Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review - black-ish


When black-ish was first announced during the Upfronts earlier this year, I admit I cringed a little - it sounded a little offensive, and I'm Caucasian!  But as it got more positive buzz, I knew I had to look deeper and understand exactly what the show was going to be about.   

Anthony Anderson (Guys With Kids) stars as Andre 'Dre' Johnson, a very successful man with a great job, a great family and a great home in the suburbs - the white suburbs.  He begins to notice that said family doesn't really embody, embrace or celebrate their Black heritage, but rather has vastly assimilated to the predominantly white society around them.  Enlisting the help of his dad (Laurence Fishburne, Hannibal), he sets out to establish a sense of cultural identity that honors the past while embracing the future.

Co-starring are Tracee Ellis Ross (Girlfriends) as Dre's wife Rainbow, Yara Shahidi (below, seond from left) as daughter Zoey,  Marcus Scribner (below, third from left) as son Andre Jr., Miles Brown (front, left) as son Jack, and Marsai Martin (front, right) as daughter Diane.


Going in, I'm reminded of another sitcom from many years ago that featured a prominent, successful Black family at the heart of the show - The Cosby Show, to date one of the most perfect TV shows ever to air.  The difference from black-ish is that the Huxtables didn't make the whole of their existence about being Black.  The just presented and dealt with issues and situations any family, regardless of race, would face.  Not that they ignored it - Black heritage and pride were celebrated often, they just weren't made the focal point of the whole show.  We just saw them as two incredibly successful parents and citizens that happened to be Black.  And it was beautifully, masterfully and hysterically done.

But black-ish is making the point that success has pretty much acclimated the family too much into the white world and its trends, products, celebrity idols, etc., and patriarch Dre wants to bring them back to their roots.  This is a much better concept than the very original pitch presented earlier, which just seemed at the time to be a bunch of poorly chosen racial jokes.

 Here is yet another show featuring lead character voice-over - man is that done A LOT! - to fill us in on backstory, thoughts, etc.  I understand its effectiveness, but it would be nice to see a show come up with a new way to do it (like Modern Family did with their "confessional" format).  I understand Fishburne's Pops character is meant to be the voice of the true Black man, but I think they overdo it (it's like almost every line or comment he makes).  Actually, the majority of the pilot is about focusing on distinguishing between "us" (white people) and "them" (black people).  They kind of hit you over the head with it.  Yes, it's the first episode and they have to set up their voice, story, point of view, etc. but honestly, I didn't find it funny.  It may be that I'm way over-thinking it and not just letting it live, but I can only feel what I feel, and what I felt was uncomfortable. 

Of course there was going to be a reference to Obama, but when questioned whether they knew that he was the first Black President, the kids answered "I guess".  That to me is not just portraying racial ignorance, it's portraying straight-up ignorance, given the historical nature of the election for the whole country, regardless of race, that every student should be taught and know.  Again, maybe I'm looking for fault where there may not be, but it made the kids seem dumb, and overall I just didn't appreciate what the creators are obviously trying to put forth.

BOTTOM LINE:  Seek out and watch The Cosby Show instead. 

black-ish airs Wednesdays at 9:30pm on ABC.

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