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Most shows explore diversity through different colored faces, and by who is kissing who. But as for Black-Ish, it is all about what it means to be Black and what that represents.
Review (with Spoilers)
I’m not going to lie to you, when I heard Anthony Anderson was in this I thought it was going to be trash. If just because I see him as the cheaper Wayne Brady. Though it is mostly because I don’t know what his shtick is as a comedian and never found him funny. However, with the inclusion of Laurence Fishburne, who has yet to do me wrong as an actor, and Tracee Ellis Ross, who I haven’t seen in a series since Girlfriends, since I ignored the other show she had, I figured they could balance out Anderson, if not make all my worries go away. Read below to see if they did.
Characters & Story
Andre Sr. (Anthony Anderson) works in marketing and his wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a surgeon and they both live in a suburban area of Los Angeles. But, from what it seems, neither one came from an affluent life. Well, at least we know Andre didn’t. Either way, with Andre and Rainbow living the American dream of going from poverty to affluence, they are quite proud of themselves. However, with this pride comes a bit of worry for Andre, and his Pops (Laurence Fishburne), notice that Andre’s kids aren’t Black, but simply Black-ish.
To explain, Andre’s kids: Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner); Zoey (Yara Shahidi); and, what I assume are twins, Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin) aren’t strongly tied to being Black. Partly due to Rainbow trying to raise them to be color blind. However, between Pops and Andre Sr., this is seen as a problem. For with Andre Sr. getting a promotion to be a SVP of his company’s Urban Division, then him learning how his kids lack knowledge of, and perhaps perspective, of being Black in America, it sends him into a crisis. One which we only get a taste of in the pilot, but likely will be a repeated issue as Andre seems to deal with culture shock in the form of Blackness, except when it comes to negative stereotypes, becoming mainstream and no longer owned by Black culture.
Since UPN and The WB merged, finding a show with a Black family on network TV has been rare. Especially with them as the stars and not supporting roles. So with this being one of the first in a long time, at least to me, for the show to so directly touch on Black culture was very odd, though interesting. For with topics including racial profiling; appropriation; lack of Black people, or people of color in general, in high rank positions at work; the sense of community people of color make at their jobs; and then with Pops commentary, which makes it seem Fishburne is reprising his role of Furious from Boyz in the Hood, the pilot seems far past being Black-ish. If anything, it shows what being Black means across multiple generations. How with Pops’ generation, it was your forced identity and something you learned to take pride in; then with Andre Sr., being Black, like with his dad, was still a forced identity, but one of which while the history was filled with tragedy, as the culture began to really be closely linked with entertainment, and without it being whitewashed, you can see he got his pride like his dad, but through a different avenue; and then there are the kids.
Now, admittedly I myself had the perspective when I was 12 or so thinking race didn’t matter and I surely didn’t think the first way to identify someone was by whether they were Black and White. Since, while older than Andre Sr.’s kids, the idea of everything not being a racial thing isn’t new. Especially if you grow up in a suburban area and are shielded from more urban zones. So with seeing Andre’s kids not know Obama is the first Black president, get into field hockey, and just want to fit in, I feel torn between understanding them and Andre Sr.’s point of view. Which, all things considered, was a surprising feeling since I didn’t expect this show to have any depth at all. I was honestly expecting a Cosby Show knock off since that show keeps getting referred to in Black-ish’s advertising.
The main thing worth critiquing with this show is that it may feel a bit too much when it comes to cultural issues. For while Rainbow speaks for the “Let’s be colorblind” or “New Black” community, her voice of opposition is limited and with Anderson being a bit too over the top, like showing the LA Riots during a LA tourism presentation, I can see Anderson’s character getting annoying. For he isn’t like Pops who just smoothly talks about not understanding the up and coming generation, much less Andre Sr. when it comes to race and culture, Andre Sr. makes his points glaringly obvious to the point you wanna say: “I get it, move on already!”
Overall: Stick Around
I won’t say this is undoubtedly worth seeing, if just because this show does not feel like it is made for everyone. If anything, I think of this show as an experiment. One which seeks to investigate, as will Fresh Off the Boat and Cristela, whether a network station can showcase an all non-white family, and have a hit on their hands. For with diversity doing well for ABC when it comes to Shonda Rhimes’ various productions, and Modern Family, I think they are trying to see if going a step further could make them money for really, as mentioned earlier, finding all Black, never mind all Asian or Latin, family being featured on network TV hasn’t happened in years. Never mind all on one station since UPN and The WB merged.