Tweetable Takeaway: Dre gives us a black Santa Claus, with a really sweet message along the way. Get ready for Black-ish to make you smile.
Airtime: Wednesday at 9:30pm on ABC
By: Brett Salinas, Contributor
Christmas is, indeed, lest we’ve forgotten, a time for giving. But in the Johnson household, where tensions often run high and egos even higher, this idea of charity and selflessness can be a bit of a tough nut to crack. While the interminably unmemorable Ruby (Dre’s mother) is back, BLACK-ISH leaves you with a very cute message to unwrap before the holiday break.
Dre, first and foremost a family man, is just a sucker for the holidays. And Christmas is no exception. But of course what would a holiday with the Johnsons be without a cup of ambivalence, a teaspoon of dysfunction and a dollop of misguided crusades? As most of you are aware, Santa Claus is historically a white man. And Dre thinks that this milky figurehead of holiday merriment needs to be shaken up a bit. In a storyline that would make Kirk Cameron cringe and kvetch, likely as part of some self-financed evangelistic documentary, Dre strives to become the first black Santa Claus at his agency’s annual Christmas party (when the old one suddenly dies). Simple enough. While he actually garners a smattering of support at home, lo and behold the boss has already awarded the new title to a Mexican woman in the office. Oh, boy. While I always appreciate boundary pushing in a sitcom, especially one on ABC, where “keep it edgy” isn’t exactly a working mantra, the racial rants at Mexicans’ expense in this episode straddled the line between being bold and being iffy. Though, given the history concept of the show, it’s a passable offense. And luckily, “black people can’t be racist.” But stereotypes aside, Dre has not given up on his quest to assume a new, gilded throne.
Speaking of undaunted egos, Rainbow is absolutely sick of playing second fiddle to Grandma Ruby in her own home. A fan favorite amongst the kids around the holidays, Ruby is perhaps best known for fixing up her delicious Christmas Eve dinner for the family. But this year, Rainbow is taking the reins, much to everyone else’s disappointment. Given the potential of the wife/mother-in-law dynamic, the Rainbow-Ruby rivalry is a bit of a snore, with their dramatic-ish, vicious-ish game of one-upmanship. But Rainbow, via the brilliant Tracee Ellis Ross, carries the B storyline pretty well in her ongoing and ceaseless journey towards universal acceptance and recognition. In an effort to revive her family’s holiday traditions for a change, the merry matriarch tries to coach her tone-deaf kids to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the office party, with very little luck. “Black Santa/White Christmas” is not a very solid vehicle for the younger actors in the show, who are sidelined as pawns in the whole scenario. But given the predictable barrage of groans and sighs that they have to offer this week, a break from the kids’ attitude isn’t exactly unwelcome.
Back at Stevens & Lido, Dre, through a pretty lame plot point, ousts the Latina from Santa’s sleigh and hops in to take her place. But there’s one problem: the bitter Angelica (Ana Ortiz) “forgets” to tell Dre that Santa is in charge of providing the gifts for the present drive. And when he swaggers out to a room of hopeful kids empty-handed, he realizes his ego has gotten in the way of what Santa Claus is all about – bringing joy to the kids. So, in a mad dash to the nearest department store, Dre and his offspring wrangle up a veritable mountain of presents that they hand-deliver to the doe-eyed youngsters. Hurray, redeemed!
But the drama isn’t over yet. When Rainbow returns to the house early, she uncovers that Ruby’s infamous Christmas Eve feast is nothing more than catering from a nice Mexican woman. A ha! In an act of solidarity, the two gals rough the kitchen up a bit to create an aura of homemade-ness around the meal, and no one is the wiser. What matters most is that the Johnsons are all together as a family on Christmas. While the episode had a slow start, the message that blooms from everyone’s mishaps is actually very sweet — Everyone is in such a hurry to manage the reality of their Christmas, but the holiday spirit is about putting egos and agendas aside and loving your fellow men. In their own colorful way, the family are able to do just that. And they even had time to squeeze in an auto-tuned music number, which was a real coup.
It’s also a nice change to expand Dre’s work world a bit in this storyline. Black-ish has been especially detached lately from the work/school of it all, feeling a bit in the micro level, but it’s good to know that there is still a world out there that the Johnsons are a part of. There are jobs with more than three employees and office parties and, more or less, things that happen to real human people otherwise. And thankfully the show wisely decided to loop back in Dre’s colleague Charlie (Deon Cole), who can make you laugh with a blink. What seems odd though, and notably so, is how rarely we see or hear anything of Rainbow’s work environment. Last anyone checked, the woman still works full time. Perhaps Pops is filling in, being that he’s been virtually M.I.A. for the better part of a month.
Christmas is dangerously close, and the Johnson family now nestles into a comfy two-week break. But the show leaves us with a very sweet taste in our mouths in the meantime. In the most natural way possible, the edge of racial commentary on Black-ish has dulled a bit. But what’s left underneath is an often very compelling, sweet and funny story about family. And, around this time of year, what more can you ask for?