When the comedy featuring Black film legend Laurence Fishburne was announced, The Cosby Show comparisons were out of control. Understandably so, both shows are about upper class Black families and we don’t see much of that on television. As someone who knows nothing about living in the projects; the dogmas of red kool aid or the worship of basketball (I like hockey), I can appreciate this. However, I am well aware of when we are walking a tightrope from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Black- ish makes a bold attempt at breaking down white stereotypes, but when Tracee Ellis Ross came on screen looking like a thrift store Clare Huxtable, I had to say… bye girl, BYE!
About the show: Andre 'Dre' Johnson has a great job, a beautiful wife named Rainbow (oh yes they did that), four kids, and a colonial home in the 'burbs. But has success brought too much assimilation for this Black family?
Starring: Anthony Anderson | Tracee Ellis Ross | Yara Shahidi | Marcus Scribner | Miles Brown | Marsai Martin | Laurence Fishburne
Assimilation is an academic word for what Black folk do to get ahead. We know black people assimilate, but this is not post-racial anything. We are not in a place for Black assimilation comedy. This is Black TV for white people, and not just any white people, the dumb ones that need cheat sheets to explain even their own misguided stereotyping.
In the pilot episode, Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) gets promoted to Senior Vice President at his predominantly white firm. Unfortunately, he still isn’t equal. They create an urban division for him to lead. They made the Black man the head of the Black department. Andre’s son is on the field hockey team, a sport so white it is embarrassing. The heir to the Black-ish throne also wants to have a bar mitzvah for his thirteenth birthday because he thinks it is cool (a storyline that is taken from Anthony Anderson's real life experience with his own son). Like any Black man having an identity crisis, Andre Johnson has a complete meltdown and lays down the Black guidelines. We will be “keeping it real” from now on. Laurence Fishburne is the resident Black History month voiceover completing the poorly produced Black anthropology class entitled, Black-ish.
This show is not funny! See below for some of the one liners that were meant to elicit laughter:
“The mythical and majestic Black family”
“Going back to the days of being the big scary Black guy… though I must admit it has its advantages”
“I have an idea let’s have a Black break and get some white yogurt”
“Head puppet for the white man”
“We aren’t African, we are Black”
I missed the comedic timing for ALL these lines. ALL OF THEM. On the heels of Ferguson, I cannot find the silver lining in a show that tries to find humour in the Black struggle. A show that makes fun of a Black man that chooses to be the only Black man in his company over being the head of a Black company because it offers better financial security is a painful truth we can’t play trivial white-pleasing games with.
I think a group of Black people sat in a room and asked, “How do we create a Black comedy that will be bigger than a white comedy?” We will take the Modern Family model, adapt it and turn every racist white joke into an existential crisis for a Black oreo family.
But it's not funny. None of it is. I am gagging just writing this review. I want to be happy that a comedy starring a Black family with a Black creator has a major time slot on Prime Time Television. I want to be happy that we didn’t pull stars off the silver screen to make it happen. I want to be happy about so many things, but all I can be happy about is the job creation because Blackish is racist!
At the end of the episode, Andre Johnson comes to terms with being the SVP of the Urban Division by categorizing it as a family sacrifice. This simple choice he has made for his family to live the 'American dream' apparently makes everything worth it. I can’t sleep comfortably knowing that there is a show on television founded on the whitewashing of the Black struggle.
Editors’s note: Black-ish premiered with over 11 million viewers, nearly matching Modern Family. Black-ish showed strong retention (99% in total viewers /89% in 18-49), the best-ever in total viewers for a regular comedy debut in the slot.