Thursday, November 05, 2020

Straying from the Party Line: Black-ish

So what checklist questions does “Black-ish” not check off? 
  • It doesn’t bring different economic classes together. We’ve seen this before on the show’s ABC neighbor “Modern Family”, but it’s less of a problem here. On that show, our heroes are very concerned with social justice issues but seem totally unaware of their extreme economic privilege, making the show hard to watch. Dre and his family, by contrast, are very aware of their privilege, and how precious and precarious it is. One recurring gag will be Dre encouraging his son to make poor friends and failing.
  • There are no secrets or escalations or twists: This show is a real throwback to an earlier era of gentler pilots. There is no sword of Damocles here. There aren’t even any potential romances for the kids yet. It’s a low conflict show. This brings us to…
  • Trouble won’t walk in the door: This is often a concern for family shows and also for shows about advertising executives (which is to say, “Mad Men”). Dre lives a fairly drama-free life: He’s only in danger of ennui. But the show has now gone for 150 episodes, so that’s turned out to be enough of a driver. But this brings us back to what we discussed last time, when Dre was hurt by something that would only hurt Dre. Dre’s life will be fairly easy, but he’s a volatile character on the inside. He’s a tinderbox, so we never know what he’ll perceive as trouble that we (especially blithe white viewers such as I) wouldn’t regard as a problem. He may not break bad like Walter White, but he, too, has suffered a life of big and small humiliations that have keyed him up, creating enough potential drama to sustain a series.

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