First off, I doubt I was the demographic that writer Kenya Barris or star Anthony Anderson was aiming for with black-ish. But I’m a big fan of Anderson’s and the publicist offered me the screener, so of course I was down for a half-hour shot at the show airing tonight on ABC. If the pilot is anything like the rest of the season, folks are in for some serious laughs- and a serious dose of self-examination, as the show unpacks what it means to be authentic in a sea of changing convictions and perceptions about race and life.
Like other sitcoms, this one stars a put-upon father figure, Andre Johnson (Anderson), who longs to be recognized as a leader in his advertising firm but grinds against his promotion to “urban director.” His doctor wife, Rainbow (Traci Ellis Ross), and “Pops” (Lawrence Fishburne, playing against type) do their best to keep him from crashing and burning, but he’s also struggling with the failures he sees in his children to be truly black. [His son wants to excel at field hockey; his eldest daughter (Yara Shahidi) isn’t clear that Barack Obama is the first black president of the United States.]
This is going to get into some serious stuff, but don’t forget, this is Anthony Anderson we’re talking about – and he’s hilarious here. Sure, the pressure builds like an episode of Modern Family where Phil is making moves he shouldn’t be making or Home Improvement where Tim wants to make sure his family “understands” something. Johnson tap-dances on the edge of sanity… and somehow never falls the whole way over.
But this isn’t about “just” race. While I can’t claim to know what it’s like to grow up black in white America, I can say that black-ish translates well to asking what it’s like to grow up different from those around you. Given that it was sent to me to examine from a religious perspective, I find that it segues nicely into a conversation first presented in the twentieth century by H. Richard Niebuhr about how the church and Christians should relate to culture (over culture? through culture? away from culture?) In the process of examining his son’s identity, Johnson has to ask questions about his own, and figuring out what it means to be genuine, unique, upstanding, providing for his family, and true to himself.
My only regret here is that I saw the pilot and have to wait for the second episode. Kudos to Barris and Anderson for leaving me anticipating another chapter in Johnson’s quest to “keep it real.”