Sara Chaffee ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
For the past six years, ABC has been building its Wednesday night comedy lineup into something spectacular. The family sitcom block of The Middle, The Goldbergs, and Modern Family provides a great representation of the American family. There’s the zany quirkiness of the Heck children in the Midwest, the parental antics of Beverly Goldberg in Pennsylvania, and the Pritchett-Dunphy clan living the “modern” lifestyle in Los Angeles. ABC has struggled in years past to find the perfect series to complete its strongest night of comedy. The network has also struggled to include racial diversity within its comedy line-ups. This season, they have finally found the answer to both of their problems in the stellar new sitcom black-ish.
Black-ish follows an upper-middle class African American family living successfully in LA, or as they are jokingly identified in the pilot, “the magical and mythical black family.” Fresh writing brings the cast of characters to life, making the characters themselves relatable as well as their relationships with each other. The family is headed by Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson), a successful business man who is worried that his family has lost touch with their cultural roots because of their financial status. His wife, Rainbow (scene-stealer Tracee Ellis Ross), is a surgeon who is more concerned about the wellbeing of her children than them expressing their cultural identity. Laurence Fishburne appears as Andre’s father, whose main purpose is to make fun of his son while he tries to instill a sense of cultural pride into his family. The Johnson family is rounded out by its four children: cellphone obsessed Zoey (Yara Shahidi), field hockey player Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner), and race-blind, frozen yogurt loving twins Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin). The characters are written crisply and honestly, making them relatable to all viewers. Even the stereotypical teenage characters, who would fall flat on most shows, are equal parts both entertaining and charming.
Many aspects of the pilot are enjoyable, from refreshing writing to fun editing to great performances by adorable child actors. Even with these numerous accomplishments, the most impressive part of black-ish is the message that it delivers to its audience. Throughout the pilot, Andre is upset by his family’s seeming disregard of African American culture: his son wants to play field hockey instead of basketball; his wife makes baked chicken for dinner instead of fried chicken; his children are unaware that Barack Obama is the first black president. During the episode, he makes multiple attempts to educate his family because he wants them to be “black, not black-ish.” This message about culture and assimilation is very prominent in American society and if black-ish can continue to discuss this issue, it will be distinguished as one of few comedies on network television to put forth social issues so blatantly. It is through this aspect that the series truly shines and by bringing these issues to light, the show contributes to changing the landscape of American television.
With its crisp writing, down-to-earth characters, and strong social message, black-ish is one of the strongest comedy pilots of the past several years. If the series continues to showcase its brilliant creativity and relatable family dynamic, it could be ending ABC’s night of family comedies for years to come.
Overall Episode Grade: A