ABC introduced Black-ish to the world on Wednesday, being the first comedy out of ABC’s gate this season.
Overall, I think they bit more than they could chew with this pilot, but the show is set up for incredible success. I was looking for this show to take the void left by The Cosby Show, Family Matters, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The Bernie Mac Show. It didn’t in its first episode. But it’s trying to be all of them wrapped in one. And they can achieve that. And they’ll be scary good.
The premise of the series is that Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson), born in a tough African-American community, has made it. He has an incredibly successful career and has a great family consisting of his kids (4 of them), strong-opinionated wife (played by Tracey Ellis Ross), and old-fashioned father (Laurence Fishburne). But living in a white-dominated environment, he feels that his kids may feel too privileged/comfortable, so much so that they may be losing sense of their culture. Hence the show title: black-ish.
For the series, the cast was very well selected. There’s nothing to be said about Anthony Anderson. The role was literally written for him, and he plays the patriarch character perfectly. Laurence Fishburne’s one-line quips were brilliant and added great depth to the character. He’s still an old-fashion, easily-grumpy grandpa. But he’s hilarious doing it (Andre: Stand right there and experience your roots. Pops: Better off watching Roots). Also, I had low expectations with Tracy Ellis Ross, and she proved that I shouldn’t have. The Girlfriends veteran played her part well, and brought it when it came to snapping the patriarch into place. The kids, however, still have some development to do. You could tell the chemistry wasn’t there yet. It needs work, but not even The Cosby Show kids had great chemistry at first either. They can get there though with time. Also, criticizing child actors kills me a little bit inside.
I do think the pilot did too much talking about the family being black-ish than actually showing that they were. The devices used to prove the Johnsons were losing their roots, such as Andre Jr.’s desire to have a bar mitzvah and play field hockey, were more a conversation between the “Andre”s than it was seeing the actions of the issue at hand. Mrs. Johnson, caring a wee-bit too much about money and appearance, was, again, more talking than showing. I guess I’m very “show me the problem, don’t tell me the problem” when it comes to TV. When someone is dying on the bed, you don’t say to the viewers, “hey, this guy is dying on the bed over there”. You show the guy on a bed, gasping for air or v-fibbing. Showing problems is more interesting than saying the problems. Perhaps I’m a stickler about that, but I will say current shows are more “action” than “talking” shows.
Dialogue fell apart a few times in the 2nd half of the pilot; but for the most part, the dialogue was sharp. The jokes, when set up well, were great. I’m very interested in how they deal with the older daughter. The older daughter being involved could make or break the believability of the series.
This premise was an ambitious one to wrap up in a 22-minute pilot. However, I think Black-ish should be impressive from here on out. They got the premise out of the way, and now they have some creative freedom. I’ll be interested to see what they do for 2 episodes. Black-ish could bring the black family back as a network stable again.
And it’s about dang time.