Black-ish Is Another Laughable, Lovable All American Family

TV Show Review – Black-ish (“Law of Attraction” episode 1.11)

“In ‘Law of Attraction,’ Dre (Anthony Anderson) thinks Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is questioning his machismo after another man dismisses him in front of her. But when Pops (Laurence Fishburne) swoops in to help his son save face, Ruby (guest star Jenifer Lewis) is attracted to this show of manliness and the couple reignite their love affair. Meanwhile, things get awkward when Jr. (Marcus Scribner) is selected to play ‘Romeo’ to his sister Zoey’s (Yara Shahidi) ‘Juliet’ in their school play.
ABC.go.com

by Alan Eggleston

The All American family: On television, we often think of the Cleavers from Leave it to Beaver or the Andersons on Father Knows Best from the early days. Possibly the Keatons of Family Ties or Homer and family from The Simpsons in the ‘80s and beyond. Even today the Pritchetts and Dunphys of today’s Modern Family. But there’s a new All American family we should consider adding to the list: The Johnsons of this season’s Black-ish.

ABC-TV's hit sit-com Black-ish.

Photo by ABC-TV

A situation comedy, Black-ish is about an African American family trying to keep its sense of cultural identity despite the distractions of everyday American life.

Here’s a family of six living in upper middle class America, much as these earlier TV families did, struggling to overcome life’s daily hurdles, sometimes put in place by society, sometimes set there by work, and sometimes simply arranged by family. The difference is, like the Huxtable family of the ‘80s sit-com The Cosby Show, this family is Black.

The storyline offered by IMBd says, “A family man struggles to gain a sense of cultural identity while raising his kids in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood.”

In this week’s episode, kicking off the winter season after the holiday hiatus, the greatest hurdle is from family.

Dre’s father and mother – known as Pops and Ruby – have rarely gotten along. (Dre is the dad and narrator in the series.) In fact, Dre purposely keeps them from being in the same room at the same time.

Hilarious flashbacks show Pops and Ruby in battle throughout Dre’s childhood, destroying each other’s things.

The set up

In the opening scenes, Dre’s oldest daughter Zoey is playing Juliet in a school rendition of Romeo and Juliet. Ruby is sitting with the family in the audience, when Pops walks in. Immediately the sparks begin to fly and Dre is upset that it can only mean disaster.

After the play, the whole family goes to a walk-up restaurant for refreshments. While Dre and his wife Bow (short for Rainbow) are in line, another man walks up to the window. Dre assumes he wants to cut in line (he really only wants a  napkin) and starts to challenge the man, but when the man stands his ground, Dre backs down. Pops steps up to defend his son and daughter-in-law. Suddenly, Ruby finds Pops appealing again.

On the other side of the coin, Bow finds Dre weak.

This sets up the episode for conflict between Dre and his parents and Dre and Bow.

The follow through

Interspersed between Pops and Ruby going places together, enjoying picnic lunches, sharing a bed once again, is Bow taking charge of things that Dre would normally do as the man of the house – mounting an HD TV on the wall and cooking steaks on the grill. While discussing his dilemma with colleagues at work, Dre even remembers that the kiss he gets from Bow as he leaves for work wasn’t really a kiss.  (Close up Dre’s awkward frown.)

Now Dre is determined to look more manish for his wife. And more determined to split up Pops and Ruby.

There are a couple of hilarious scenes of Dre shadow ninja-punching in the hallway self-talking his way to manliness and voicing his toughness while in bed with Bow at night.

In another scene, Dre takes Bow back to the walk-up restaurant in the hope of running into another altercation so he can show her how tough she is. Bow decides that’s silly. Dre agrees and they walk on, coming upon a dark, sinister alley. Once again eager to show Bow how tough he is, he runs into the alley, much to Bow’s dismay – then comes running out chased by a dog. The dog catches up to Dre and Dre falls to the ground in the fetal position. The dog’s owner runs up and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, my dog just loves giving kisses!” (Cue Bow’s hand-on-hip disgust at Dre.)

Back at home, Bow, a doctor, is cleaning up scratches on Dre’s leg. Dre winces and Bow says, “It’s just water!” This all leads up to a discussion of their change in relationship and what led up to it.

The make up

“I wanted you to take out the tough guy!” Bow admits, and Dre responds dourly, “You know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect this family.”

Meanwhile, Pops and Ruby traipse through the Johnson home showing more love. Dre has finally had enough. He tells them sternly, “I don’t want my kids going through what I went through. End it now or leave my house.”

Bow says, “You were incredible standing up to Pops!”

Pops and Ruby decide they should cool it in the Dre Johnson home, and Bow decides she and Dre should reconnoiter upstairs (wink-wink). Says Dre, “I don’t need to be a caveman like I was 20 years ago, I’m a cave dad now!”

The final laugh

Now back to the beginning reference to Romeo and Juliet. While Zoey played Juliet, Dre’s oldest son Andre (or Junior) was understudy to the actor who played Romeo. Suddenly, the actor who played Romeo had to bow out. Andre was excited to get to play the part opposite of his sister, but Zoey wanted no part of even “playing” romance with her brother. She wouldn’t even rehearse with him. Little sister Diane (played by Marsai Martin), stepping up to rehearse a scene, had to admit it looked very wrong.

The episode ends with a giant laugh as the whole family – including Pops and Ruby, in separate rows – watches Andre playing Romeo in his death scene then turn in the opposite direction and appear as Juliet in her death scene.

Every family has its ups and downs, its misunderstandings and its moments of clarity. The Johnsons do it with anguish and laughter and that spirit of candor and tenderness that can only be called All American.

If you haven’t seen Black-ish yet, I suggest you give it a try: Wednesdays at 9:30 e/p – 8:30 c right after Modern Family. All these families are laughable yet lovable.

© Copyright 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

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