Tweetable Takeaway: Even when it’s not laugh out loud funny, Black-ish can be a very sweet show. And a new, humbled Dre is pretty winning. Tweet
Airtime: Wednesday at 9:30pm on ABC
By: Brett Salinas, Contributor
Getting older…it’s something that literally every person on this earth has to deal with. Some are able to do gracefully, while others snag on the frightful idea that each new day is one closer to the merciless grip of death — clinging to whatever scrap of youth that they can – like Madonna. Now, Andre “Dre” Johnson, a man of timeless style, in that overinflated head of his, maintains the utmost confidence that his big, upcoming 40th birthday party will be one for the ages. But the closer he gets to it, the milestone of forty years just begins to feel like his age is catching up with him. BLACK-ISH this week, for the most part, sticks to what it knows it does well: while the sharpness of its jokes bounce up and down a bit, the show embraces its core family values, and in the end, it’s pretty winning.
Touching on something the show has mostly skated over in the past, “30 Something” gives a nod to the fact that Rainbow and Dre, given the age of their kids, are pretty young parents. And, or at least it seems, a good old-fashion American midlife crisis seems to be a pretty relatable issue for the TV-watching public. But Dre, in advance of this milestone in his life, has no fear of his age. He’s still got style for days and enough shudder inducing swagger to intimidate the even the highest-ranking of his ilk. But while attitudes never fade, human bodies do. After a basketball accident resulting in a rolled ankle and an apparently iron-tough banana that pulls out Dre’s front tooth, the patriarch makes the sobering realization that maybe he’s not as spry as he thought. And compounding it all, his assistant, Curtis, a painfully current young man with ample connections and knowledge of alt-underground-clubs, is a walking reminder to Dre that his day in the sun is reaching its afternoon.
Ultimately, here’s what works: Seeing Dre, an unceasingly cocky leading man, crippled by insecurity is just fun. Anthony Anderson’s character has ended up being, provided IMDB forums are any indicator of anything, extraordinarily polarizing — his “obnoxious” bravado being hard for many to stomach (including me, at times). So, generally, seeing him taken down a peg is a coup from the start. What lacks this week is the mounting “pressure” from Dre’s family and colleagues to embrace his age. Realistically, forty is not especially old, and a lot of the humor feels forced, making it unclear whether the joke was a playful exaggeration or just reaching a bit far for material.
In a string of forgettable subplots, Rainbow and Ruby — shock — compete over getting their main man the best gift, while the kids devise a tear-jerking birthday presentation as a present. With the exception of Diane, the youngest gal in the family, the kids are just not really ripening, given how late in the season we now are. Junior, especially, is becoming tiresome. Part of the problem continues to be Marcus Scribner’s regrettably broad performance, but ultimately the younger characters just aren’t gaining much dimension as the season presses on. And with the kids comprising a huge chunk of the cast, something has got to give.
With Curtis appointed as Dre’s party planner and trusty acolyte, Dre launches a new campaign to throw the hippest, most non-old-person soiree ever, to rival the best of them. But when the youngster leads Dre to an underground haunt on Skid Row that’s so hip it’s literally being demolished, Dre decides to take the wheel, and throws an AMAZING party at his own home. He even scores Jermaine Dupri on beats, spinning like there’s no tomorrow for his high-rolling peers and friends. But while the party rages on, the rest of the Johnsons wait upstairs quietly to present their gift. And with a very short but very sweet video from the kids, showcasing old family photos and baby pictures, Dre’s swagger melts to an earnest shrug when he realizes staying young and current pales in comparison to his adoring family.
Now, “30 Something” is not a ‘laugh out loud’ comedy romp by any means, nor was it even especially funny in the spectrum of the writing on Black-ish, but it leaves you with a very sweet taste in your mouth. As mentioned, with the exception of last week’s episode, which was absolutely brilliant, the show has had a difficult time showcasing variety in its subject matter. Part of the issue is that Dre is always at the center of the action, to a fault, but this week’s escapades did a serviceable job casting our protagonist in a new-ish light. We’ve seen confident, we’ve seen compassionate, we’ve seen indignant – a lot — but we haven’t seen insecure. While I would argue it didn’t push the topic to the nth degree, the show ended with an elegantly terse wrap-up, proving that family is paramount in Dre’s world, and the rest is expendable. Maybe the show isn’t always at the top of its game in comic timing, but what it does remarkably well is its undercurrent of sweetness. And for the most part this week, it kind of earned it.