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.