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.


    New on DVD/Blu-ray (October/November)

    Dr. Ken - Season One Mike & Molly - The Complete Sixth and Final Season Family Matters - The Complete Ninth Season The Lucy Show - The Complete Series The Mindy Project - Season Four

    10/04 - The Andy Griffith Show - The Christmas Special (Colorized)
    10/04 - I Love Lucy - Superstar Special #1 (Colorized)
    10/11 - Dr. Ken - Season One
    10/11 - Mike & Molly - The Complete Sixth and Final Season
    10/11 - Mike & Molly - The Complete Series
    10/11 - Nurse Jackie - Seasons One and Two
    10/11 - Weeds - Seasons One and Two
    11/01 - Schitt's Creek - Seasons One and Two
    11/08 - Family Matters - The Complete Ninth Season
    11/08 - Your Family or Mine - Season One
    11/15 - Community - The Complete Series
    11/15 - The Lucy Show - The Complete Series
    11/15 - The Mindy Project - Season Four
    More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest


    Sitcoms Airing Tonight

    Friday, December 2

    Last Man Standing - "Precious Snowflakes" (ABC, 8:00PM ET/PT)
    Mandy chooses local-celebrity Mike as the speaker for her business school’s graduation. After learning that the school requires his speech to be PC and micro-agression free, Mike decides whether or not to play by the rules. Meanwhile, Eve’s friend Cammy (Sarah Gilman) is home from college, bragging about how fantastic her new life has been, leaving Eve feeling slightly fruitless and discouraged.

    Dr. Ken - "D.K's New Girlfriend" (ABC, 8:30PM ET/PT)
    When D.K. overhears Allison complain about him overstaying his welcome, he decides to move in with his girlfriend of three weeks. Meanwhile, Pat wants Dave to pretend he’s his adopted son; and Allison is convinced Molly wants to talk about something when she suggests they do a spa day, but the tables turn when Molly is the one doling out the advice.

    I Love Lucy - "I Love Lucy Christmas Special" (CBS, 8:00PM ET/PT)
    The I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL features “The Christmas Episode” and the newly colorized “Lucy Gets in Pictures.” Both were colorized with a vintage look, a nod to the 1950s period in which the shows were filmed. The main titles and end credits of the two episodes are seamlessly combined into one set at the beginning and end of the hour, with no interruption between the episodes.

    “The Christmas Episode” finds the Ricardos and Mertzes decorating Lucy and Ricky’s Christmas tree and reminiscing about how their lives have changed since the arrival of the Ricardos’ son, Little Ricky (Keith Thibodeaux). Flashbacks recall the night Lucy tells Ricky she is pregnant, the time Lucy shows up unexpectedly as part of a barbershop quartet and the day Ricky and the Mertzes rehearse taking Lucy to the maternity ward.

    “The Christmas Episode” was first broadcast on CBS in December 1956. The episode was not included in the series’ long history of rebroadcasts, first on CBS Daytime and later in syndication. Thought to be lost, CBS rediscovered the episode in 1989.

    In the newly colorized “Lucy Gets in Pictures,” Lucy’s lifelong dream of appearing in a motion picture seems to have come true when Ricky arranges for her to play a showgirl in a new musical. Unfortunately, the enormous feathered headdress she is expected to wear as she descends a staircase proves to be too cumbersome. After numerous mishaps on the stairs, the musical’s frustrated director (Lou Krugman) decides to make a change.

    “Lucy Gets in Pictures” was originally broadcast Feb. 21, 1955, and was an immediate favorite not only of viewers, but of Lucille Ball herself. She restaged the famous headdress scene, again with Krugman, in the 1962 CBS special, “Opening Night,” and in 1965 in a slightly modified form, this time with actor Danny Thomas, in her second CBS series, “The Lucy Show.”

    Liv and Maddie: Cali Style - "Cali Christmas-a-Rooney" (Disney Channel, 8:00PM ET/PT)
    Maddie gets upset that she can't be in Wisconsin for Christmas, so Liv helps cheer her up.

    Girl Meets World - "Girl Meets a Christmas Maya" (Disney Channel, 8:30PM ET/PT)
    As Christmas approaches, Riley gets excited to celebrate her favorite holiday, but for Maya, the holidays only bring back unhappy memories from her childhood.

    Bunk'd - "How the Griff Stole Christmas" (Disney Channel, 8:00PM ET/PT)
    The holidays arrive at Camp Kikiwaka with everyone in good spirits -- except for Griff.

    Complete TV Listings


    Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of November 28)

    Friday, December 2

    • Chelsea Handler (Are You There, Chelsea?) - Watch Chelsea on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:34pm on NBC.
    • John Goodman (Roseanne/Normal, Ohio) - John appears on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
    • Andrew Rannells (Girls/The New Normal) - Andrew is a guest on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
    • Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men/The Powers That Be/Bosom Buddies) - Holland chats with the ladies of The View on ABC at 11am ET/10am CT-PT.
    • Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory) - Melissa appears on The Talk on CBS at 2pm ET/1pm CT-PT.
    • Busy Philipps (Vice Principals/Cougar Town) - Busy guest co-hosts LIVE! with Kelly, so check your listings.
    • Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat) - Randall stops by LIVE! with Kelly, so check your listings.
    • Scott Patterson (Aliens in America) - Scott is a guest on Rachael Ray, so check your local listings.
    • Kevin Quinn (Bunk'd) - Kevin appears on People Now at 8:30am.
    • Miss Piggy (The Muppets) - NBC's Today catches up with Miss Piggy in the 10am hour.
    • Gaby Hoffmann (Transparent/Someone Like Me) - Gaby appears on Chelsea on Netflix.