Black-ish: Pilot
September 24, 2014 9:44 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Advertising exec Dre looks forward to a promotion that would make him the first African American senior vice president at his firm in the premiere of this family sitcom, but he worries that there is a price to pay for his success when his son Andre Jr. announces that for his 13th birthday he's converting to Judaism in order to have a Bar Mitzvah like all his friends.
posted by mathowie (8 comments total)
Oh man, I really wanted to like this, as I love all the actors in it, but being a pilot and being a rare primetime show where race plays a big part, it kind of spent too much time on world-building about race before getting to any real plot. I suspect follow-up episodes will be more straightforward affairs, so I still have high hopes for this. The comedy even in the pilot is a big edgier than what ABC normally does so I think it could be something really great later in the season.
posted by mathowie at 10:09 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

It was a setting up episode but I like that they're bringing in the fantasy element with the tour bus scene for whimsy, and Fishburne was so great - the moment with the foot shot and squealing kids was good. They have good chemistry.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:39 AM on September 25, 2014

The first 15 seconds was the highlight of the episode. Jesus Walks to start off was a good choice. Just like when 8 mile started off with Shook Ones, beginning with a classic track works for me. But this show has an uphill climb if it's going to not turn into a complete mess.

The "Urban" amazement at the beginning, the scary black man color show that resulted in him getting flipped off (psst, Dave Chappelle already did this joke in Killing them softly), the breakfast conversation, the whole field hockey vs basketball conversation, Andre vs Andy, the black SVP thing that reminds of Boomerang, the "down white boy" thing, and just on and on and on and on.

I mean they call this out in the intro with the tourists looking at them like they are a novelty, and I realize this is a pilot, and I also know what it's like to have race be a factor in multiple interactions per day, but the grape soda thing, the african ceremony, the 'You think OJ did it!' joke, the joke about them not being black enough, not because they weren't eating chicken, but because it wasn't fried chicken - I mean come on. The coworker asking him about how a black guy would say something, the boss coming to his office, the bromitzvah, it was just too much. I just hope it was pilot weirdness, and that every episode won't be every 30 seconds on some black people do this and white people do this. It had more the feel of a cheesy customer service training film than of a tv show. Just a pointless watch of a pilot.

On another front, so Tracee Ellis-Ross is a doctor, but let me guess, we're rarely going to see her actually doing anything but being in scrubs, aren't we? I guess even the Cosby show was largely guilty of this, because I can think of Cliff's patients but I can't easily come up with times we saw Clair in a courtroom or talking about cases. But that was 30 years ago. We'd better not meet all Anderson's colleagues and have everything centered around him and never see her in a hospital, or doing surgeries.

I realize Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis-Ross have to live, but dang. You know the best thing about this whole show might be the kids, who seem to not only not want to participate in whatever their parents are getting into, but seem not want to participate in whatever the show is doing as well. It's like the kids were pulled out of school to be on this show and they'd rather not be. It's kind of funny. I'm not even going to start in on Furious Styles Gumpin one liners in between trips to the race track.
posted by cashman at 8:33 AM on September 25, 2014

I thought this was pretty decent for a pilot episode. I thought all of the actors were good and I am willing to at least give it a chance for a few episodes.
posted by bove at 9:07 AM on September 25, 2014

I enjoyed this. It's always interesting to see parents trying to figure out how to both give their children better lives and the same life, simultaneously. It also reminds me some of Suburgatory, being at a point where the dad realizes that his kids are happy there and freaking out about what that means. It's always hard to judge a show by it's pilot, but I'm still in.

I'm okay with some things being over the top in a comedy and I'm thrilled to have another comedy actually talk about race*. I'm not sure this needed to be the second show* this week to use the term "bro mitzvah" though. "Stand right there and experience your roots!"

*The Mindy Project
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:37 AM on September 25, 2014

According to press reports, the "bro mitzvah" thing is based on Anderson's son:
One of the funnier bits in the pilot might seem like a stretch, but comes from Anderson's own life. In the show, his son Andre Jr. wants a bar mitzvah. (He also wants to change his name, an ongoing joke that should keep paying dividends.) "My son was 12 at the time," Anderson told critics over the summer, "and he came home, and we had a serious conversation because he said, 'Dad, I don’t feel black.' … I grew up in the hood, in Compton, Calif. And the existence that my son knows is nothing short of privilege. Being in private school since the age of 4 and his surroundings in that environment is what he was referring to … He said, 'OK, Dad. For my 13th birthday, I want a bar mitzvah.' … So we had a compromise. I told him, 'Well, you know, that’s not our culture. That’s not who we are and what we do. But I will throw you a hip-hop bro mitzvah.' And that’s what we did. I trademarked the name bro mitzvah, and I threw him a party. And to this day — he’s 14 now — all of his Jewish friends say that was the best bar mitzvah they’ve been to."
I don't know and am not in a position to judge what they did in real life, but the portrayal of this in the episode was tasteless at best: matching tracksuits and break-dancing at a hip hop party do not a rite of passage make. I've been to some pretty crass bar mitzvahs, but even then, the mix was maybe 20% serious milestone/80% big party.

And less you, being a normal person, think his mention of trademarking the name was a joke, it wasn't. Anderson actually filed last November (apparently by himself) for a trademark on "bro mitzvah" for use on t-shirts, hats, etc... That's actually kind of sick. I'll further note, not that it invalidates his filing or anything, that his filing dates to late November 2013, when a How I Met Your Mother episode titled "The Bro Mitzvah" aired in April of that same year.
posted by zachlipton at 1:00 AM on September 26, 2014

Anderson was all over ESPN yesterday. Although I must say, I'm not sure how much faith I put in the Disney cross-promotional marketing machine anymore. He was on at least two more programs that I watch on ESPN, but Black-ish aired Wednesday night. Seems like it would have made more sense to make that push Wednesday, but what do I know?

He does seem thoughtful about portraying "black ish" — as he consciously put it in the interviews I saw — on television. If nothing else, he confirmed for me that the name of the show is very intentionally both an expression of worrying about feeling "not black enough" and a vernacular euphemism for "black shit," i.e. black issues.

On Twitter, reaction seemed generally positive, although opinions were mixed. It does seem like a lot of the negative reaction focuses on the title itself. A lot of people appear confused or offended by it. No confusion at The Grio where Javier E. David writes, ABC’s Black-ish: When keeping it real goes wrong.

I guess how I feel about it is I hope they find their footing and come to rely less on fried-chicken-and-grape-soda jokes — The Cleveland Show still airs every night of the week, after all. If it actually gets people to think about how far we still have to go in the struggle for equality in America, I hope it airs for eight seasons and a spin-off.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:20 AM on September 26, 2014

When a little black kid wants to be called Shmuel and have a Bar Mitzvah, I GET IT. I get why people wouldn't necessarily get it, though, and they have been reacting badly. I don't want Black-ish to turn into a lecture, and despite the usual unfortunate pilot-episode over-explaining, I thought the writers showed remarkable restraint in that area. Perhaps too much restraint; I wish they'd included an in-episode critique of the "bro mitzvah" in order to refute it.

Adapting the trappings or ceremonial aspects of hip hop and bar mitzvahs is how Andre Jr. is able to reconcile two of the cultures to which he does belong. To state it more clearly, Andre Jr. belongs to mainstream LA Jewish culture just as much as he belongs to mainstream Compton hip-hop culture. Which is to say, both not at all and fully, simultaneously and for different reasons.

His personal cultural hybrid is small but growing. I completely identify. When I was his age, I wanted to be Jewish (call me "Chava", Shmuel), and I didn't listen to rap. When I started down this terrible path, I'd been unaware of the law that doing so meant I was no longer culturally black. Dang, I wish I'd known that before I went and memorized the words to Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica at Kwanzaa camp.

I couldn't articulate it back when I was a kid, but I knew US culture was going to catch up to me in a generation or two, and there would eventually be more acceptance of people whose cultural backgrounds break "the rules" by being unfamiliar hybrids. Most people abandon most of one or more of their 'native cultures', at least until a 'hybrid' culture reaches a critical mass and becomes an accepted "culture" of its own. I've certainly abandoned more than I wish, some purposefully, some inadvertently, and all to my regret.
posted by lesli212 at 11:24 AM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

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