Christopher M. Enis
“Wait, did they just put me in charge of the black stuff?”–Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson
Back in the 20th Century, a sitcom called The Cosby Show first aired and the world was never the same. Okay, maybe that’s a little much (or not). As the story goes, no one expected the show to be a hit … perhaps because no one would want to watch a – quote – ‘Black’ show. Not only was The Cosby Show a success, it dominated the Nielsen ratings from its very first episode. It’s also only one of three shows to ever be #1 for five straight seasons. To the point, America flocked to their television sets every Thursday for years to see the little (not) Black show that could.
30 years later, another sitcom about a Black family has hit Prime Time. Black-ish (The title alone gets two snaps ups) is giving me a feeling of deja vu in the best way. Created by (and loosely based on the life of), veteran TV writer Kenya Barris (The Game, Are We There Yet?, Girlfriends), it follows a family of seven (including one cantankerous old coot of a grandfather in Lawrence Fishburne) as they navigate the twists and turns of being Black in middle class America.
ABC spared no expense to set this show up for success from day one. It got a healthy dose of pre-promotion, and runs in the highly coveted Prime Time spot behind Modern Family. All it has to do now is deliver. So far… so very very good.
Black-ish follows the life of Andre “Dre” Johnson, Sr. (Anthony Anderson). He comes from humble beginnings, and is now a successful Advertising executive. He’s married to the equally successful Dr. Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross), and they have four children. Together, they search to find their identities as individuals, with each other, and within their respective environments.
Make no mistake, this family is nothing like the Huxtables. Where Cosby danced around the issue of race and identity… Black-ish (the title tells you everything you need to know) dives right in. What makes the show brilliant is its ability to tackle the issue without speaking to any one particular group. The writing is clear, but casts a wide enough net that the subject of race relations doesn’t take on a hostile tone. To be clear, the tone is not dismissive either. This family is taking us on a journey of self-identification and discovery, and we’re happy to come along for the ride.
I feel like Black-ish wants to firmly take the lead as the Black American experience in this day and age, but it also has an “everything but the kitchen sink” feel to it. Just a few episodes in, we’ve already tackled coming of age boy issues, teenage girl issues, overbearing parenting, questionable parenting (Mom leaves the youngest twin alone, to navigate the bloody halls of the ER)… and just how Black is Black enough? Still, the show has incredible potential. ABC seems to have recognized that potential with an agreement to pick up a full season. I don’t think it’s a stretch to see Season 2 on the horizon as well.
Blackish airs Wednesday nights on ABC at 9:30… 8:30 Central.