive role models who are working to change the city for the better, including a high school principal who's had an overwhelmingly positive influence on her school and its students; a hard-working police superintendent; and impassioned community organizers. The city's mayor is portrayed as a polarizing figure, drawing both positive and negative attention.


Violence as it relates to gangs and their negative impact on neighborhood and school safety is heavily discussed, and footage shows a student getting beaten with a wooden board that eventually leads to his death. Cops and criminals carry weapons.


Audible cursing is rare but includes "hell," "damn," "bulls--t," "f--k," and (on a few occasions) the "N" word.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Illegal drug use (pot, crack) is discussed, sometimes as it relates to teens. Some people smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol socially in footage shot in bars, etc.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Chicagoland delves into some serious problems that have long been plaguing Chicago, including gang violence, neighborhood safety, and a crisis in public education. Both adults and teens stand to learn a lot. But you'll also hear sobering stories about school violence, gang activity and its effects on children as young as kindergarten, and see some footage of violent crimes. You'll also hear occasional unbleeped swearing (including "f--k," "bulls--t," and the "N" word) along with mentions of drug use, and see some social drinking and smoking.

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What's the story?

Over the course of eight episodes, the docuseries CHICAGOLAND explores the people and politics of Chicago, focusing on the city's attempts to repair a broken education system and quell the flames of neighborhood violence amid a climate of budget crisis and public outrage. Major players include much-criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, high school principal Liz Dozier, and Cook County trauma surgeon Dr. Andrew Dennis.

Is it any good?

Executive produced by a power team that includes Oscar winner Robert Redford, Chicagoland takes its cues from the Sundance Channel docuseries Brick City, which nabbed a Peabody Award and an Emmy nod for its coverage of Newark, New Jersey, and then-Mayor Cory Booker's attempts to reverse the city's systemic problems with violence and corruption with help from everyday citizens.

Though Midwesterners might have the most interest in Chicagoland's warts-and-all profile of the Second City, it's well worth a look for viewers of any region -- particularly if you're a parent with school-age children. Depending on where you live, you may or may not be able to relate, but the stories you'll hear from South Side kids who fear for their lives while simply walking to school are both disturbing and deeply moving. The series might also serve as a springboard for talks with older teens about the social climate in their schools and how it affects them.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about violence and the realities of getting an education in the inner city. How does the atmosphere at your school compare to that of the schools featured on Chicagoland? How would you solve some of the problems the series spotlights?

  • Does Chicagoland take a position when it comes to politics? Is it really possible for policy to effect change, or is politics an exercise in futility? How much power do ordinary people have when it comes to shaping the decisions that affect them most?

  • Based on what you've seen in Chicagoland, what's your prediction for Chicago's future? How do Chicago's problems compare to those that other large cities face?

TV details

  • Premiere date: March 6, 2014
  • Network: CNN
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • Topics: High School
  • TV rating: TV-14
  • Last updated: September 19, 2019

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