Tweetable Takeaway:Things are starting to feel familiar and predictable. And with the bar set so high, being lazy just won’t cut it.
Airtime: Wednesday at 9:30pm on ABC
By: Brett Salinas, Contributor
In 2014, a time when television is as popular as ever, and when A-list stars are leaving the big screen to pursue careers on TV, it is of the utmost importance for each show to bring something new to the table to have any chance at success. The only real problem with television today is that there are simply too many quality options to choose from anymore. The point is, a new show should never miss an opportunity to make its mark. This week, Anthony Anderson and the cast of BLACK-ISH have missed the mark. While always a pleasure to watch and filled with its quirky brand of comedy, the show finds itself lapsing into overly familiar sitcom territory. And it can do better than that.
“Crazy Mom” started out with such a promising premise: Dre, seeing all that Rainbow does around the house, offers to take over Mom-and-household-duties for the week to give his overtaxed wife some time off. Insert comedic opportunity here. And he’s off to a roaring start — when Dre brings cupcakes to Jack and Diane’s school, he becomes everyone’s new hero. Reaping the title of “cupcake guy” amongst his kids’ entire class, Dre doesn’t miss a beat before rubbing the win in Rainbow’s face. In spite of the fact that she whips up homemade cupcakes regularly, and that Dre resorted to liquor store-bought baked goods for the kids, he is canonized for being Super Dad. And so uncoils a very important concept: Why does Dad get credit for so little when Mom does much more every day with no recognition?
From then on, Dre starts to see this pattern everywhere. After he is late to his own meeting at work, he is actually lauded by his boss for putting family first. However, when a beleaguered-looking Mom shuffles in moments later giving the same excuse, she is criticized. But sadly, after teeing up such a loaded yet funny concept, the episode never really gets into the sad double standard of the modern American parenting model.
When Dre returns to the school the following day with some deftly executed medical forms, there is nary a congratulation in sight. And he realizes then that the pinhead of success is a precarious place to perch in the parenting world. As another mom puts it, “the more you do, the more you get taken for granted.” So Dre, being the consummate competitor that he is, doesn’t waste time feeling discouraged, he kicks the whole operation into high gear. However, it’s here that the promise of the episode really starts to deflate.
Meanwhile, Rainbow is feeling lost left to her own devices. She thinks maybe if she rearranges Dre’s haphazard fridge configuration or correct his clunky silverware placement in their kitchen drawer, that purpose will find her. But it doesn’t. As a last resort, she turns to her kids. But it looks like Dad has already tended to the homework and the chores, so she is truly at a loss. Rainbow’s character is becoming less and less interesting as the series progresses. Her incessant need for approval is becoming hard to find endearing as she skates over her children’s emotional needs. In the four episodes of black-ish, we’ve yet to see a genuine moment of compassion between her and the kids. Is the character funny? Yes. Is she still charming? Absolutely. But I have a feeling there’s more to her that we’re not yet seeing. The audience is well-attuned to her foibles; let’s maybe explore her strengths.
Dre cannot eclipse the stunning success of his cupcakes back at school. Even a batch of homemade, stone-ground cornbread can’t buoy his status when other Dads are bringing in their own kettle corn. The law of diminishing returns can be brutal when you’re riding the wave of success as hard as Dre was. And during a class presentation on Harriet Tubman, he snaps. In typical Dre fashion, the man goes out with a bang, not a whimper. In this case though, he’s literally thrown out of his kids’ school.
So, it seems in everyone’s best interest to revert to the old model – Mom handles school, the kids, the housework and a full time job while Dad enjoys video games after work. Problem solved. At least the Johnson parents can enjoy a romantic evening in now and again.
As disappointing as “Crazy Mom” ended up being, there is still a lot to like. First and foremost, the show is really finding its comedic voice. The brilliant recurring joke here that Dre’s inner monologue is externalized as a movie screening, where he’s his own audience member watching his exchanges with Rainbow played out like a horror film really punched up the episode well. And speaking of Rainbow, her on-screen chemistry with Dre continues to be phenomenal. They may be constantly bickering and at odds with each other, but they’re the kind of couple you root for. They’re the Dan and Roseanne Conner of 2014, only they have jobs. The competition that fuels their relationship never feels spiteful because their dynamic of hostility is burned off by the talented actors that play them.
What was most dispiriting this week was the lazy execution of its premise. We live in an era when issues of wage gaps and gender discrimination in the workplace are more serious than ever. So, if the show commits to stirring up something like double standards in parenting, it should certainly follow through with it thoughtfully. But the characters’ plight completely unravels, landing with no real lesson or statement on the issue. If anything, “Crazy Mom” reinforces the idea that the lopsided roles for men and women in parenthood are healthy. And for a show that’s proven to be so thoughtful towards social and political commentary, this just feels like a clumsy misstep.
The tie-in of Harriet Tubman being discussed at the kids’ class, and Dre’s cocky, self-promoted authority on the topic, feels more like the show glomming onto a topic that will simulate the aura of being racially charged, but again, without the follow through. An element of thoughtfulness was missing this week, and when stripped of a thoughtful premise, what’s left just feels trite.
“Crazy Mom” contributed, unfortunately, overly familiar family sitcom fodder but not much else. And while full of funny moments, it was destitute of hilarious ones. The stories don’t always need to be revolutionary, but they do need to be at least memorable. And no elements this week, aside from the acting, which was dazzling as usual, left any particular taste in my mouth.
Being ordinary isn’t the worst thing, unless there is lots of competition and little time to sway viewers in your direction. This week’s episode finds the show getting lazy, and we’ve all come to expect better.