Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ABC Fall Pilot Review: black-ish - Premieres September 24; USA Network Schedules New Comedy Benched for Oct. 28

black-ish
black-ish - Wednesdays at 9:30PM ET/PT on ABC
Premieres Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 9:30PM ET/PT


by Skees

Anthony Anderson returns to TV with yet another sitcom in black-ish, a sitcom about a black family living in an upper middle-class white neighborhood. It seems like it wouldn't have many challenges, except Andre (Anderson) is dealing with a conflict within his own life: he's tired of his family being thought of as "black," but at the same time he is tired of his family not "being" black... instead, he has to settle for his family being, well, black-ish.

Cast Details:

Anthony Anderson as Andre Johnson
Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow Johnson
Yara Shahidi as Zoey Johnson
Marcus Scribner as Andre Johnson, Jr.
Miles Brown as Jack Johnson
Marsai Martin as Diane Johnson
Laurence Fishburne as Pops

Anthony Anderson (Andre Johnson) was first introduced to the small screen in the TNBC series Hang Time. Since then, he has had regular roles on series such as All About the Andersons, The Bernie Mac Show, Law & Order, and (most recently) NBC's Guys with Kids.

Tracee Ellis Ross (Rainbow Johnson) is the daughter of singer Diana Ross, and is best known for her role as Joan Clayton on the long-running series Girlfriends. In 2011, she starred in the BET sitcom Reed Between the Lines.
 
Yara Shahidi (Zoey Johnson) is a relative newcomer to the small screen, but she previously appeared in the syndicated sitcom The First Family. She has had guest appearances in series such as The Wizards of Waverly Place, Family Guy, and Cold Case.
Marcus Scribner (Andre Johnson, Jr.) is a fourth-generation Los Angeles native making his debut as a regular in a series. He has previously had single episode roles in series including Castle and New Girl.

Miles Brown (Jack Johnson) is a nine-year old dancer from Oxnard, CA. He has appeared in episodes of Shameless and Raising Hope.

Marsai Martin (Diane Johnson) was first discovered when she was five years old, and recently moved to Los Angeles, where she has appeared in a Meineke commercial. This series marks her television debut.

Laurence Fishburne (Pops) is well-known to viewers everywhere, as he has had a long and successful career on TV, on film, and on stage. He first appeared as a regular on the soap opera One Life to Live, and came very close to having the role of Michael on Good Times (until Ralph Carter got it). He also played Cowboy Curtis on Pee-wee's Playhouse and has most recently appeared on the NBC series Hannibal. Some of his movie credits include, among many others, The Matrix and Boyz n the Hood.

Pilot Plot:

"Pilot" – airs Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 at 9:30PM ET/PT

Andre Johnson seems to have the perfect life, with a perfect home, perfect family, and perfect job. But one thing is constantly nagging him: he's the only black guy at work, the only black family in the neighborhood, and at times he feels like he is even the only black person in his entire family. Things only get worse when he gets a promotion at work, which seems fine, except it is as Senior Vice President of the Urban Division. At home, his oldest son Andre Jr. is now going by Andy... and wants to play field hockey instead of basketball, and is ready to have a Bar Mitzvah. The challenge for Andre is to figure out how to balance all of this against the culture that he grew up in.


Analysis:

I've always heard before that you can pigeonhole every series into just a few concepts, and while I've definitely seen exceptions to this rule, this isn't one. Once again, we've got a "fish out of water" sitcom about a black family moving to a predominantly white neighborhood. We've seen this before, most famously with The Jeffersons, and more recently with The Hughleys. The difference with this series is that it's taking that on with a single-camera approach and no laugh-track to go along with what happens.

There is a big difference with those previous shows, though. When The Jeffersons aired, the idea of a black family living in a wealthy white neighborhood was still a new idea, as nothing like it had certainly ever been seen on television, and some parts of the country were only decades away from that actually being illegal. The Hughleys came along and brought a few laughs to the concept, but it was only marginally successful (it did air for four seasons, but was canceled and moved to UPN after two on ABC).

Much like those previously mentioned series, the character of Andre is the husband who would like to live in the mostly white neighborhood while constantly reminding his family that they are black, while Rainbow is the wife who tries to maintain the sanity and just take race out of the picture. The kids seem to be living in a world that is more "white," which seems to infuriate Andre. One refreshing change, though, is the character of Pops, who is Andre's father and seems to not even care about the racial disparity, thinking that his son is a fool when he tries to create an African alternative for Andre Jr. to have instead of a Bar Mitzvah. Speaking of Pops, though, one thing that bothered me a bit was how there is only a nine year age difference between Anderson and Fishburne, and seeing them together on-screen does not make the most convincing father-son pairing. I do think Fishburne is perfect for the role, though, but the makeup department could make him look a bit older.

Of course, despite all of that, I can't be completely negative about the series. Besides Fishburne and Anderson, I felt that the show is very well cast. The family actually feels like a natural family, and the actors cast seem to be perfect for their roles. Additionally, I think that Andre's narration (along the lines of The Middle) adds a bit to the series, and the series certainly benefits from it. Otherwise, some of it would just seem outright offensive with no explanation. And there were some funny moments in the pilot, just perhaps not enough.

Conclusion:

I feel that my expectations going into watching this were not exactly met after watching this. The clips from the promos for the series seem pretty good, but those small moments probably were some of the best moments from the pilot, unfortunately. But I can't say that I am giving up on this series just yet. Part of the problem--and this was something that critics brought up when the idea for the show was just being floated as words on paper--is that the premise of the show, particularly the focus on being the only black family in a mostly white neighborhood, is no longer the novelty that it once was. That doesn't mean that it can't be a part of the series, as such situations can create material for a sitcom even in the 2010s, but focusing on it for every episode really does not make a particularly entertaining series when it is set in the modern era. I'm hoping to see future episodes focus more on the family dynamics and getting to know the characters for who they are, not just focusing on the fact that the family is different from most of their neighbors. If the series can move a little more in that direction, I think that it has the potential to be another new Wednesday night hit for ABC... otherwise, it will be nothing more than a niche comedy that will be burning off episodes within a few months or just completely off the lineup.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Watchability: 3/5
Funniness: 2/5
Overall: 2.5/5

Discuss the show after you watch it on Wednesday, September 24 at 9:30PM ET/PT on our message board.

Related Links:


  • ABC.com Official Site
  • TV.com
  • epguides.com
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Wikipedia
  • black-ish Photo Gallery

    Preview:




  • Benched

    Courtroom drama is no laughing matter... until now! USA Network's new original half hour comedy Benched now has a premiere date and will premiere Tuesday, October 28 at 10:30pm ET/PT immediately following USA's laugh-out-loud reality hit Chrisley Knows Best. Benched, starring Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings), is a single-camera comedy about a high-powered corporate lawyer's fall from grace into the rough-and-tumble world of the public defenders. Tuesday night brings laughter to USA Network, kicking off with a two-hour block of the Emmy Award winning Modern Family at 8pm ET/PT, followed by Chrisley Knows Best at 10pm ET/PT and culminating with Benched at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT.

    Benched from ABC Signature Studio, stars Coupe as Nina Whitley, a distinguished corporate lawyer who has given up everything in her climb to the top. However, when she's hit with her ex-fiancé's engagement announcement and learns that she hasn't made partner at her high power firm, Nina snaps -- breaking vases and burning bridges. Now that Nina is shunned from the corporate world, the only place she can get a job is at the Public Defender's office: home to the underfunded, understaffed, overworked, "if you can't afford a lawyer, one will be provided... " lawyers. In addition to her new clients, Nina must learn to connect with her co-workers, including the roguish Phil (Jay Harrington, Better Off Ted), the idealistic Carlos (Oscar Nunez, The Office), the useless empathetic Cheryl (Maria Bamford, Adventure Time) and the dedicated intern Micah (Jolene Purdy, Under the Dome). If that didn't sound tough enough for Nina, she'll also be going head-to-head with her ex-fiancé, Trent, (Carter MacIntyre, Drop Dead Diva) the rising star of the District Attorney's office. Joining the all-star comedic cast are previously announced guest stars Fred Melamed, Molly Shannon, Chris Parnell, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jim Rash, Nat Faxon, Erinn Hayes and Mechad Brooks.


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