Culture of Pop

‘Black-ish’ Review: When ‘The Talk’ Goes Wrong

“Turns out the cat was out of the cradle and it winked right at me.” – Dre Johnson, scarred father

The preview for the second episode of Black-ish stated Dre (Anthony Anderson) and his son Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner) were going to have a talk about the birds and the bees. What it doesn’t mention is Andre getting caught by Dre learning about it himself because of an unlocked bedroom door in the first scene. In several ways, the second episode of Black-ish is an excellent case of entertaining birth control.

The pilot episode tried too hard to establish the central theme: Black-ish is told from the point of view of black people. Every scene featured a stereotype to constantly remind viewers this was a black family in a white world. Combined with the insecure first-person narration of Dre Johnson, father of the family, the pilot felt forced, and didn’t give three of the kids in the family much to say or do. The second episode fixes these complaints and manages to strike a balance between maintaining its intended vibe without forcing the issue, and allowing every character to have a moment to display their personalities.

“The Talk” is about Dre and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) attempting to communicate with their teenage children, and how both of their methods failed them because of parental ego. Andre Jr. needs to have a talk about sex, and Zoey (Yara Shahidi) needs someone to talk to her about some super-duper serious high school drama. Dre offers his son an open-door policy which he immediately regrets once he realizes Andre Jr. wants to reveal every sexual thought going through his head. Rainbow has surprising success getting Zoey to open up about her deepest secrets, but can’t hear anything her daughter is revealing because she’s too busy congratulating herself in her mind about how great she is as a mother. Meanwhile, Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marasi Martin) are being neglected thanks to their older siblings, and are plotting to gain attention so that their father will have “the talk” with them.

Last week’s episode was funny yet awkward, but Black-ish really nailed the landing this time. We got to see vulnerability and revelations pushing forth the growth of characters who could be on television for many seasons to come. Anthony Anderson, who also serves as executive producer, has publicly said that he welcomes early comparisons of Black-ish to The Cosby Show. Keep the horses in the stables for now, but Black-ish has the potential to be something special for the modern era of television without African American families on primetime television.

Black-ish airs on ABC at 9:30 Eastern time.

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