Tweetable Takeaway: Junior tackles a bully at school…with his words. Beyond that, it’s pretty much more of the same on Black-ish.Tweet
Airtime: Wednesday at 9:30pm on ABC
By: Brett Salinas, Contributor
We live in a very specific era, us Americans. The world of the mid-teens, or post-otts if that’s the language you’re comfortable with, is a place where public conversation and discourse exists almost exclusively in the virtual realm. And in a time of open letters, Reddit threads and Twitter feuds, harsh words are more viable grounds than ever for wagering a fight. But the problem is, an online spat is a very different beast, because with the virtual sparring partner being possibly hundreds of miles off, there’s a very mitigated threat to it all. Whether it’s that component of anonymity to digital correspondence that’s making us so outburst-prone online is up for debate, but just open any IMDB thread and you’ll see very plainly that we’re a contentious people when we think we’re on the safe side of the computer screen. But on this week’s BLACK-ISH, gangling, goofy Junior sees the darker side of in-person trash talking. The problem is, “The Dozens,” for the most part, just feels like a bit of a dulled blade, not unlike Junior’s jabs.
As was the problem last week, the now second half of the season is really just starting to feel overly familiar. A show with such a rich ensemble cast shouldn’t feel like the material is reaching, but lately, there’s a stale sameness that’s scabbing over with the Johnsons, and frankly, I can’t wait for it to peel off. This week, in the stock “bully” episode, Dre finds out that his poor, misguided son, Junior, is in fact the victim of a school bully. And not only is this kid white, but from Boston (eep!), which apparently is the Caucasian thug breeding grounds of New England. Though, side note, as a resident of Los Angeles (where this show is set), I can attest to this city’s denizens often being bravado-addled, swaggering smack-talkers who would ultimately crumble like a piece of paper in the face of a real brawl with, say, an east-coaster. Basically, here in Southern California, we talk the talk much more often than we walk the walk. So, in a way, it makes perfect sense that Dre’s advise to the downtrodden teen is the fight back…with words. In one of the few funny bits of the episode, Dre enlightens his son that Africans have a long history of shade-throwing, so to speak, with their enemies. So, Dre single-handedly turns his son into a quip-spewing machine, keeping bullies at bay with his razor-sharp rhetoric. But, honestly, none of Junior’s rips are very clever…or edgy…or funny. I realize this is a family show, but much of this episode was just plain soft.
Meanwhile, a very very tired Rainbow loses sleep while her youngest daughter, Diane, can’t go to bed with the night-light off, having to seek safety in the trenches of her parents’ bed. Because, now that Jack is brave enough to snooze soundly in the darkness, she’s not about to admit she still needs that light on. This ultimately serves as a perfectly serviceable B-story, but again, it’s a little soft. I’m not saying this show should be hiding behind pregnancy scares and growing body counts in the interest of staying edgy, but I say they should be bringing something fresh to the table each week (which, lately, they’re not). Diane craftily gets her way in the end, convincing Jack to watch The Shining until he’s reduced to a cowering puddle heaving towards that night-light like a moth. And with this small victory, Rainbow reaps her own benefits, actually being able to get some sleep herself in between her all-hours shifts at the hospital.
But the verbally prodigal son, Junior, begins to spin out of control when his insults begin to extend to his own family. Sure, Dre is proud that he can roast like the best of them, but there’s a threshold to respect. In a bit of a clever little twist, the show plays with the notion that there’s a line a victim crosses in his retaliation where he himself becomes the bully. So Dad, rendered as Junior’s Obi-Wan, warns the youngster that harsh words should only be given to those who can handle it. And so, when confronting his ultimate bully, Junior decides NOT to show the school a picture of the thug’s mom’s “lonely” Tinder page. Though, even with his respectful act of restraint, he still gets hit.
Quite honestly, there was nothing wrong with “The Dozens.” There was nothing objectionable about the content in any way. But my eagerness to catch up on Black-ish each week has lately been waning. The show has gone up and down so many times it’s hard to keep track of whether or not it’s in a slump. And with such a high bar set so early in the series, the writers have a remarkably high standard to maintain. What the show could stand to do is shake up its format a bit. Watching Dre face a problem, solicit advise at work, fail and fail in fixing it before ultimately learning to cool it and chill out — a template they’ve now exhausted — only has so much potential to be interesting. And with this specific storyline, Junior being on a low social rung at school is certainly nothing new. I want Black-ish to teach me something new about its characters, and I want it to make me laugh, and I want it all to be at least a little edgy. Is that so much to ask? There are a lot of options on TV, including the sister show of sorts, Fresh Off the Boat, which is making a decent ‘splash’, and people don’t have time to watch something soft.