In its three years in the primetime slot for ABC, comedy series Black-ish has earned rave reviews from both critics and audiences — and for very good reasons. The writing is smart, the material is pretty unique and the performances are all fantastic. Don't take my word for it, take the word of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
That's right, after being nominated for six different awards in the past and winning two for Best Actress in a Comedy Series at the past two NAACP Image Awards, star Tracee Ellis Ross not only earned the same nomination from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for the Golden Globe, she took that award home with her at this year's show.
But one of the reasons this show has truly resonated with both fans and audiences is due to its comedic, yet intelligent handling of modern day issues, ranging from gender identification, to racist stereotypes, to trying to raise their kids right without being too close-minded to today's societal norms. Let's take a deeper look at just why the show is the most socially relevant and important series currently on television.
Beautiful Blend Of Comedy And Serious Issues
Since its debut in September 2014, the series has never shied away from speaking about heavily-debated and ever-evolving topics, and though it aimed for a more comical approach in the first season, it has since transformed this formula into including a dramatic touch and it's brilliant.
One prime example is Season 2, Episode 16, entitled "Hope," in which Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Bow (Ross) try to help their kids to learn and understand the events following the release of a police officer with no charges after he was initially arrested for police brutality on an unarmed African-American. There are a couple light-hearted moments in the episode, but for a channel and time slot typically known for sticking to comedy, ABC came out of left field with this episode.
Creator of the series, Kenya Barris, stepped back into the writing room with his own script to bring one of the most powerful and chillingly realistic episodes of the series, with Anthony Anderson delivering a brutally honest look into the fears and struggles African-Americans face in dealing with the law enforcement today. Here's the clip of Dre's phenomenal speech to Bow and their children:
While this episode didn't go for a blend of comedy and drama in getting its themes told, the series would show a great step in blending the two genres in its third season with Episode 2, "God," in which Dre and his mother Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) try to convince eldest daughter, Zoey (Yara Shahidi), that God does in fact exist after she announces she doesn't believe in Him.
There is plenty of comedy to be had in this episode, what with Dre and Ruby's numerous failed attempts to convince Zoey, as well as the side plot that the fraternal twins, Jack and Diane (Miles Brown and Marsai Martin), are tricking Bow and older brother, Junior (Marcus Scribner), into doing their chores for them. But the biggest dramatic twist comes towards the end of the episode, in which the entire family excitedly attends Bow's sonogram appointment at the doctor's office.
In what would typically be a tender moment for the whole family to see their future sibling, it almost became one of the most gut-wrenching and heartbreaking moments in history, as it takes the doctor a few moments to find the baby's heartbeat, causing tears to run down Bow's face and the family all looking worried before a strong heartbeat finally breaking through. Even knowing the outcome of the scene does not make it less powerful to watch, Ross showing off her dramatic strengths and the end result also including Zoey's inner change that God is real, thanking Him in relief after the heartbreak comes through.
The third, and most recent, example came in the form of Season 3, Episode 12, "Lemons," which portrays the Johnsons' reactions to the presidential election, as well as Dre's co-workers. The episode showed the series clearly had a strong grip on splitting the comedy and the drama on the big topics, in which the characters took (numerous) jabs at President-elect Donald Trump, as well as some of the candidates he ran against, while also delving into the serious contemplation of what his presidency entails for the future of the country.
Let's be honest, even if you voted for Trump, there's no denying it's easy to take jabs at him for his brash tactics and occasionally indecipherable vocabulary, and Barris made sure not to hold back. In addition to Daphne (Wanda Sykes) making reference to the infamous Access Hollywood tape, the episode also poked fun at some of the other African-American candidates that ran, calling Ben Carson "a weirdo." But this was not a pointless jab at the Republican candidate, but rather an important point made by Lucy (Catherine Reitman) to illustrate that if white women were supposed to show up and support her, the same could be said for African-Americans not showing up to support their same-race candidates.
But amidst the comical storytelling and theme-delivering, it was again followed by another powerful speech from Dre detailing the struggle that those of other races and religions have had to deal with to get to the freedoms they have today, and also pointing out that the only reason white people are getting upset with this election's results is because something is not going their way for the first time. Here's the clip of Dre's intelligent and chilling speech:
The Subversion And Embrace Of Stereotypes
Whether it's impulsively buying a new pair of Air Jordans, planning family trips to Disney World or arguing with white co-workers about "black" culture, Black-ish has always prided itself on trying to tell a story that most stereotypes are unfair and untrue, as well as put on display that some of them are not only accurate, but ring strong throughout the Johnson family.
Black-ish was ABC's first big step towards better diversifying their sitcom programs, followed by Fresh Off the Boat (which is currently also on its third season) and Cristela (which only lasted one season). However, this series has done a much better job of standing out amongst this crowd, and part of the reason why is thanks to how hard Black-ish works to subvert the stereotypes put upon African-American culture in our modern society.
The best example of this theme, particularly in its first season, is Dre's meetings with his co-workers in the conference room. Despite being some of the worst people to try and take advice from, Dre constantly turns to them for help with parenting, as well as help with things going on as an adult, and not only were the results often hilarious, but also very insightful.
In addition to serious speeches about having to deal with structured racism in America, Dre often splits hairs with his boss on exactly how wrong many of the stereotypes are, receiving some backup from his co-workers, Charlie (Deon Cole) and Curtis (Allen Maldonado), as well as new boss, Daphne (Wanda Sykes). One prime example is an episode in which Junior becomes a Republican to get closer to a girl at school, and in discussing his troubles with it at work, Dre not only points out stereotypes that are true, but also stereotypes that are ever-changing in our progressive world. Here's a clip from the scene (beginning at 1:07):
A Talented And Diverse Cast
While it may not seem surprising that a show called Black-ish features a number of African-American performers in its cast, it's also unique in that a number of its lead stars are actually of mixed races. Star Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana Ross and Robert Ellis Silberstein, comes from black and white households, while co-star Yara Shahidi was born to an African-American/Native American mother and an Iranian-American father. The series also stars three white performers as main cast members, and the show does a great job of giving all the performers screen time and importance.
In addition to being diverse, the cast all bring an exceptional amount of skill to their roles, each bringing the characters to life with believable problems and authentic reactions. Anderson and Ross do a phenomenal job in portraying the caring parents still figuring out the perfect blend of open-mindedness and old-fashion ideas in raising their kids. All four of the kids know how to do a great job of portraying the innocence of youth, as well as playing their strong formula roles as the dorky son, popular daughter, and tough-to-separate fraternal twins. Here's a clip showcasing the hilarious narration from Anderson, as well as the fantastic performances of Anderson, Ross and Jenifer Lewis:
When a show can have talented performers who know how to deliver each powerful punch with a strong blow, as well as make you laugh so hard you can't hardly breathe, to support the intelligent writing behind the series, you know you're in for what should be remembered through history, and thanks to its socially-compelling themes and hysterical writing, Black-ish should live on in history for a long time.
What do you think of Black-ish? Do you appreciate the messages told in the show? Let us know in the comments below!