BLACK-ISH Review: “The Name Game”

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After a few weeks off, is back. And I mean BACK. This was a hilarious episode that intelligently wove in a story about culture and identity, as Dre and Bow debate over their upcoming child’s name. After a string of heavy-handed episodes (with the exception of the amazing post-election episode), it was great to see the show strike that perfect balance between telling jokes and teaching lessons. And all the Johnson children had their chance to shine! Too often the kids are shoved into very minor storylines that feel like afterthoughts, but this week, the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday gives them a storyline that plays to all their strengths.

The episode opens with Dre and Bow eagerly awaiting the reveal of the gender of their baby, at first asking a bakery to make a blue or pink colored cake based on the information in an envelope from their OB-GYN, but then changing their mind after the baker reveals himself to be homophobic. They decide on filling a balloon with pink or blue confetti—the balloon man hates French Canadians, but they can live with that. When they pop the balloon, blue confetti comes out. They’re having a boy! It’s a cute scene, but I kept getting distracted by the motley crew of people in the background of the party. We’ve never seen any of the guests before—it looks like they just brought in random extras. Come on, Black-ish, you’re better than that.

ANTHONY ANDERSON, JENIFER LEWIS, TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, MILES BROWN, MARCUS SCRIBNER

Bow and Dre have an agreement where Dre can choose the name if it’s a boy and he has the perfect one picked out: DeVante. Bow balks at naming their son after the third most important member of the fifth most important R&B band of the 90s, Jodeci, but Dre thinks she’s really objecting because she doesn’t want her son to have a name that’s culturally black. Surprisingly, Ruby agrees with Bow. Ruby would be fine with Michael or Christopher, even Dustin, but not DeVante.

Not surprisingly, Dre’s coworkers are also against DeVante. Even Charlie doesn’t like the name choice, until Dre explains that choosing a culturally black name is important to him, telling the story of Kunta Kinte from Roots. He was forced to give up his name and take a slave name, Toby, so when African Americans began regaining control of their own lives, they returned to their African roots. Of course, Dre’s coworkers haven’t seen the miniseries. They know LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow and as “the black guy from Star Trek”. Charlie’s moved by his argument and demands to be called by his real name, King Charlemagne. Never change, Charlie.

One minor quibble—Black-ish has been airing its episodes completely out of order, which has led to some continuity problems with Dre’s coworkers. The last woman we saw in the conference room was Lucy, who they said was brought back after a lawsuit. This episode, Lucy is missing, but the random woman from corporate we saw in one episode—her name could be Melissa?—is back, apparently evaluating the employees to see who should keep working there. If that’s the case, things aren’t looking good for Mr. Stevens, who is his typical condescending, misogynistic self towards her.

JENIFER LEWIS, ANTHONY ANDERSON, TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, MILES BROWN, MARCUS SCRIBNER

Bow and Dre go out for coffee, where Bow presents her case for choosing a culturally white name. She’s made fake resumes for a Michael Johnson and a DeVante Johnson and posted them on a hiring site. Michael got numerous hits, all DeVante got was an ad for bail bonds. Dre tries to make a point by ordering a cup of coffee under the name DeVante, but when the white barista obnoxiously and completely butchers the name, he changes his mind. As he puts it, “The dream of DeVante was crushed by a barista named Augustus.”

But Dre changes his mind again, deciding to push for DeVante. The names he’s found in the baby books—Matthew, Daniel, Kevin—don’t mean anything to him. He grew up with Ladarius and Jamarcus and he’s sick of how when something is black, the world sees it as bad. Bow realizes that he’s right and they come to a compromise. Their son will be DeVante Matthew, thus giving him options. This storyline hit all the right notes of sweet, silly, and serious, and it was great fun to watch.

MARSAI MARTIN, YARA SHAHIDI, MILES BROWN, MARCUS SCRIBNER

Meanwhile, the kids are dealing with Valentine’s Day. Diane is trying to bond with Zoey and her friend Shelly, but they dismiss her as being too young. Shelly’s cute and she’s interested in Junior—something that Junior doesn’t pick up on, but Jack does. Jack encourages Junior to take a chance with her, telling him he’s finally growing into his body. Jack’s not wrong—Junior has been looking good lately. Emboldened, Junior hits on Shelly, adopting a tough guy persona and wearing a tank top.

Needless to say, it doesn’t go well and Junior apologizes to her for his behavior, realizing that he maybe shouldn’t take advice from Jack, who he’s never seen with a girl and who he thinks might still wear pull-ups—Jack interjects that they’re “disposable sleep shorts”. Zoey points out that Junior has a girlfriend anyways, which I completely forgot about. Junior is dating Megan, but he claims that she doesn’t believe in labels so she’s not officially his girlfriend. Shelly thinks she sounds cool and agrees to spend Valentine’s Day with Junior.

Of course, Junior messes it up. He invites Megan to his date with Shelly, interpreting Shelly saying that she sounded cool as an invitation to all hang out. Megan says she only said she didn’t believe in labels because she wanted him to step up and Shelly’s turned off by his behavior. The two leave and Junior spends his Valentine’s Day eating ice cream on the couch with Diane, watching trampoline accidents on YouTube. It’s nice to see Junior finally gaining more confidence, after how harshly Dre has treated him this season, but he’s got a ways to go with the ladies.

TB-TV-Grade-A-

Season 3, Episode 14 (S03E14)
Black-ish airs Wednesdays at 930PM on ABC

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Jennifer lives for two things: spreading the “Superstore” gospel and themed “Law & Order: SVU” marathons on USA.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @jtrof
Keep up with all of Jennifer’s reviews here.

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