September 24, 2014



BLACK-ISH:  Wednesday 9:30PM on ABC – Worth A Look


PLAYERS:  Star and Executive Producer Anthony Anderson, and recurring guest star/EP Laurence Fishburne.  (And Executive Producer Larry Wilmore, although he’s leaving the show to take over the Stephen Colbert slot on Comedy Central.)  Series creator Kenya Barris.  Pilot director James Griffiths.  A supporting cast headed by Tracee Ellis Ross.  ABC Studios.

PREMISE:  Dre Johnson (Anderson) has an enviable life, with a prosperous job in advertising, a lovely house, and an anesthesiologist wife (Ross) and four children who are generally content, even if his acerbic Pops (Fishburne) can be a pain.  Dre’s concern is that their upper-middle-class life is draining the Johnsons of their ethnic distinctiveness, an issue that starts bothering him more when his older son (Marcus Scribner) announces that he wants to play field hockey instead of basketball and also be bar-mitzvahed.  It doesn’t help Dre’s mood when his long-awaited promotion turns out to be as the head of “Urban” Marketing.

PILOT:  Watch enough horrible “family” comedies like CBS’s upcoming The McCarthys, and it would be easy to include that Modern Family is the last of a dying breed in finding relatable, smart humor in the galaxy of family interactions.  Black-ish, though, is one of the more promising to arrive in a while.  Anderson was the comic highlight of NBC’s misbegotten Men With Kids, and he’s capable of being both emotionally believable and utterly silly, both of which come in handy here.

No one will confuse Black-ish with The Boondocks, but it has some smart, nuanced things to say about being African-American in the American suburbs (with further complications caused by Dre’s wife and thus children being mixed-race), while never losing its sense of humor.  Even when Dre raises some real issues, he’s capable of being a complete idiot, and his family lets him know it.  Barris’s pilot script already goes a long way toward finding an effective tone, something that often takes sitcoms much of a season to do (if ever).  Anderson, Ellis and Fishburne play well together, and the kids are less unbearably precocious than the usual sitcom type.

PROSPECTS:  ABC has made some bewildering decisions about what comedy to put in the post-Modern Family slot on Wednesdays, with the scheduling of Super Fun Night over Trophy Wife or The Goldbergs perhaps the network’s weirdest move of the decade.  With Black-ish, there’s finally a show at 9:30 that belongs there, distinct from its lead-in but tonally comfortable, and actually, you know, a comedy about a family.  The competition consists of two old-skwing thrillers (Criminal Minds and SVU), and Red Band Society, which didn’t get off to much of a start last week.  In short, Black-ish will have every opportunity to become that rarity, a solid sitcom hit, if it can just hold to the creative quality it’s already shown.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."