I must admit I didn’t immediately fall in love with BLACK-ISH when it first premiered last fall. My biggest issue was that I didn’t buy into the original conceit that a couple – the husband, recently promoted to SVP of a marketing firm, and the wife an anesthesiologist living in an affluent neighborhood in LA would just be coming to the realization that their kids are disconnected from their African American heritage. This life is not new to them, they’ve been successful in their careers for a while now and providing their children with all of the benefits that kind of affluence affords.
But as the series went on, the show’s stories broadened out beyond it’s initial premise to become a smart, sharp, honest and funny comedy. BLACK-ISH is a great showcase for the comedic talents of Emmy nominee Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross. But for me, the highlight of the show was getting to see Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne be funny.
So looking ahead to season 2, I’ve come up with the 5 things I’d like to see happen on BLACK-ISH.
1. WRITE TRACEE ELLIS ROSS AS THE LEADING LADY THAT SHE IS! It was evident during her seven-year stint on GIRLFRIENDS that Tracee Ellis Ross has a knack for comedy. She’s got great timing, she listens to her scene partners and conveys a strong physical presences. And whoever said it’s hard to find beautiful women who are funny must not have heard of the younger Ms. Ross because she’s gorgeous and funny. Since the show is told through Anthony Anderson’s character Dre’s point of view, he gets most of the screen time and Tracee Ellis Ross’s character Bo is left to react to Dre’s absurdity. In the episodes where Bo is given more to do Ross she shines. I hope the writers and producers took notice and have stopped writing Bo as a supporting character because Tracee Ellis Ross has more than proven that she’s a leading lady.
2. MORE LAWRENCE FISHBURNE. As I said earlier, the biggest joy for me watching BLACK-ISH was getting to see Laurence Fishburne be funny. Mostly known as a dramatic actor, Fishburne proved that his talent has no limits with his portrayal as Dre’s father, affectionately known as Pops. Anthony Anderson and Laurence Fishburne have great chemistry and it’s easy to buy them as father and son. And, because Pops lives in their guest house and sees the family on an almost daily basis I didn’t buy that a man from the generation that fought for equal rights would not have made his son aware early on that he’s raising his kids without an awareness of their culture. I know Fishburne was busy working on the NBC series HANNIBAL and movies so his availability was limited. Now that HANNIBAL has been cancelled hopefully we’ll see more of Pops incorporated into the show.
3. HAVE THE JOHNSON’S INTERACT WITH THE COMMUNITY MORE. One of the funniest episodes of BLACK-ISH centers around Dre and Bo trying to teach their children the value of a dollar. The couple’s twins give one of the neighbors the impression the family has hit hard times and Bo goes to absurd extremes to convince her nosey neighbor that they’re financially sound. This is an instance where Tracee Ellis Ross was given a strong story to showcase her talent and it allowed for the family to interact with characters outside of their immediate family and Dre’s office. BLACK-ISH should definitely play up the some of the social awkwardness that arises from being the only African American family in the affluent neighborhood.
4. GIVE OLDEST DAUGHTER ZOEY A MORE CLEARLY DEFINED PERSONALITY. As tv kids go BLACK-ISH did a good job with casting the four Johnson children. But, I’ve had trouble connecting with oldest daughter Zoey. I don’t know if it’s the acting choices of the actress Yara Shahidi or if the writers aren’t sure how to flesh out the character, but something is off. The other 3 kids have such distinctive personalities and gel with each other and the adults, but not Zoey. My guess is that Zoey was conceived as just a sullen, self-involved teenage girl, but teenage girls have so much more depth and dimension than that. I’m not ready to write Zoey off just yet because I remember how Vanessa on THE COSBY show was the weakest link among the kids and over time was able to gel with the rest of the cast and become a clearly defined character.
5. CONTINUE TO HOLD UP A MIRROR TO CONTEMPORARY ISSUES. The biggest strength of BLACK-ISH is that it reflects a new generation of Black characters on television. Dre and Bo didn’t grow up with the same social struggles as Cliff and Claire Huxtable, but they do have their own set of experiences that shape the way they approach the world and raise their kids. In season 1 they did a great job exploring a variety of themes that resonate with a new generation of viewers. For example, one episode focused on the family celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday by going skiing. The show used the scenario to explore what it means to remember the importance of what Dr. King accomplished in the fight for equality, while appreciating that that fight now affords them the opportunity to vacation at a luxurious ski lodge. In another episode the show introduced Dre’s lesbian sister, played by Raven-Symone, and explored how a family deals with a family member that everyone knows is gay so to make sure no one is uncomfortable they don’t talk about it, which has the opposite effect. BLACK-ISH covered these topics in a fresh and funny way without being preachy.
I’m looking forward to season 2 of BLACK-ISH. The Johnson family is likable, relatable and hilariously flawed.
Season 2 of BLACK-ISH premiers Wednesday, September 23rd at 9:30pm EST.
Check out a clip from BLACK-ISH below: