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Stream It or Skip It?

Chicago Party Aunt (Netflix), the animated manifestation of a humorous Twitter account operated by the sitcom’s co-creator Chris Witaske, returns to the streamer for a second eight-episode season full of its titular character’s misadventures as an aging fan of raging living in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood and learning how to get by while often getting wasted. Witaske and CPA creators Jon Barinholtz and Katie Rich are joined by a major league voice cast that includes RuPaul Charles, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Ike Barinholtz, and Bob Odenkirk. 

 
Opening Shot: “It’s a brand-new year in sweet home Chicago, and one of the perks of having a rooftop that looks directly into Wrigley Field is that you get to experience Opening Day! Not the first game, but when the guys with the huge hoses show up…”

The Gist: That’s right, for Diane (Lauren Ash), the Chicago Party Aunt herself, her Sheffield Avenue condo building’s roof represents the core of her being. Nowadays she’s the last partier standing after her old crew faded away – you know, to the suburbs, to get married, or to join the workforce. But Diane’s keeping the dream alive, even if it’s winter, the grounds crew is the only action going at Wrigley, and her live-in nephew Daniel (Rory O’Malley) doesn’t see the benefit of cold chilling up there.

When Diane discovers a new neighbor drinking beer out of her cooler – “Hey! The hallway beer is over there…” – the misunderstanding is grounds for a burgeoning BFF situation, because Amanda (Amy Poehler) seems like a fellow party traveler. She too watches the noon broadcast of Judge Mathis at the bar; she too favors the exclamatory phrase “That fuckin’ rocks!”; she too thinks Doyle, the bailiff on Mathis, is a total zaddy. But when Diane and Amanda loudly and day drunkenly swing by her work, it’s Diane’s fellow hair stylists Zuzana (Katie Rich) and Tina (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) who look like they’re seeing double. And besides, salon owner Gideon (RuPaul Charles) says, he’s the only zaddy around here. 

Gideon wants to talk to Diane about the homemade lotion she gave him – it’s actually pretty effective. (The lotion is set to become a larger plot point in CPA season 2.) But for now, Diane has a bigger problem. Her superficial simpatico with Amanda is showing a few cracks, particularly when a sales guy pushing a corporate takeover of the roof space starts sniffing around. Diane won’t sell, no way – but it’s not hers to sell, since the condo is owned by her sister Bonnie (Jill Talley) and her husband Mark (Ike Barinholtz), and the cash from the roof rights could really charge up their fund for baby #2. Chicago problems – its hardest-partying aunt has ‘em. 

CHICAGO PARTY AUNT S2 NETFLIX
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Chicago Party Aunt guest star Amy Poehler is also the co-creator and star of the animated sitcom Duncanville, which these days streams on Hulu and, just like CPA, features an incredibly deep bench of voice actors. We’re talking everyone from Ty Burrell and Rashida Jones to Zach Cherry, Riki Lindhome, and even Wiz Khalifa. And CPA would also make for a nice bookend watch with Bob’s Burgers.  

Our Take: “Sweet home Chicago” – despite the title of the durable blues number, and despite it being the first line we hear in Chicago Party Aunt, it’s a phrase really nobody actually says. But before we declare CPA some kind of culture vulture, or apply to the toon the same hyper-critical analysis that can sometimes make or break a show’s reputation – The Bear, for example, earned high marks for its unforced ease with local patois – it’s important to note how many moments the writers absolutely nail. When a worked-up Diane is slagging ex-husband Ken’s current squeeze, only for the woman to suddenly appear, she immediately switches gears with a hearty and very Midwestern “How are ya, hon?” (Her deployment of a perfect “No doy!” is also key.) And speaking of Ken, he might have the best local flavor line in the first episode of season two when he tells a pushy corporate type to “step aside, cheese-dick.” 

It’s with little touches in the writing that Chicago Party Aunt becomes more than just an expansion of a one-note Twitter bit. But the sitcom has also been attentive to putting some real heart into its storylines. You can’t make 25 minutes of animated comedy sing on creative uses of the word “fuck” alone, and CPA is careful to emphasize Diane’s protective nature over her nephew Daniel, her ultimately lasting bond with sister Bonnie (“She’s a real shithead, but I love her”), and even the solidarity of the city’s older-school residents when it comes to moneyed-up takeovers of what the locals hold dear.

Sex and Skin: When Daniel attends his first class at the art studio operated by Samuel (Tim Allen), his attempt to confront his creativity without fear hits a snag when the nude model is Kurt’s girlfriend Heidi. 

Parting Shot: Though Diane shares with her sister Bonnie one of the sweet moments that most CPA episodes resolve themselves with, she still manages to cringe it up. “If you want some primo sperm, I know a guy…”

Sleeper Star: Chicago Party Aunt co-creator Chris Witaske voices Diane’s ex-husband Ken with a winning blend of easygoing working class charm, a flair for colorful swears, and deep cut references to daytime TV. (Jenny Jones, anyone?) 

Most Pilot-y Line: When corporate interests threaten her beloved perch overlooking Wrigley Field, Diane delivers an impassioned, if slightly inebriated speech. “This old rooftop is just like us. Broken down, not much to look at, crawling with vermin…but goddamnit, it’s authentic. And there’s not a lot of that left around here.” 

Our Call: STREAM IT, because it’s easy, especially with such a low-intensity run-time. Chicago Party Aunt generates some laughs with its feel for the city’s slang. But it’s the toon’s consistently excellent voice cast that really keeps it in the game.

Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges

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