Category Archives: Blackish

Black Santa White Christmas Dre and Kids

Black-ish Season 1 Finale “Black Santa/ White Christmas” Settles for Pleasant

Not sure why the title couldn’t just be “Black Santa” instead of adding on the sort of obvious White Christmas part, but this weird titling kind of emblematizes my problems with Black-ish’s first season finale. Instead of taking a stand on some of the episode’s more vibrant and maybe a little more contentious material, this episode did its very best to remain pleasant. You might think that pleasant and funny can go together, but usually when that happens we’re talking about dad jokes. Real comedy involves taking chances and committing to them, which is where Black-ish fell flat with a Christmas episode that is neither heartwarming nor a commentary on the commodification of Christmas, but rather a hodgepodge of comedic elements that never really come together.

Ruby’s Usually Not a Good Sign

Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) returns to spend Christmas with Dre (Anthony Anderson) and the kids, which I’m beginning to think is part of problem because no episode with her in it has been good. “Black Santa/White Christmas” pretty mush rehashes the same conflict between her and Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) from “Oedipal Triangle”. Bow challenges Ruby to let her cook Christmas dinner because just like last time, everyone agrees that Ruby is a better cook. It’s sort of hard to understand why all the kids prefer Ruby because she’s not tell-it-like-it-is pushy like Sophia on Golden Girls, but just regular old pushy and obnoxious.

Bow wants to show everyone her biracial heritage is just as good as Ruby’s by getting the kids to sing at Dre’s Christmas Party, although considering Bow’s parents were in a cult it’s hard to see why as a kid she would have sung family Christmas carols. The kids are ridiculously bad at singing so in a gimmicky 2010 joke, Bow gets an iPad app that magically allows her to autotune the kids as they rap (just to emphasize this makes no sense). The interesting part about how Bow came up with this idea and how she trained her tone deaf kids to rap so quickly is not addressed, with more focus than necessary on bad Ruby jokes.

A throughline joke about Mexican people unites both Bow and Dre’s storylines, basically stemming from Dre and Ruby’s claim that black people can’t be racist. I didn’t find the plot actually racist or blameworthy, though I tend to give a little more leeway for comedy to challenge taboos than others might, but the promising question doesn’t get addressed. Dre and Ruby are shown to be sort of racist, but then in the end we find that Ruby orders her famous Christmas dinners from a Mexican-owned restaurant that doesn’t really make sense because for Thanksgiving she was perfectly capable of making her own food. Factual problems aside, I think they really could’ve milked some more humor out whether black people could be racist or push the absurdity of being racist against Mexicans a little farther.

Show Backs Off When It Should Double Down

Dre also really wants to be the first black Santa at his office, but his boss gives the role to a Mexican lady instead which brings up the whole kerfuffle about whether black people can be racist or not. Dre ousts the lady because her “ho ho ho’s” are subpar, but fails to deliver on presents for underprivileged kids. The running gag that Dre wants black Santa as a sort of black ambassador, but keeps messing up is funny in comparison to the rest of the episode but not funny given a general understanding of humor. In a montage set to the kids’ autotuned song, Dre buys presents for the kids he let down and all is well. Watching this episode was like eating oatmeal, not horrible but I definitely wish I could’ve had something else.

The tags on Black-ish have been consistently weak, with this tag about Ruby’s appropriation of the autotune app just as bad as Bow singing karaoke on the otherwise strong episode last week. Unfortunately how bad this episode was caused the show to lope to a finish instead of surge on to give us all hope about a better second season. I think this show has enough promise, and represents a demographic largely underserved in primetime televisions, but hopefully Black-ish pulls the threads from its stronger showings this season like “The Nod” or “Colored Commentary” instead of anything with Ruby in it.

blackish-colored-commentary

Black-ish S1 E9 “Colored Commentary” Lives Up to Its Potential with Humor and Insight

I think Blackish’s second to last episode of the season, and maybe the series, “Colored Commentary” was a pretty funny episode, which is all I’m looking for out of the show at this point. Despite receiving a million less viewers than the last new episode, perhaps due to the rerun over Thanksgiving, the somewhat bland premise on paper was executed quite well. This might be in part due the helming of an experienced writer, Yvette Lee Bowser, who has written for some of the who’s who of black sitcoms including Hanging with Mr. Cooper, Living Single and A Different World.

We start off seeing Dre (Anthony Anderson) trying to initiate a family game night with absolutely no interest, prompting him to make everyone attend Jack’s (Miles Brown) baseball game. Unlike some of Blackish’s previous episodes like “Oedipal Triangle” which dwells with the initial premise for far too long, this episode starts with a racial focus and expands out to some universal problems. Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) picks a fight with Dre for not backing her up on what she describes as “coded language” from the announcer about Jack’s race influencing his performance and extends to Bow demanding Dre publicly support her even if she is wrong. The show makes good use of a cutaway shot to Dre getting ready to use his race card like a villain about to push a bomb detonator, but him deciding it’s not the right time.

Dre further embarrasses Bow at an art gallery event where he lets her pontificate about the wrong artist to a bunch of art snobs. While I generally don’t like Dre’s voice overs, in this case hearing his thought process deciding whether or not to interrupt her with the correct artist is pretty funny and serves to show how long Bow is talking for. My biggest gripe about this whole plotline, though, is that the show falls too far into caricatured sitcom gender dynamics that stretches the believability of the whole story.

Blackish Colored Commentary Bow and Dre at Art Gallery

I mean when Bow tells Dre to use his judgment when standing up for her in public he responds with “So you want me to act like you’re right, even when you’re wrong?” Geez, despite being a hotshot ad executive, Dre has the common sense of a four year old and one could make a case that Bow’s female unreasonableness gets played up this episode too. I’m sorry to keep bringing Modern Family into my reviews, but it’s the de facto standard bearer for the family sitcom. The dad on that show, Phil Dunphy, is eccentric and weird but he at least seems to grounded enough to follow his wife’s train of thought most of the time – even if he ends up putting a weird spin on things.

While Bow is embarrassing herself at the art gallery, the Jack and Diane end up putting a hole in the wall and all the kids are culpable. The subsequent cover up leads Dre to interrogate each kid one by one until he gets one to break. I appreciate the amount of conflict that the show often shies away from to the point where everyone is angry at everyone else towards the end of the episode. Furthermore, that conflict is based in the motif of the family not sticking together adding a cohesive touch to the episode about the family that’s anything but.

I found this episode to have engaging A and B plots, which is a stark improvement from the last episode, which had neither. There were a lot of great zingers and comedic bits that felt fresh and well suited for the show, but as before Blackish seriously needs to capitalize on the qualities that you can’t get from any other show in television. I’m seeing a show trying to find it’s legs, but hopefully viewership picks up for the finale otherwise this show might not get a chance to show all it has in store.

Blackish "Oedipal Triangle"

Black-ish S1 E8 “Oedipal Triangle” Lobs Another Bland Episode Our Way

Again Blackish finds itself in the ballpark of something interesting, but “The Oedipal Triangle” can’t get past a generic plot, which draws comparisons to previous shows that have tackled tenuous in-law relationships and school crushes before and better. Family Ties or the oft-compared The Cosby Show could get away with basic premises like the domineering in-law comes to town, but viewers are so savvy now they can see that story arc from a mile away. As a result, Dre’s mom coming to town and stepping on Bow’s toes and Zoey giving her nerdy brother advice on picking up girls can no longer be the whole story without some sort of deviation or unexpected twist, but this episode that’s all we get.

Dre’s Obsessed With His Mom – We Get It

Dre’s mom comes to visit this episode with promise of deliciously unhealthy home cooking and inappropriately sumptuous gifts for the kids, making everyone happy except Bow who finds herself put last when mom’s in town. Dre’s mom Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) pushes a connection to her “Zulu-Cherokee” ancestry on the kids insisting, for example, that Diane back to her natural hair. The rub is that Bow and the kids feel, well, black-ish. Diane’s hair as a running joke lands well, in no small part due to the scene stealing Marsai Martin, but Ruby calling out Bow for seeing a therapist after having the kids (which ones or when, I don’t know) feels like a brick in the face.

Still these moments are when Blackish really feels like it’s leveraging what makes it unique, hinting at a sort of cultural rupture between older working class blacks who paved the way for their kids’ success even if that meant their kids living a life they don’t really know much about. Unfortunately this topical rupture is only casually addressed with primary attention paid to Dre engaging in “different but the same” hijinks to keep both Bow and his mom happy. The scene where Dre brings Ruby and Bow to the same lookout and they agree about how much of a knucklehead Dre can be seems so artificial. Their behavior reflects nothing of who they are as people and feels copy and pasted from some other show, to the point where it’s hard to feel invested in the characters because the writers sure don’t.

Zoey and Junior Can’t Quite Hit the Mark

The B plot where the popular Zoey coaches Junior into getting the hottest girl in class has little specificity to it and the moments that are clearly trying to be funny often don’t make much sense. Junior starts off rummaging through the garbage with another girl for recyclables or something, but Zoey intercepts and offers to help him get Ciara, the “hot” girl with eyes glued to her phone. Although Junior demonstrates a preference for garbage girl, we never see her again and Zoey’s guidance helps Junior get the girl, sort of. Again Junior doesn’t really care about this popular girl and it’s hard to see why Zoey is so invested in the situation either, which again makes it difficult to care about what happens in this story.

This episode was not without its charms, for sure, like Jack saying they got rid of Bow’s kale salad thinking it was “jumbo parsley” and Dre’s weird over-the-covers biscuit nap with Ruby. A couple of unrelated zingers don’t in and of themselves make for good television and neither does a strong premise, if so Blackish would be breaking Nielsen every Wednesday. The premise of Modern Family sounds like the most boring thing ever (three blended families talking to each other a lot?) but the stories are honest, fun and consistent which are three things Blackish needs to work for next season.

Blackish the gift of hunger beef plantation

Black-ish S1 E7 “The Gift of Hunger” Retreads Old Sitcom Territory

The seventh episode of Blackish, “The Gift of Hunger” incorporates several standard family sitcom conventions in an effort to propel this sluggish plot to something greater. Unfortunately by employing tired tropes instead of capitalizing on the show’s unique perspective, this episode meanders until the end. Pratfalls and precociousness provide momentary laughs, but Dre and Rainbow’s plans to ensure their kids don’t end up spoiled largely retreads old comedic territory.

One Liners Can’t Save A Bad Plot

The episode begins with Dre taking the family to the Beef Plantation, which prompts a couple solid zingers from the family (“You have Roots on Laserdisc, but eating at a place called Beef Plantation doesn’t bump you?). Growing up eating baking soda sandwiches, Dre thinks his kids are spoiled because they don’t appreciate the (bad) food he relished as a kid. Consequently he leaves nothing but baking soda, ketchup and baloney in the refrigerator to teach them a lesson. Rainbow offer a counterpoint to Dre in that she grew up with some money, but she joins his side when the youngest kids, Jack and Diane, beg for food from the neighbors across the street. Here is where the show’s story trajectories separate into Dre’s bland A story and Rainbow’s somewhat witty and topical B story.

Dre employs the older two kids, Zoey and Andre Jr., at his advertising firm which results in Andre Jr. screwing up at every turn in an overdone series of physical comedy bits – he drinks all the coffee trying to figure out which one is decaf and runs into the door excited he finally got the order right. Hardy har har. The main focus, however, is on Dre discovering that his self-obsessed and seemingly airy daughter Zoey actually has a successful make-up tutorial Vlog channel. Zoey’s premise would be pretty clever – if it hadn’t been blatantly stolen from a far better Modern Family episode.

Subpar Rendition of a Modern Family Plot

In season five, episode 13 of Modern Family Phil and Claire take their eldest daughter, Haley, out to dinner in order to convince her she needs to start thinking about her future until they find out she has already been profiting off a makeup tutorial Youtube channel. Here the stakes are continually raised because Phil and Claire get drunk and are revealed to Haley to be humorously manipulative. Unfortunately for Blackish even if we didn’t have the powerhouse Modern Family to compare it to, the plot points are so obvious and the writing so bland it wouldn’t have executed the premise well anyway. The father-daughter plot even gets resolved with an almost Full House­-esque speech where Zoey complains about how Dre took control of the one thing that meant something to her and he apologizes for blah blah blah, you can piece it together.

The B story with Rainbow, Jack and Diane still kind of played to the tropes of the normally smart mom going to absurd lengths to impress an inconsequential neighbor, but at least it was done with some finesse. This episode Rainbow has largely been the mouthpiece of this show’s unique voice, highlighting, for example, that Diane begging on behalf of the only black family in the upper middle class neighborhood puts them all in an awkward position. Then the neighbor misconstrues Jack and Diane’s lemonade stand as Rainbow’s pathetic attempt to make some money, which isn’t particularly clever but the surprisingly strong acting of Marsai Martin especially gives the talented Tracee Ellis Ross someone to play off.

Blackish R&B Music Video Spoof Gif

This episode was distinctly mediocre not because it was uninspired, but because it just did not understand how to make use of what differentiates it from Modern Family and all the other single-camera family sitcoms out their right now: the Millenial/ Gen X, wealthy black perspective on family life. Instead of squeezing out pithy one-liners that could be found anywhere, they should build on the Beef Plantation and the oddly fitting cutaway to the kids in an early 2000’s R&B music video fantasy that no other show on television could pull off. Here’s to hoping Blackish finds its real voice before ABC moves onto another show that can.