Friday, September 2, 2016

Emmy Episodes: Black-ish

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. This year, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

Black-ish: Season 2, Episode 1 “The World” (B+)
Black-ish: Season 2, Episode 2 “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gun” (B+)
Black-ish: Season 2, Episode 13“Keeping Up with the Johnsons” (B+)
Black-ish: Season 2, Episode 14“Sink or Swim” (B+)**
Black-ish: Season 2, Episode 16“Hope” (B+)*
Black-ish: Season 2, Episode 17“Any Given Saturday” (B+)
Black-ish: Season 2, Episode 23“Daddy Dre-care” (B)
Nominated for Best Comedy Series
Nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy Series (Anthony Anderson)*
Nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy Series (Tracee Ellis Ross)**

I thought it would be “The Big Bang Theory,” but it turns out that the only other broadcast network sitcom to join “Modern Family” in the top race is ABC’s comedy starring Anthony Anderson, who went nuts when he announced the three major nominations for his show, topping last year’s recognition of just him. I didn’t detest the pilot, giving it a B-, noting that I didn’t think I was in the target audience, and I’m still not sure I am. But I did find myself enjoying this show a lot more than I expected as I marathoned through seven episodes in one night. Like “The Americans,” which was far less of a pleasure to watch, I’ll tackle each submitted episode separately.

The season premiere finds young, dumb Jack facing expulsion for saying the n-word during a performance at school. This addresses the overarching theme this show has of addressing black stereotypes and conventions, leading to Anthony Anderson’s Dre exploring the nature of who has the right to say the word, with plenty of opinions from his parents about its acceptable usage. The revelation that the school’s zero tolerance policy was put into place by none other than Tracee Ellis Ross’ Rainbow is funny, and she does a great job nearly blowing a fuse trying to go back on her principles to save her son from having to go to a new school. I also enjoyed Andre Jr.’s joint shower plan to help conserve water, something that his father did not like at all.

Episode two graduated to a more serious subject, that of guns, but with a predictably loose and casual take on the whole thing. Dre wanting to get a gun to protect his sneakers above all was absurd but amusing, and of course his kids couldn’t believe the news that he didn’t already own a gun. Laurence Fishburne’s Pops training his granddaughter Zoey in the art of karate, also known as just doing household chores, was a fun subplot in this entertaining half-hour.

Episode thirteen was all about the money, as Rainbow doubted her decision to have Dre take the financial reins in the family and the accountant known as James Brown proved to be totally useless. Dre and Rainbow being told that they’re in great financial shape and might even think about having kids soon was a great moment, and the ensuing spending diet that they both tried to undertake after was very funny. That they buy ostrich shoes and other fancy products is part of what makes this show so blissfully over-the-top and effective. Junior following Zoey around to make smart buys was a nice subplot, especially when she tried to counteract it when they wouldn’t cut her in.

Episode fourteen is the only one of these episodes that wasn’t submitted as part of the show’s overall sampling for Best Comedy Series. It’s Ross’ submission, and I couldn’t make sense of that for a while since it’s more about Dre and his inability to swim, which was brought to light by his insistence on being invited to his white neighbor’s pool party. As the episode progressed, however, I understood why she chose it, since her attempted takedown of a mom she believes does nothing, complete with a whiny mocking voice, was pretty epic considering the subsequent reality check that said mom is actually a neurosurgeon who makes time for her family. I don’t think she has enough momentum to win an Emmy, but it’s a great submission that will certainly get her some votes.

Episode sixteen, the series’ most dramatic installment, doubles as Anderson’s submission. It’s the show’s take on rampant racism in society as expressed through police brutality, as Dre and Rainbow consider whether to be honest with their kids about what’s going on in the world or to let them keep having hope. They start by casually discussing all the shootings that have happened which they can’t tell apart, and then Dre insists that he wants to be real with the kids. He spends a lot of time being frustrated about other people making the same points as him but being heard, which helps him in the comedy department, and then he gets a great serious moment with a shot of a triumphant Obama to go with it. He’s in a very crowded category with the likes of Jeffrey Tambor and Aziz Ansari, but Anderson may just win if voters are moved the subject matter.

Episode seventeen was a bit silly but still managed to be funny, framed as a documentary made by the precocious Diane about her idiot brother’s short-live d basketball career. The funniest part of the whole thing is the insular nature of the show’s universe, where Junior gets to play the referee, yelling at his dad to get off the court and then asking him to stay since he’s his ride home. The presence of his neighbor Caleb there also makes it seem like a small world, and this episode manages to work pretty well in spite of its mockumentary format, something that tends to be overused these days on sitcoms.

Episode twenty-one is the weakest of all these episodes, but only because it’s considerably more formulaic than the rest. The kids getting sick and having to be taken care of by Dre rather than by Rainbow provides a good opportunity for Dad to step in and save the day, and boy did he with his fried chicken soup, an intriguing idea that would likely make any sick person vomit. Ending with the news that they’re having another baby is sweet, and its sugary nature only lasts so long as Dre gets to give a goodbye speech to his “baby,” also known as his precious car.

In summary, this was fun, and I might even vote for this show over “Modern Family” since it’s much more consistent. It still doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of “Silicon Valley” or “Transparent,” or even shows that aren’t as consistent like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” or “Master of None.” I had a surprisingly good time watching all these episodes, and I wouldn’t mind if I had to do the same next year.

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