October 1, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Black-ish”


BLACK-ISH:  Wednesday 9:30PM on ABC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on BLACK-ISH:  Dre Anderson is a successful ad agency executive who lives well with his lovely anesthesiologist wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), teen children Junior (Marcus Scribner) and Zoey (Yara Shahidi), younger twins Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin), and moderately cantankerous Pops (Laurence Fishburne).  Dre’s one nagging concern is that his family has assimilated so much that they may be losing sight of their African-American identities.

Episode 2:  Black-ish made an interesting choice with its second episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Vijal Patel and directed by Rebecca Asher.  Despite the series’ title, pilot and premise, series creator Kenya Barnes told a story that had almost nothing at all to do with Dre and his family’s heritage.  Instead, it went straight to one of the oldest of all family sitcom tropes:  the one where Dad has to give his son the sex talk.  The meta-message, as it were, seemed to be that Black-ish has no intention of being pigeonholed as a show about race–and also that it thinks it can jump right into the thick of everyone’s collective sitcom memories and still make its mark.

The result was largely fine, if a bit more generic than the pilot had promised.  The hook for the main storyline was that Dre happened into Junior’s room without knocking while his son was pleasuring himself, and when he found out that Rainbow had already delivered the basic birds and bees data, he decided that he had to bond with his son and prove himself a real father (in a way his Pops never had with him) by imparting more practical advice about the life of a man, like how to wear cologne and who to look for in a wingman.  (The friend with the most busted-up face, was the answer to that one.)  It backfired when Junior was so delighted to have someone to tell about his forbidden feelings for the lunch lady at school that he wouldn’t shut up, asking questions that were increasingly horrifying.  The material here wasn’t much more than so-so (and was limited by the content restrictions of broadcast TV), but Anderson brought about as much out of it as any actor could, alternately busting with pride at his fatherly efforts and hiding from his son’s embarrassing conversation.

The B plot was actually more original:  Rainbow, equally proud of her mothering skills, cajoled Zoey into talking about her latest adolescent crisis–except that Rainbow was so taken up with her own smug inner monologue about her extraordinary empathy that she didn’t actually listen to what Zoey was saying.  And when she manipulated her daughter into repeating it all, she zoned out again.  It was actually Pops who gave Zoey advice, and he did it by “Morgan Freeman-ing” her with a somber voice and banal words of wisdom.  It was very nicely performed and constructed.  (There was also a mercifully brief C storyline where the twins pined for getting their own “talk” without actually knowing what that was.)

Black-ish has demonstrated that it’s capable of pulling off an episode that tells a “mainstream” story, and isn’t just a niche comedy.  In doing so, it may have been a bit too much like lead-in Modern Family, the modern bar of excellence in the genre, than was good for it.  Still, the episode showcased Anderson and Ross to good advantage, and made it clear that it’s a comedy to be reckoned with.

Based on last week’s ratings, Black-ish has little to prove.  It held about 85% of its big Modern Family lead-in, and if it can continue to come anywhere near that number, ABC will throw it a parade, let alone giving it a full season pick-up.  In a season notably weak on quality comedy, Black-ish isn’t a game-changer, but at least it’s in the game.


PILOT + 1:  A Smart, Well-Executed Family Sitcom Is No Small Thing


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."