[This is a review of the series premiere of Black-ish. There will be SPOILERS.]
Black-ish, ABC’s latest family comedy featuring the talents of acting veterans Anthony Anderson (Transformers) and Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), has the difficult task of attempting to showcase a specific ethnic/cultural lifestyle, while still being broad enough to appeal to the viewing masses needed to support a series on a network of this size.
At first glance, once could easily call this an updated version of The Cosby Show, but to do so would be doing a disservice to this uniquely ambitious undertaking. The classic Cosby series may have focused on an upper-middle class African-American family, but Black-ish takes this concept and expounds on it by delving into what makes an individual “black” in America.
Keep in mind, Black-ish portrays one example of a cultural heritage set in a specific socioeconomic region and never makes the claim that it is speaking for an entire ethnic background. Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson (Anderson) and his wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) live in a predominately white neighborhood with their four children (Zoey, Andre Jr., Jack, Diane). Fishburne plays the children’s grandfather and is simply referred to as Pops. The talented Shakespearean actor deftly plays the crazy old man with wonderful grace and wisdom that could easily be dismissed as trivial if another actor were in the role. Black-ish may not be perfect, but it excels in its casting.
The family is one you’ll want to get to know more about, but the pilot focuses primarily on Andre Jr. (a.k.a Andy) and his relationship with his father. Again, the show is playing with the idea of what it means to be black, or a part of an urban culture. For Andre Jr., he just wants to be accepted by his friends, so being called Andy – a derivative of Andre according to the youngster – makes him feel more approachable around his white friends. His father sees this as a rejection of his heritage, but in the end discovers that it’s all about his son trying to hook up with girls. Pops quickly tells Andre Sr. that you can’t get mad at your son for something like that.
Racism in the United States is still an issue even if times are not as dire as they were during the Civil Rights Movement, or even further back during the time of antebellum slavery. As Andre Sr. observes, hip-hop/urban/black culture has engulfed and merged with mainstream America, Korean and Latin cultures. So, where does that leave the African-American to feel unique? Perhaps that’s the big question Black-ish is trying to unpack. As different ethnic backgrounds begin to marry and mingle, how do we define ourselves if not by our heritage? Does anybody really care if Obama is the first black president?
Of course people care, but for a younger generation like the Johnson family children, they just want to exist without the burden of being defined by their skin color. What makes Black-ish so interesting, is that these children are clashing up against their parents and grandfather who were raised in a much different time and place. To them, wanting to play field hockey, or changing their name so as to be more culturally acceptable was unheard of in their time. This dichotomy should easily carry Black-ish through its first season with some engaging episodes.
Did this new series keep it real enough for you, or was it just another average attempt at exploiting cultural stereotypes? Keep watching to learn more about the Johnson family.
Black-ish continues with ‘The Talk’ next Wednesday @9:30pm ET on ABC.