Tweetable Takeaway: Valentine’s Day is here and Dre has a perfect opportunity to screw it up — thank goodness he delivers.Tweet
Airtime: Wednesday at 9:30pm on ABC
By: Brett Salinas, Contributor
It seems prudent to issue the disclaimer that while general holiday merriment per se doesn’t bother me, there’s something so deeply annoying about Valentine’s Day that, with or without a valentine to share the day with, I find myself unrelentingly bitter and resentful for each of February fourteenth’s twenty-four grueling hours. Because, as we all know, nothing facilitates romance like hideous dinnertime traffic and Walgreens flower bundles. But in any case, I will try valiantly not to let my hatred of this holiday color my opinion in any way of this week’s BLACK-ISH. Which may be a moot point anyway, given that after a notable, network-wide primetime hiatus the past few weeks, the show returns with a pretty strong and renewed comedic vigor. Thought not without a few bumps.
For many people, men and women alike, this saccharine marketing ploy, I mean holiday, inspires a great deal of stress. Getting the perfect dinner reservation, buying the right gift, choosing a charcuterie platter that won’t make you bloated and gassy…the evening is full of hurtles. And with two headstrong and generally contentious individuals like Dre and Rainbow, it can be expected that the giggles and pleasantries won’t last for long. Framed as a kind of wartime schematic, quite aptly I might add, the episode sees Dre strategizing to keep the peace with his wife like an Army general striving for diplomacy amongst a world of tatters and chaos. But, with one tiny misstep, in this case a backhanded blow to Rainbow’s outfit, a dark shadow is cast over their date – yipes, Dre! The first chunk of the episode lands reasonably well with the whole military angle, but for the most part, Dre’s behavior here teeters on the line between being relatable and being just unrealistically annoying. Sure, we’ve all known someone who takes way, repeat way too long to order off a menu at a restaurant, but Dre’s irritating little quirks feel a bit too constructed to inspire empathy. And, for the most part, Rainbow is in the right to be annoyed with her fumbling fella. Though, the recounting of Junior’s birth, accompanied by Rainbow’s tragic and untimely “accident,” swooped in to give the episode a nice, off-the-wall little fist bump. And it worked.
And naturally, of all the places for Dre to seek solace during his nosedive of an evening, the restaurant’s men’s room oddly enough provides a nice support group for hapless husbands and boyfriends. Here the takeaway is, “okay, maybe you weren’t perfect tonight, but YOU’RE the victim, so milk it for all it’s worth.” Shockingly, Rainbow graciously apologizes for overreacting to her husband’s little foibles, but Dre, truly not being able to leave well enough alone, takes it a step further – trying to garner sympathy for every mean thing Rainbow has ever done — and it backfires. With the fight hitting a new peak, the couple realizes that Valentine’s Day is their “fight night,” and maybe, in some weird way, that’s not such a bad thing. It’s a night to get all the unresolved feelings off their chests, before they truly explode. And after an evening of arguing, the only thing left to do is “make up,” and that’s certainly not the worst thing.
“Big Night, Big Fight” ends with a pretty decent wrap-up. Because, as we’ve come to realize, the Johnsons will never have a conventionally happy ending, but given what we’re working with, the family learns to put up with each other’s crap in endearing ways.
The B-story this week finds pointed little Diane trying her hardest to be…nice, for a change. The little girl’s “tell it like it is” approach to social relationships is leaving her fellow siblings a little bummed out. So, with some training and conditioning, Diane learns to taper off her comments before the insult comes, leaving just the compliment! Even the “mutant” pizza man is spared from her cutting commentary after the crash course in kindness. But, as Dre points out, that is not the Diane he knows, calling her “broken” and in need of fixing. So, the efforts have all been for naught. The kids, when united, are an undeniably charming bunch. And this Diane story was mostly cute, if not a bit of an afterthought, being that it could be coupled with pretty much any other A-story this season with little consequence. Some of the Johnson family, namely Junior, are stating to feel a bit tired. The stumbling, goofy brother can only take the show so far, and I think the increasingly problematic Junior is about to cross over the line and into the “eye-roll zone.”
While this episode delivered with a solid number of genuinely funny moments, and had a nice, tight pacing to it, there is a lingering sense that maybe the gender dynamic of it all is still landing in clichés more than not. Women are hard to please, men are clueless about romance…we’ve seen it before. But can Black-ish put its own stink on old concepts enough to be truly memorable? For the most part: yes. And the quirky brand of humor does a decent job of this. But in the long run, I’m wary that the clichés will only mount further. Which I don’t want to see happen. In the meantime though, we’ve got another half-hour of sturdy, entirely serviceable comedy. And any show that takes time to decry Valentine’s Day, and its stupid little traditions, gets my stamp of approval.