When it was originally on: 2014-present
Original network: ABC
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: Nope
What IMDb says: A family man struggles to gain a sense of cultural identity while raising his kids in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood.
Why I picked it: Black-ish is a network comedy that hit the airwaves right around the time that streaming originals were starting to take off. And in spite of that timing, it still stayed on for 6 seasons and counting, plus spawned two spinoffs. In addition to being wildly successful in its own right, it was also to me to have some shows on The List that represented diverse groups. Adding Black-Ish was kind of a no-brainer.
What I liked: I think the overall conflict of raising well-to-do black children who are still aware of prior generations’ struggles is a fascinating one, and one that many families can relate to. The show gives me a lot of the same vibes as Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, another show that explored black wealth and whether or not that wealth somehow makes black people less black. Such shows can simultaneously give black audiences a show they can relate to in ways they would never relate to a white family sitcom, while also giving non-black audiences insight into racial dynamics they might not otherwise know about.
I also love Rainbow and Andre’s father, “Pops.” Knowing that they’ve written in not one, but two regular characters who exist largely to call out Andre on all his bullshit will certainly help the show work. Both Tracee Ellis Ross and Laurence Fishburne excel in these roles too. They know how to roll their eyes and make snide comments about Andre without it ever coming across as real hatred or animosity. I also love the choice to have Rainbow be mixed race, as it adds more complexity to the racial dynamic, and also broadens the audience that can see themselves in this show.
What I didn’t like: Well I do like the premise, the pilot was a little heavy-handed with that premise for my liking. The whole episode is filled to the brim with Andre’s voiceover, and I already have a pretty low tolerance for voiceover. Yes, Rainbow and Pops do help offset this by pointing out how extreme Andre gets at times, but because the whole episode is narrated through Andre’s lens, that wasn’t always enough. I think there’s definitely a way to make this premise work without beating your audience over the head with it every 30 seconds (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air pilot does!). I can see how this might be a just-for-the-pilot problem that fades away after a couple episodes when the show finds its footing.
I also find it a little disappointing that this family has four kids, and three of them don’t really get any discernible personality in the pilot. Andre Jr. gets his own plot line about starting field hockey and going by “Andy” but the other three kids don’t really do much of anything besides sit around a table and say that they didn’t realize Obama was the first black president. I’m reminded of The Goldbergs pilot which features a family two parents, three children, and a grandfather. While that one also relied heavily on voiceover, I did leave the story with a firm understanding of who each of those people were and how they would clash with other members of the family. I don’t get that so much with Black-ish and frankly, I’m more interested in this family than I am in Andre’s white co-workers that DID get some voiceover exposition.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I think there is a lot of potential here, and most of the stumbling blocks are pretty typical things for half-hour sitcoms to stumble over. I’d definitely be willing to watch a few more episodes since it’s likely those kinks would get ironed out anyway, and the show could be great when that happens.