Joey Czaja ’17/ Emertainment Monthly TV Staff Writer
When television shows are renewed for a second season, critics and viewers alike tune in for the premiere episode because they like what the show accomplished in its freshman season, and to sniff for any signs of a sophomore slump. Rest assured, the season 2 premiere of black-ish contains not a whiff of a decline in comedy, entertainment, or social commentary.
In the first two and a half minutes of the season premiere episode titled “THE Word”, a handful of essential elements that made black-ish season 1 one of the best new comedies were present. The episode kicks off with another one of Dre’s (Anthony Anderson) effervescent monologues, supplemented by a hilarious montage of video clips that include a dumbfound-sounding George W. Bush and 8th grader Sameer Mishra confusing the word numnah with numnut at the 81st Scripps National Spelling Bee. Because of this, the premise of the A-story for the episode is clear and we’re treated to a spot-on delivery of a one liner from the always-charming Diane (Marsai Martin): “Begged him to go with the radio edit. Begged him.”
She is referring to her brother Jack’s (Miles Brown) school talent show rendition of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”, where he dances and raps the infamous N word in front of the entire school and subsequently gets himself expelled. The episode follows Dre’s struggle with who, when, and where the N word should be used and accepted, while Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) struggles with eradicating her own “zero tolerance” activism efforts to get Jack back into school. The B-story focuses on Junior’s (Marcus Scribner) efforts to be more eco-friendly, with hilarious and characteristic resistance from the entire family.
Black-ish has been frequently referred to as the “modern day The Cosby Show”, with the Johnson family the equivalent of the Huxtables. Both families are African-Americans. The parents of both families are successful in their professions, and both sets of parents have raised relatively levelheaded and respectable children; however, the comparisons of black-ish to The Cosby Show stop there.
Where Cliff and Claire Huxtable never struggled at parenting and never struggled with competing parenting styles, Dre and Bow Johnson definitely do. Black-ish thrives in comedy and social commentary when Dre and Bow find themselves making mistakes as parents and find their parenting styles or personal opinions contrast one another. In this episode, when Bow questions where Jack would get the idea to say the N word as freely as he did, we’re treated to a flashback scene of Dre and Jack rapping “Gold Digger” in the car, expletives (albeit, bleeped out) and all. When Dre questions which lunatic advocated for a zero tolerance policy at the school that got Jack expelled in the first place, we’re treated to a flashback where we see an energized Bow as said lunatic.
The social commentary this episode provides is delivered and treated with an effective lightheartedness that black-ish has perfected. Episodes like this allow for differing viewpoints to be addressed, like between Dre and Pops (Laurence Fishburne), Pops and Ruby (Jenifer Lewis), and Dre and his co-workers, yet this is done so without being too controversial or too divisive. At its heart, this show is about Dre trying to keep his multigenerational family as culturally and racially rooted and aware as possible, and usually comically struggling to do so.
If this episode is any indication, season 2 of black-ish will feel much tighter than its freshman run. As stated, the social commentary is prevalent and relevant to today’s society. The characters that we have come to know and love haven’t been reworked or retooled, and instead have remained fresh and crisp. Each character had their own laugh-out-loud moments, including the subtly nuanced Zoey (Yara Shahidi) and the once overly annoying Charlie (Deon Cole). The chemistry of the different ensembles within this show, mainly between Dre and his co-workers and also Dre and the rest of his family, has positively improved and become more focused yet free.
For those who watched and enjoyed black-ish season 1, you’re in for a real treat with this premiere episode. For those who didn’t watch black-ish for whatever reason, there’s no better way to spend the latter half of the 9 o clock hour on Wednesdays than with the Johnsons.
Episode Grade: A-