Please bow your heads as I say a prayer for Black Television.
Oh Black Television, you surely will be missed. I remember as a kid you held me in your arms and told me stories that I would remember all the days of my life.
The timeless tale of two hard luck kids from Harlem who get adopted by their mother’s wealthy employer. The story of a family who’s love for each other was stronger than their difficult financial and living conditions. The rags to riches story of a man from humble beginnings who went on to build an Empire. You provided me with stories that kept me entertained for decades.
And then you got sick.
You began to replace relatable characters with jive turkey jigaboos crooning, shucking and jiving. Suddenly, all of your tales featured these characters, and that’s when I knew that your illness was indeed terminal.
Last night I finally watched THE only primetime black sitcom on network television, Black-ish, with my cousin Troy who had come over to hang out for a bit. We probably laughed twice during the entire show, and by twice I mean he laughed once and I laughed once.
I’m an analytical dude so I sat there while watching trying to understand why the show wasn’t connecting with me in the same way that the premiere episode of How To Get Away With Murder had just one week earlier.
So I did a quick checklist;
Cast: I like Anthony Anderson. I like Tracee Ellis Ross (Troy, on the other hand, got tired of looking at her face). I love Laurence Fishburne. The kids are cute. It’s nice to see a black family created by someone other than Tyler Perry. So it basically has all of the elements that should interest me, yet something was off and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
The Story: Anderson walks in on the son (Jr.) pleasuring himself which leads to many an awkward moment between the two of them, including having deep conversations about life and sex with their shirts off. While this is happening Ross is attempting to assist the daughter (Zoe) with a life-shattering teen crisis. Unfortunately, whenever Zoe comes for advice Ross tunes her out while reveling to herself how awesome a parent she is, never once listening or grasping the gist of what is bothering Zoe.
I was neither amused or entertained. And then EUREKA! It finally dawned on me. My disconnection from the show had nothing to do with the cast or the story. Immediately, in one split second, I pictured all of the characters and the plot from last night’s episode happening to a white family.
And then it all made sense.
I know television. I know what works and what doesn’t. There’s nothing wrong with trying to create a show that has universal appeal because everyone will watch it. Like Mad Men. That show clearly does not have universal appeal because it’s a show for patient, attentive people. Conversely, you have Modern Family, which definitely has universal appeal because it’s funny as hell, plus the chemistry between its cast members comes across onscreen. It’s an ingenious idea for ABC to run Black-ish after Modern Family, but if the show doesn’t get any funnier soon it will quickly be tossed into the trash as one of the first canceled shows of the new fall season.
I understand there is a lot of pressure with this show being the ONLY primetime black sitcom on network television. I also realize that I have written that phrase multiple times in this post, but I’m repeating myself because that fact alone is the show’s biggest obstacle. Because, aside from Black-ish being the ONLY primetime black sitcom on network television, it reflects back to itself as being the only primetime black sitcom on network television by calling itself BLACK-ISH.
What. The. Fuck?
Is that the best name they could come up with? I remember when Ross did a show years ago on BET called Reed Between The Lines, because the surname of the married characters was Reed, with Malcolm Jamal Warner. That’s a clever title that reflects back to the series. And honestly I liked that show, but I knew it wouldn’t be on long because black situation comedies aren’t as marketable as they have been in the past, especially ones that try to follow the formula of the iconic The Cosby Show from the 1980’s. So what I believe ABC is doing with this show is not trying to introduce a new black family into our homes per se. I believe they are trying to incorporate a “blackish” family into our homes for widespread acceptance. Now, this may be a tactic the network is using for the first few episodes to take away the stigma of this being the ONLY primetime black sitcom on network television. And if this is their attempt at easing their way past the prejudice and apprehension of some viewers only to bring better plots and stories later on I applaud them.
However, if this is the black sitcom I’ve been waiting for ever since the era of Half & Half, All Of Us and Girlfriends came to an end then I advise everyone to kindly place your rose down on Black Television’s coffin right now and weep silently as you make your way back to your cars. Because it is officially dead.
In Jesus name we pray.