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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

PILOT REVIEW: Black-ish

BLACK-ISH










Starring: Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin

Created by Kenya Barris
Written by Kenya Barris, Directed by James Griffiths

THE PREMISE: Black-ish is a new family sitcom that's a bit like a 2014 version of The Cosby Show in that it centers on a middle to upper class family. Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) is a successful senior VP at an advertising firm. His wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a nurse and they have four kids: Zoey, Andre Jr., Jack, and Diane (Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, & Marsai Martin). The problem is that Andre worries that the lifestyle of a successful black family means their losing their black roots.

THE GOOD: Like so many are saying, I think this is a great show for TV for the same reasons The Cosby Show was 30 years ago. Back then, Cosby presented a black family as it had never been done before on TV (wealthy and successful) and they often acted like a white family. There was nothing wrong with that for the time and it changed people's views, consciously or not. 30 years later, Black-ish is hitting the black/white issue more head-on through a different lens using its comedy and stories. That's refreshing because it's a comedy that has something to say, yet is never preachy. The cast is strong and I can see a lot of potential with them. I really enjoy Anthony Anderson and he plays the bumbling but caring father role well. I actually thought the tour bus fantasy sequence at the very beginning of the episode was daring and funny. Other little glimpses in the pilot made me excited about the show this can become (Rainbow sees Andre in his African garb, the brief OJ Simpson fight, etc). Aside from using it as plot exposition at times (a pet peeve of mine), the voiceover was enjoyable in the same way Patricia Heaton's is in The Middle.

THE BAD: There were a few little things I didn't like about the pilot but nothing that makes me nervous about this show in the long run. I already mentioned the exposition through narration: it doesn't need to be done if the writing is slick enough. It's just a cheap shortcut in my opinion. While I liked the tour bus fantasy scene, the feasting at the board meeting fantasy scene didn't work for me, nor did the "us" and "them" labels. It seemed too gimmicky for a show that seems to want to ground itself in reality.

BOTTOM LINE: It's been far too long since we had a quality comedy about a black family on network TV. Black-ish could very well be that show. I think about a show like The Goldbergs, which showed a lot of promise in the pilot but still had some kinks to work out. Now it's one of my favorite shows and Black-ish has that same potential. Modern Family has never received much controversy because of the relaxed, non-soapbox way it portrayed a gay couple. Black-ish can do the same thing to a country that still experiences lots of racial issues.

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