Chad White, Black, ish
Last night’s episode of the hit ABC sitcom Black-ish fell into reality show territory. In case you’ve missed the big headlines, the show managed to air a bottle episode based around police brutality in America. Better yet, it tackled it in such a way that it was the most poignant piece of television in years without having to pander to its audience. Black-ish has been on a pseudo-soapbox – and that’s not a negative aspect at all – and this episode solidifies its necessity in every viewing habit.
The episode titled “Hope” was announced months ago and has the Johnson family sitting around a TV watching CNN as they follow the story of a young black man that was killed by the police. Not many sitcoms in recent memory make an effort to engage in this type of conversation. There were the extra special episodes of Family Matters and The Jeffersons but, those are different times. Not much has changed in the way the world operates, save for the exception that almost everyone is equal (we’ll get there soon enough), and that’s pretty damn sad. Even seeing how the Johnsons can’t recall which police brutality case they’re watching – they trade lines about a tazing, shooting and other instances from real cases – is entirely all too accurate. It’s just sad, really, to live in a day and age where death by police is a common way to go. The family ultimately falls on different sides and having the full cast available only adds to the differing opinions. Anthony Anderson’s Dre calls police thugs while Tracee Ellis Ross’ Bow says not all of them are to which Dre replies that 92 percent are and the other 8 percent are Law & Order advisors. Meanwhile, Laurence Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis’ Pops and Ruby have come from a different time albeit a time that was more brutal. They know these instances of wrongful killings are going to continue to happen and that there’s no stopping it (Pops even chimes in with the obvious but needed “That could’ve easily been one of these children here”). Junior is a little more optimistic as he wants to help. And the twins Jack and Diane are forced to play oblivious with the latter two asking what’s going on. Their cute innocence is not lost: “Of course he didn’t have a weapon! He had no arms!” Jack shouts when he confuses the situation.
But Zoey was the real charm of “Hope.” At first, she came off as unawares herself; texting and worrying about the family ordering P.F. Changs for the first half of the episode. But, as proven in the closing minutes, she, too, is worried. She’s worried about all of the victims, she reveals she’d been texting about it all night, but, most importantly, she’s worried about her brother making a stupid decision to go down to the protests and potentially end up as a victim himself. Even with their differing views, the Johnson’s all land on the same conclusion: there’s no end in sight but it’s important to not be afraid. Zoey shows vulnerability, of which she’s not done for basically the entirety of the series’ sophomoric run, during a crying fit after confronting Junior about his stupid decision. Zoey, like Bow, was arguably trying to help protect her younger siblings as she distracted them. She took it upon herself to not fall into the conversation of one side. She, like the rest of the family, cares.
They even managed to get references to some amazing leaders in the black community including writer Ta-Nehisi Coates whose Atlantic articles have been widely discussed for the better part of 2015. Black-ish creator Kenya Barris indicated that he’d been afraid of producing this episode. His ultimate goal was to introduce the topic to young children, via surrogates Jack and Diane, as many families will – and should – watch this episode together. How was he going to be able to explain the whole situation to an audience that absolutely needs to hear what’s going on in their community? NBC’s The Carmichael Show took on police brutality in its freshman season last year by discussing the Black Lives Matter protests. The premise for the episode is that it’s Jerrod’s birthday and an unarmed black man was recently shot in Charlotte. The family focuses on the situation at hand instead of the main character’s birthday. They joke about racism and racial profiling that ties back in with every other show that has tackled the topic – ABC’s Scandal and Law & Order are in the running too.
Black-ish managed to shove humor into a real topic with “Hope.” It’s the exact type of conversation the world needs to have, spanning across several generations from grandparents who’ve seen it all to millennials who have no clue why these things are happening. Politics and beliefs aside, Dre’s monologue about Obama becoming president and the optimism that the world was changing for the better was especially heartfelt as he referenced both the good and bad that comes with change. He experienced both longing and potential despair when faced with the realization that not everyone agrees with his sentimentality: “We saw him get out of that limo and walk alongside of it and wave to the crowd. Tell me that you weren’t terrified when you saw that. Tell me that you weren’t worried that someone was gonna snatch that hope away from us like they always do.” Last night’s episode harkened back to the sitcoms of yesteryear that also hit topics of the same caliber. There’s too much to unpack here for one article. Watch this episode if only to start a conversation.