When filmmaker Craig Erpelding and his then-girlfriend enlisted the services of the Apartment People in the summer of 2008 to find an apartment after moving to Chicago from L.A., he found himself unable to answer a very basic question: "What neighborhood do you want to look at?"
A Kansas native, his previous Chicago experience was limited to a few visits to Wrigleyville and the Loop.
"I had no idea about Chicago outside of those two things," Erpelding said over coffee and bagels at Atomix Coffee Shop on Chicago Avenue. "Luckily, the guy who was helping us had gone to school in Kansas City, so he just said, 'Well, where do you live now? And what do you like about that?' "
Erpelding described his former Kansas neighborhood as "a district with an array of local restaurants and bars, coffee shops, book shops and more, all in a couple blocks walking distance. But there was still large green space close by that didn't make us feel like we were dropped into the middle of high rises. All of the elements of the big city with more of a residential neighborhood feel."
The realtor knew right away: Lincoln Square.
"After looking at places, we had a beer at Huettenbar," Erpelding said. "That sealed the deal."
So it was Lincoln Square for the 31-year-old Erpelding, a long-legged man with smooth grey hair who had come to Chicago to write for filmmaking trade magazines.
"That's a cool little niche neighborhood," he said of his new home. "And then after living here for a while, you start on your own to find the different parts of town that you love. Exploring Wicker Park and Bucktown, and then I always was interested in the Ukrainian Village."
His interest ran deep.
"It was close to downtown, it was close to public transportation, it was close to Wicker Park where there's a lot of action, but it's still quiet, it's still got that neighborhood feel, there's still a lot of awesome, up-and-coming hidden gem sort of places, like Atomix. I love this coffee shop. You've got Bleeding Heart Bakery, which is maybe one of the best bakeries on the planet. And all that stuff is just right here on Chicago Avenue."
My experience in Ukrainian Village is low, which is odd, considering I've lived in Wicker Park since the summer of 2007. Indeed, when Craig said he wanted to meet at Atomix for our interview, I had to Google it even though it's a 10-minute walk from my apartment.
But why go to Atomix when I have the Wormhole and Filter? Why go to the Bleeding Heart when Alliance Bakery is right there on Division?
This is the Chicago neighborhood experience: with a multitude of beloved conveniences a few steps from your front door, other people's favorite spots often go unseen.
That seclusion is the driving force behind "Two Flat", Erpelding's new TV series. Now 35 and fully immersed in Chicago, Erpelding is using his scriptwriting and filmmaking skills to introduce fellow Chicagoans to his beloved home of Ukrainian Village.
The fictional series, filmed in his apartment on Huron Avenue, is modeled off hyper-local comedies "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "Portlandia," while its comedic inspirations are "It's Always Sunny," "Seinfeld," and "Arrested Development."
The show follows the adventures of local art blogger Bill Kriegel (Frankie Cusimano) and his unemployed bike messenger roommate Rodney Platz (Neal Dandade). Erpelding likes quirky characters who form an unofficial family unit, and he feels he has one with Bill, Rodney, lesbian filmmaker Kira (Karisa Bruin), upstairs neighbor and aging hippie Gibby (Richard Steimer), and free-loving landlord Leona (Judy Rossignuolo-Rice). His cast is pulled from Second City, Improv Olympic and Steppenwolf, and the writing staff and crew are all Chicagoans.
"We have such incredible acting talent that don't necessarily want to go to L.A. to do a sitcom," he said, "but they want to do a sitcom."
Along with giving opportunities to local acting, filmmaking and writing talent, Erpelding is creating partnerships with Chicago brands, companies and artists to expand "Two Flat's" Chicago identity; these include Piece Pizza, Finch's Beer, Ork Posters, band Maps & Atlases, artist Mark Phillips, and photographer Sheena Valie. Some pop up in their already filmed pilot episode, while the rest will be featured in the remaining five episodes of their first season, which will be filmed in Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, Lincoln Park and Lincoln Square between late-July and mid-August.
As for distribution and broadcast, Erpelding is premiering the show at the New York Television Festival in October. His goal is to partner with an online broadcast outlet (like Netflix, Hulu, or Facets) and then to air the show for six weeks following the NYTVF. He hopes Chicago will embrace his series, since the city's support would be the ultimate validation.
"People have such a pride for being a Chicagoan," he said. "They wear Chicago like a badge."
Erpelding does too.
Now finished with our interview, he shakes my hand and walks with me to the door, heading onto the streets of his adopted city. And I walk the other way on Chicago, a new appreciation for a neighborhood not my own.
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @ReadJack