This is a show that seemed to be doomed from the beginning. After unwisely choosing a name that many casual observers considered racist, the ABC comedy Black-ish premiered to low ratings.
Like most people, I was concerned about a show with a title that seemed like it was going to perpetuate the stereotype that there’s a “way” to be black. To it’s credit, the show seems like it’s trying to do the opposite. Unfortunately, they’re not doing it very effectively. Anthony Anderson plays Dre, a father with 4 children, a mixed wife, and a father that raised him from a low income family. Dre is the new VP at an advertising firm (or something like that) and his wife is a doctor. The two live in a predominantly white community and Dre has a hard time accepting that his family isn’t “black enough” because of the influence of this privileged life. The show attempts to show the ridiculousness of this attitude by having Dre play the fool who has to learn to accept things the way they are. For me, the problem is that there is no other character voicing a contrary opinion with the same fervor that Dre is promoting his ideals. The other characters simply treat him as if he’s acting crazy or unreasonable and might eventually express their own viewpoints.
This is unfortunate because this is a viewpoint and a situation that the majority of the viewing public can’t empathize with or understand. The experience of the middle to upper-middle class black family that’s being portrayed is quite a specific demographic. It’s a minority within a minority. Because of that I had hoped that more of the characters would articulate different viewpoints just so that the audience could try to understand some of the comedy. Without that understanding a lot of the things that Dre says just sound hurtful, stupid or just racist. Truthfully, even with that understanding, some of the things he says definitely aren’t things you’d want to say to your wife and kids. A big part of comedy is the premise that it’s based on and I just don’t think this is a premise that most people will get. It’s inside humor being broadcast to the masses, which seems destined to fail.
In the show’s second episode they move a little bit away from the issue of cultural assimilation into a more standard sit-com scenario. Dre finds his son masturbating and tries to get more involved with explaining sex to him. That whole story line has nothing to do with race and actually offers some funny moments. The problem is that this show will never be able to escape racial issues just because of it’s name (why did anyone think this was a good name for a TV show). On top of that, the sit-com story line wasn’t really outstanding despite it’s good moments. All of that makes me think that this show is destined to be a flash in the pan that will soon be forgotten. Unless something changes soon, I wouldn’t be surprised if this show didn’t get an early cancellation.