BLACK TO THE FUTURE: ‘Black-ish’ Is Right On Time

Surprise, surprise.

Instead of Anthony Anderson’s making an absolute mess of his portrayal of the Black-ish family patriarch Dre, as he’s done with other roles that required a heavy hand just to be memorable, he’s borderline perfect. I almost didn’t watch the show simply because he was the lead, but I’ve been eating crow ever since I dared to fire up Hulu for a binge watch. For an actor normally associated with being the comic relief, Anderson pulls off the straight man act with ease. Dre is very easy to empathize with, seemingly incapable of keeping insecurities to himself.

Instead of focusing solely on the male perspective, the show has a slick feminist sleight of hand that is wonderfully written into the background. Women are frequently judged unfairly and overlooked, and much like what most men do in real life, their plight is never addressed even when acknowledged. Tracee Ellis Ross does a spectacular job as Rainbow, balancing out Dre’s boisterous outbursts with an adorable quirkiness that hides a fierce warrior, armed with a pun intended surgeon’s precision.

Instead of Dre and Rainbow’s successful careers being simple pandering, they are used to remove the “po’ folks” narrative that’s been told a million times before. Making them financially secure allows the characters to be fleshed out beyond stereotypical disenfranchisement. Speaking of stereotypes, they are explored frankly and openly with all parties. Hypocrisies are not overlooked or apologized for, rather allowed to appear in situations where they typically show up.

Instead of the children being insufferable or weird, they are the unsung heroes of every episode. The two teenagers do a great job as Theo and Denise Huxtable variants, avoiding being too cool or too nerdy to the point of being annoying to watch.  The adorable twins display both the innocence of their ages and the wisdom of eyes and ears that never turn off, absorbing everything around them. They all have the lion’s share of the funniest moments in the show.

Make no mistake; Black-ish is BLACK, and unapologetically so. I understand how that premise alone can turn off many people sight unseen. There’s also topics, like the paradox of being considered both mixed and black, that very few could possibly relate to without rare direct experience. And then there’s Dre’s black co-worker (played by the scene stealing Deon Cole) that represents the aspect of black culture that confuses the hell out of non-blacks, as his wildly unpredictable antics are never explained and every racial situation he encounters is oversimplified with emotional knee-jerk reactions.

However, the show is still remarkably similar to those predominately white counterparts that still dominate the TV landscape. You’ll find the same tropes you’ve encountered from decades of television viewing, like unofficial man rules, being too nosy or too friendly to your children, hanging desperately onto youth, date night drama, boyfriends, bullies and boogeymen. Any criticism of the show being too black is placing a blind eye on all of the familiar similarities.

Much like black Americans, Black-ish is being judged in extremes: praised for the standout moments and admonished for the lowbrow, not being acknowledged as just great most of the time. It also displays an interesting dynamic in how deeply assimilated black Americans have become with American culture, as the often copied have become the copiers in both real life and art.

Now how American is that?

Did Black-ish give you the wrong impression at first?
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