May 21, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Black-ish”


Even as other broadcast networks have been backing off their commitment to situation comedy, ABC seems to have possession of the magic formula.  Last season’s The Goldbergs became a genuine hit with a move to Wednesdays, Fresh Off the Boat richly deserved its renewal on Tuesdays, and even the now-canceled Cristela had its fans.  The crown jewel of the network’s post-Modern Family sitcom spurt, though, is Kenya Barris’s BLACK-ISH, which not only successfully follows that show in the line-up (after years where ABC unaccountably tried to follow the family hit with comedies about dating), but has proven a terrific companion piece.

Black-ish could well have been titled Modern Black Family, with the same smart mix of dysfunctional parent/child/sibling comedy and honest sentiment as its lead-in.  Although its often incisive view of the intricacies of racial identity informs its humor (and sets it apart from Modern Family), the show stands on its own as a sitcom even without any social issues.  It’s just plain funny, with characters that are well-drawn and distinctive, from its latest in a long line of hapless TV dads, ad agency executive Dre (Anthony Anderson), to his mixed-race anesthesiologist wife Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross), to their four children:  high school queen Zoey (Yara Shahidi), nerd Junior (Marcus Scribner), brainy Diane Marsai Martin) and pliable Jack (Miles Brown), along with gruff grandpa Pops (Laurence Fishburne) and his ex-wife Ruby (Jenifer Lewis).

Black-ish nearly always works when it’s dealing with life at home, although it sometimes falters a bit in the sequences at Dre’s office, where the tone broadens and his co-workers can be somewhat interchangeable, aside from Dre’s Kramer-like oddball colleague Charlie (Deon Cole).  But for the most part, the show shines at putting new spins on old storylines, from family reunions to visiting in-laws to school bullies to anniversaries.

The season finale, written by Co-Executive Producer Vijal Patel and directed by Jonathan Groff, was an unusually elaborate and conceptual outing, as though the producers had realized there was money left in the budget at the end of the season, so they might as well go all-out.  Framed as a story Pops was telling the family, it was set in 1920s Harlem, at a Cotton Club-like nightspot, and along with guest stars Sean Combs and Mary J. Blige, it featured all the regular cast members in dual roles as old-time counterparts.  It was clever enough (Zoey’s handheld Morse Code served to invent texting decades before its time) and nicely designed, and the actors probably enjoyed dressing up and doing variations on their usual characters–plus, there was one notably pointed sequence set at the Jazz Age equivalent of the ad agency where Dre works in the present (Charlie was the janitor in those days)–but the device didn’t really let Black-ish do what it does best, which is presenting its slant on contemporary life.

It’s doubtful that Black-ish will be indulging in many more of those contrivances in the future, so the series should be back on track when it returns in the fall.  It’s keeping its 9:30PM post-Modern Family slot, despite the fact that Empire noticeably dinged its ratings last winter–and next season Empire will run both in the fall and midseason. The network clearly opted to go with stability and take the Empire hit.  All in all it makes sense for ABC to think about Black-ish in the long term, because it seems to have the stuff of a comedy hit with legs.

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."