Some would argue that the big three networks – ABC, CBS, NBC – have not brought out a black family sitcom since the 90s. For the most part, it’s a true argument. The mid-70s to mid-90s were the glory days of black family sitcoms. CBS ran Good Times from 1974 – 1979. The Cosby Show basically made NBC from 1984 – 1992, which gave way to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on the same channel from 1990 – 1996. Not to be outdone, ABC premiered Family Matters in 1989 and it was a mainstay on the network until 1997.
Since then though, the black family sitcom has all but disappeared. BET has tried its hand at it, but no one is really trying to stay up to watch a family sitcom at 10 or 10:30 p.m.
Enter ABC’s fall 2014 lineup which includes the much hyped and much-advertised ‘Black-ish.’ The name alone strays from the formula of your traditional sitcom, but other than that not much is different. The Johnsons are a family of five with an outspoken grandfather who often visits. Mom, Rainbow Johnson, (played by Tracee Ellis Ross) is a doctor and dad, Andre Johnson, (played by Anthony Anderson) is an executive at an advertising company.
The first episode begins with a Kanye West song – a statement in itself because fewer black people in modern history have so confused whites and blacks alike as Kanyezze.
Jokes and tender moments ensue as two main plot lines run through the first episode. One, Andre Jr. is not living the same black experience his father did as a teenager and wants to be called Andy, play field hockey instead of basketball and have a Bat Mitzvah. The second plot scenario is Andre Sr.’s excitement of being named vice president at his firm only to realize it is of a newly established “urban” division.
As with any good sitcom, the episode ends with Andre Jr. getting his bat mitzvah and Andre Sr. realizing urban has come to mean many things.
Black-ish is already getting good reviews. If it continues pleasing the masses and ABC keeps it in its current slot behind Modern Family it should make it through its first season and get a second season. I can’t wait to have more Tracee Ellis Ross in future episodes and love that Lawrence Fisburne’s career has advanced to this point. He’s playing a grandpa for a reason y’all! That’s where he is in life.
The other upside of this show is the dialogue it can’t help but facilitate. It works to address issues of race and seems to do it unapologetically. The country as a whole could learn a lot from that. So good job; I’ll be watching to see how the show progresses.