Tweetable Takeaway: Dre has to prove his blackness to his new white client, and yeah, it’s as iffy as it sounds.
Airtime: Wednesday at 9:30pm on ABC
By: Brett Salinas, Contributor
It’s hard to find any kind of scripted media anymore that doesn’t browbeat you into being true to yourself [see: any animated film from the last 10 years]. Because in America, being compassionate and nurturing are really kind of secondary and beside the point when stacked against the importance of being…you. But for many African Americans, maneuvering through a largely white world while still embracing your roots – basically the very principle on which this show was predicated – can be tricky. “Switch Hitting” knocks Dre’s confidence down a peg or three when a white dude, hailing from The Bronx, has Dre mortgaging his entire sense of self to please him and prove his own blackness. There were some laughs, it was cute, but as the show skids into the end of its first – and for all we know, last – season, the team over on BLACK-ISH are really starting to phone things in.
For somewhat of a change of pace, Dre, the gospel-spouting protector of racial integrity, has to take a long hard look at himself this time around. When his boss brings in some white hot shot, Jay (Michael Rappaport), who runs a vaguely defined e-commerce/delivery service, Dre has to step up to the plate and show why he’s the head of the company’s “Urban Division,” only this time he doesn’t. His colleague Charlie, a man who I can’t imagine could recite the alphabet in proper order, woos the new client with his streetwise realness. This is where the episode starts to lose me, because while this choice ultimately plays into a bit of a test for Dre, the idea that Charlie would be spearheading anything at that company, barring maybe a chlamydia outbreak, is just downright preposterous.
Dre of course doesn’t take this oversight lightly. So, he’s set out to prove that he’s just as black as he ever. But when he looks inward, he realizes that his The Good Wife-watching tendencies have crept up on him a little bit. So, he invites Jay over to dinner to prove just how urban he still is. But with his nerdy brood traipsing around the house clad in wizard cloaks and totally un-frizzy hair (I’m looking at you, Rainbow) serving vegan mac and cheese, well, it all makes it all a tough sell. Even the right clothes and a pit bull aren’t enough to salvage Dre’s image. But the next day when Dre marches into that conference room – during Charlie’s hopelessly misguided presentation – and demands respect from the high-rolling honky, Jay sees some of Dre’s grit and hands over the account to him. Because you can’t command respect if you don’t respect yourself (Kumbaya, etc.)
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is all material we’ve seen before in one form or another on Black-ish. With a show about race in the modern world, it’s hard to believe that the writers have exhausted all relevant content to resort to vague, soft, “maybe I’m not black enough” storylines. Though, to give credit where credit is due, the tie-in with Pops’ B-story and his IRS woes – thinking that Jay was the tax collector – was a clever little touch. Though on a macro level, the very problematic notion that Dre feels the need to prove his blackness to a white business client with little to no resolution or commentary on the subject just seems like a sloppy omission.
And the Johnson kids are getting duller and more predictable by the second. Diane may still have some charisma, as well as, in retrospect, some of the best lines, but the group as a whole just doesn’t sizzle. Junior is a nerd who plays Dungeons and Dragons, Zoey is shallow and materialistic, yes, we get it. This episode also marks a trend in keeping the kids’ stories markedly separate from their parents’, which is not always the most effective technique when building comedy.
And so, lest I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, I’ll keep it short: the show isn’t doing an awful job, not by a long shot, even here there were a handful of laugh out loud moments this week, but it seems like the writers are pretty ready for the season to end, and frankly, so are we.