Tweetable Takeaway: Raven Simone as Dre’s gay sister with a cat named “Kitty Lang?” Yeah, they’re bringin’ it this week.
Airtime: Wednesday at 9:30pm on ABC
By: Brett Salinas, Contributor
Mother’s day is here, almost, and family members are coming out of the woodwork over on BLACK-ISH to wish Mama Ruby – very recently my new favorite character – their love and affection. And in this particular case, it’s Dre’s younger and [not so]ambiguously gay sister Rhonda that pops by for a visit. She arrives at the Johnson compound with her mechanic “roommate” Sharon, with whom she shares a one-bedroom apartment…and a cat…named…”Kitty Lang,” which is totally normal and fine. Like any good TV show rooted in social commentary, “Please Don’t Ask, Please Don’t Tell” tackles a new civil rights issue this week, and it’s the tacit homophobia in the African American community. And while the bulk of the episode hangs off of some sloppy gay clichés, it sheds light on a vulnerable side of Dre that’s, dare I say it, actually pretty relatable.
As we’re now in that sprinting-to-the-finish-line section of the season, the show’s team is pulling out some additional stops with some high-profile-ish guest spots, and Raven Simone, the latest guest, playing Dre’s baby sis, is actually a refreshing new female presence on the show. Historically, the women of the show were either rendered as nagging harpies, shallow divas or just awkward validation junkies (you know who you are, Rainbow). But Rhonda brings a strong but grounded spunk along with her. And as a bit of a worthy adversary to Dre, she stirs up some of the sediment that’s sunk to the bottom of the Johnson family French press, so to speak, and it’s fun. Rhonda’s implicit but very obvious gayness is a problem being that Ruby, the staunch, god-fearing purveyor of gospel that she is, has made it VERY clear that she in no way wants a homosexual in her family. And because being gay is something that, according to Dre, black people just don’t discuss, coaxing Dre into talking openly with his sister about her love life – a responsibility Rainbow has taken upon herself – is a messy, uphill climb. Even after a very coded discussion between Dre and Rhonda about a sandwich, which may or may not have been heavily steeped in subtext, there is still air to be cleared with the siblings. Dre eventually confronts her point blank, when he discovers that she and her “roommate” are getting married, and actually, the whole thing goes pretty well. But Dre, never ever being able to leave well enough alone, lets the news spill during Mother’s Day brunch in front of Mom and, well, things go a bit sour.
As anyone would have expected, Ruby flips out and storms off in a huff, spouting “not in my family” until the cows come home. Now Rhonda is pissed, Rainbow is shocked, basically Dre majorly screwed this one up. But, in a bit of a turn, you feel for Dre in this whole pickle. He truly wanted to do the right thing for his family. With a whole new dialog opened up with his sister, he wanted to shout it from the rooftops. But, you know, privacy, boundaries, etc.
But Dre confronts his mother himself, basically saying, “if you’ve got a problem with my gay sister, you’ve got a problem with me,” which, sort of unrealistically, actually works. Ruby comes around and tells her daughter she will attend her wedding, bliss and harmony is restored.
Now that Black-ish has officially been renewed by ABC for a second season, we can start speculating where the show will go, and how interesting it will be when it gets there. Honestly, while I think this last episode was a pretty winning marriage, so to speak, of comedy and premise, I’m a bit wary at this point that the show will be able to stay fresh over another twenty-some-odd more episodes. At the rate we’re going, I doubt they’ll run out of solid jokes any time soon, but I don’t doubt that they’ll likely run out of fresh material. Only about halfway through the season, the stories started to feel as though they were reaching for timely, topical, culturally illuminating subject matter. So, it could very well be a matter of choosing between settling for Black-ish as just a pretty funny sitcom about an African American family, or striving to keep Black-ish a soapbox for a dialog on racial prejudice and ignorance. Either way works as far as I’m concerned, I just wish, at some point, that someone would choose.