SUPERIOR DONUTS clumsily tried to blend inoffensive comedy with a didactic lesson on unconscious racial bias this week, delivering an episode that managed to be both not funny and uninformative. It’s tough to fault a show with such good intentions, but the writers need to take a page from Black-ish’s book. It’s possible to combine humor and heart in a way that teaches the audience something new without talking down to them. Of course, that requires taking risk, which is something Superior Donuts doesn’t seem to keen on trying.
This week, Franco comes to work late because he was stopped and frisked by a police officer as he got off the train. Arthur tells him that he’s not doing himself any favors by walking around in a hoodie, which is both true and ridiculous, as the hoodie in question has a cartoon dragon on it, not exactly the most threatening image. Maya, your annoying white friend who took one class in college and is now “woke”, tells the group about unconscious bias. Randy and James insist Officer Lee is one of the good ones, but Maya says that people can sometimes be unaware of their racial prejudices.
She decides to call the group out on their biases by sounding a buzzer whenever one of them says something racist, one of the more irritating ideas this episode. It’s a fine speech that perhaps could teach some audience members something new, but the show isn’t confident enough to just let the characters have a frank discussion about race and bias. Instead, this scene is frequently interrupted by Tush butting in to hawk his latest “gig”, a job selling skin cream. It’s the show’s attempt to insert humor into the situation. It most definitely did not work.
Randy suggests holding a community outreach night, a chance for the citizens to meet their local police officers and experience any concerns that they might have. Officer Lee attends, as does Franco’s new friend Malcolm. Even though Arthur thinks Officer Lee can’t be racist because he’s Asian, he certainly comes across as a jerk. He smugly glares at Franco while Franco tries to explain to him that a hoodie doesn’t make someone a suspect and calls him “brother”. Meanwhile, Malcolm admires Arthur’s latest addition to his sports memorabilia collection, a baseball signed by Ernie Banks.
At the end of the night, Arthur realizes that the baseball has been stolen. He immediately believes that Malcolm took it, as Malcolm was the only person who expressed interest in it. However, Malcolm also happens to be black, so Franco thinks that Arthur is just being racist. Randy and James decide to hand the case over to Officer Lee, as they have to attend a sexual harassment seminar. Franco decides to warn Malcolm that the police may be paying him a visit, but when he goes in for a hug, he feels the stolen baseball in his pocket.
Malcolm really did steal from Arthur. Franco takes the baseball from him and begins to walk back to the shop, but Officer Lee walks by and decides to stop and frisk him yet again. He finds the baseball, but decides to keep it for himself, as it’s very valuable. He tells Franco that no one will believe him if Franco rats him out, as it’s a police officer’s word against his. Franco tells Randy and James, who of course believe him. They call Officer Lee to the shop and take the baseball back from him.
The characters admit that they all have biases and that talking about them is the first step to overcoming them. It’s a noble message, but this entire episode had a very after school special feeling about it. If Franco were a bit younger, this episode wouldn’t seem out of place on the Disney Channel. In this so-called golden age of television, other broadcast shows are finally taking risks. Superior Donuts seems like CBS’s attempt to get in on edgier comedy programming that’s not afraid to address current issues, but it also wants to play it safe, leaving the show a muddled, boring mess.
Season 1, Episode 7 (S01E07)
Superior Donuts airs Monday at 9PM on CBS
Jennifer Trofa | Contributor