Tweetable Takeaway: The Johnson Halloween isn’t anything earth-shattering, but it’s hard to deny that they’re a charming family when they’re working as a team.
Airtime: Wednesday at 9:30pm on ABC
By: Brett Salinas, Contributor
Fall is in the air. The evenings are getting cooler, the days are getting shorter, and the sitcom circuit is becoming saturated with goofy TV Halloween episodes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. BLACK-ISH actually does Halloween pretty well. There are no wheel-reinventing moments, but it showcases the whole cast hitting their stride as en ensemble and it’s really charming.
“The Prank King,” as the title suggests, centers on Dre’s self-appointed title as sovereign ruler of the kingdom of Halloween pranks. Halloween is Dre’s day, and no one is safe from this pernicious prankster (nor is anything sacred at his mercy). But there’s a problem: the kids are totally over Halloween this year. The Johnson outfit channels “Roseanne” this week, being that the classic show employed the same plot line some twenty years prior. But the point is, Dre, the master and puppeteer of Halloween, has no audience and that simply won’t do.
But Dre’s work environment offers no solace to his lackluster home life after a simple prank from one of his coworkers leads to an accidental injury, forcing upper management to issue an office-wide prank embargo. Where oh where will Dre get his kicks if not at home or at work?
And back at home, not only do the kids have no spirit for a good-natured prank anymore, but the youngest of the brood, Jack and Diane, don’t even want to dress up! His Jackson 5 ensemble costume set isn’t even strong enough to get some traction. This holiday is in utter shambles. When Dre comes home the next day to see a note that the family had gone to the movies without him, he quietly resigns himself to a night alone on his favorite holiday.
But just then, a sudden power outage and a smattering of strange noises put Dre on edge. As it turns out, the whole family has staged a sting against the king of pranks! From an iPad, Rainbow and the kids watch and relish seeing a terrified Dre squeal and try to escape from the other room. And right when he is seconds away from making his escape, the dastardly conspirators reveal themselves – the whole thing was just a lark! Dre is caught with his pants down and concedes an agonizing defeat. But, Junior then sees on the iPad that a masked man is in fact in their backyard trying to break in. And when another suddenly pops into the house, the Johnsons shriek with horror. Lest we doubted him, Dre has outdone everyone again. He had spotted their feeble sting operation from a mile away, organizing an even more impressive counter-prank at their expense. So, the natural order has been restored, the kids are back with the Halloween spirit, and the Johnsons finally get to show off their swagger in that Jackson 5 costume (plus Janet) after all.
After years and years of Halloween specials across the television spectrum, it’s near impossible to outdo the format for the holiday on TV. Black-ish does a decent job, though. The only problem being that the whole thing feels a bit predictable. In the realm of Halloween TV episodes, the dueling pranks angle has been more or less done to death. And while nothing feels remarkably fresh, it’s a great vehicle for the cast to act as an ensemble.
This week’s episode felt, more so than any others previously, like a true family affair. The story sees Dre striving to preserve unity in the household, rather than to sunder specific members in separate subplots. For a show that’s rooted in family at its core, it was refreshing to see the gang united. When everyone strolled out clad in neon suits and wigs for days, it became impossible not to root for the Johnsons.
But speaking of a family united, Pops was noticeably missing this week. Though a break from his caustic commentary actually served the episode well. However, seeing him representing the group in a Joe Jackson costume wouldn’t exactly have been unwelcome.
And of the characters that were present, Rainbow is still too passive for her own good, at the risk of beating a dead horse. She’s goofy, she’s awkward, and seems to flounder with most things outside her profession, and the charm of it all is becoming harder and harder to sustain.
“The Prank King” also brings some of the more auxiliary characters closer to the action. Charlie (Deon Cole) continues to be hilariously unpredictable and uncouth, if not a bid underused so far. His “third wheel” dynamic with Rainbow and Dre hits a really nice comedic sweet spot that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. His give and take with Dre here, leading to their slow realization that they know all the same black people, was also very funny. But the rest of Dre’s workplace characters fall a bit flat. His boss, Mr. Stevens (Peter Mackenzie), is a character of little concept and even littler humor, while Josh (Jeff Meacham) is a downright annoying caricature that offers very little to the cast. Black-ish should stick with the characters they do well.
Unless you’re The Simpsons, Halloween episodes are hard to knock out the park. And while the show stuck to pretty familiar territory this week, the cast is finding a more and more comfortable and natural dynamic as a family that is really fun to watch. If you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a pretty good time.