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‘South Side’ Pulled Off the Best Possible ‘Ferris Bueller’ Episode

HBO Max’s very funny Chicago-set comedy was the perfect show to do a half-hour tribute/update to a beloved classic.

South Side Ferris Bueller Episode

“South Side”

Jean Whiteside/HBO Max

[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]

Where to Watch ‘South Side: HBO Max (Season 1 of the series originally aired on Comedy Central.)

The middle of Season 2 of “South Side” is one of the better runs that any comedy had last year. Nestled in a pretty magical sophomore season, the show delivered a pair of episodes that speak to how much ground this comedy can cover on a week-to-week basis: one half hour about the very eventful life of a single piece of furniture (one of our picks for 2021’s best) followed by an unhinged sendoff to a legendary Chicago-area party promoter.

The third part in that mid-Season 2 trio is “Turner’s and Brenda’s Day Off,” a loving update of the 1986 John Hughes classic that swaps out Ferris Bueller for a pair of friends ditching their lives and responsibilities for some impulsive adventures. Officer Turner (Chandra Russell) swings by the set of cop procedural “Chicago Shields” to check in with her friend and series lead Brenda Cole (Alisha Cowan). One moment, the two are commiserating in Brenda’s trailer. The next, the pair of them are driving away in a blue convertible, sneaking out in strategic disguises past base camp PAs. Cue the Yello soundalike and the quick neon-styled credits and things are off to the races.

When other shows or movies have tried to offer their own “Ferris Bueller” spins, they get caught up in the fourth-wall breaks or try too hard to map their ensemble onto each role in the original. Rather than try to find exact stand-ins for Ferris’ parents or Edie McClurg, “South Side” picks the parts that are easy to transpose and uses the rest as a vague outline.

That looseness also helps the episode feel like something people are enjoying, rather than an obligation they have to fulfill as a show set in Chicago. It’s fun, then, to watch Russell and Cowan (who also wrote the episode) enlist their Cameron, put their spin on Abe Froman-ing a maitre d’ and fill in the pair’s different excuses for being gone. And rather than just retrace the steps of the movie and try to outdo a giant parade, Turner and Brenda head to different South Side staples, swapping in Guaranteed Rate Field for Wrigley and the DuSable for the Art Institute of Chicago.

Maybe the best part of “Turner’s and Brenda’s Day Off” is that it still works as a “South Side” episode. With Brenda gone for most of the day, Simon (Sultan Salahuddin), K (Kareme Young), and a growing number of cast and crew are left to fill the time until she gets back. K’s artistic ambitions are one of the better throughlines bubbling under the show’s surface — getting to hear excerpts from his operatic space novel (and hear honest, insightful constructive criticism about it) is the kind of B-plot that a more parody-heavy version of this episode would never have room for. Add in a casual Eric Bogosian reference (“You guys are Siegeheads?”) and you have an episode thread that can stand on its own in any context.

There’s probably a picture of a virtual writers room whiteboard filled with other details that could have been snuck in here. But from their version of the “So that’s how it is in their family” scene to the overeager valets to what they pick as their Charlie Sheen equivalent (complete with an Au Cheval joke!), this is an expertly balanced riff on a classic.

Plus, an actual mini-monologue-length tribute to one logic gap in the original movie is a much better thematic capper to the episode that the 650th restaging of “You’re still here?” could ever be. The icing on the cake? This is a “South Side” episode, so once it’s over, let autoplay take you through to two more instant classics right after.

Missed any other outputs from Recommendation Machine? You can read every past version here.

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