A Welcome Return to a Brilliant Network Sitcom
I’ve been a huge fan of black-ish almost since the premiere. It was one of the most brilliant sitcoms of the 2010s as well as one of the most relevant series on network TV. The entire family of series, including the delightful grown-ish, have been favorites of mine for awhile. Unfortunately, during Season 3, This is Us premiered and has run against it for the past three years. I’m well aware that all this while I could’ve been streaming it, but I have a busy schedule and have mostly watched it in syndication over the past two years. Then, earlier this year, it was shifted to Wednesdays at 9:30 and I finally had to time to look at some brand new episodes. I’m happy to report it has lost none of its edge.
Like every other family in America (including, as I reported previously, the Pearsons) the Johnsons have been dealing with the pandemic and all its fallout for the last six months. Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) has been struggling in her job as a doctor, and Dre (Anthony Anderson remains awesome) has been stuck in the limbo that everyone else has. Dre is still dealing with his ego — last week, he had to deal with the fact that he is not an essential worker, despite his own opinions — and all the other fallout of what’s going on. Junior is trying to figure out how to have a relationship, even though he can’t see his girlfriend, and the twins are now realizing they’re going to be stuck being home schooled for the indefinite future.
All of this resonates rather painfully in a more universal way. When Dre asks the twins why they haven’t been doing their schoolwork, they tell them it just doesn’t feel the same since their not actually at school, that they miss their friends, and the uncertainty makes them wonder if they’ll be in high school. There’s also the strain that this has been putting on Dre, as he tries to maintain his ego only to realize it can’t maintain it’s level.
It’s also, of course, really funny. The session at his company — now on the internet — are still painfully funny, as the subtle racism of his colleagues has become so much more obvious now. (The boss has now come just short of saying he’s working from a plantation.) And the writers can still find a way to make humor from the darkest of subjects. The Johnsons are watching a horror movie, and he collect their phones. Their phones then start buzzing and ringing, and Dre keeps telling them: “If it was serious, they’d call on the landline. The landline then rings, Dre cautiously picks it up — and it’s the twins grade school telling them they’ll be home for the remainder of the school year. He then lets out a perfect Wes Craven style yell.
Now, I’m well aware that over the past few years, there have been some critiques of black-ish and similar shows. Some have come from creator Kenya Barris himself, who earlier this year offered and even more meta-version of his life on Netflix with #blackAF. I still haven’t seen it, and given the decidedly mixed reviews, its not high on my list. What I do know is that this has been one of the most amusing and conscious series that any show — much less a broadcast show — has dared to do in a very long time. Anderson and Ross are long overdue Emmys for their work, and I hope they finally get them. Am I the wrong person to make final judgments on its relevance? I don’t know. But it’s funny and its moving, and I’m glad to be watching regularly again.
My score: 4.25 stars.