Anthony Anderson

Andre Johnson can be a divisive character, an obnoxious and overzealous patriarch who routinely rubs viewers the wrong way. It’s certainly an understandable opinion, though I think the character works well in Black-ish, especially when balanced out by Rainbow (and the rest of the family). Andre is just someone who tends to get too wrapped up in his own brain, so much so that he often forgets how to play well with others. His self-centeredness and overwhelming desire to be cool are both on full display in “30 Something,” the requisite ”Birthday!!” episode of a sitcom.

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“I’m not getting older. I’m getting better,” Andre’s voiceover explains as we watch him scoff at the men his age who openly wear cell phone holsters. He prides himself on still feeling young, on being in shape, and on still being cool—ahem, having swag—so, naturally, he injures himself playing basketball shortly before his 40th birthday. Even still, he continues to be in denial about the aging process and refuses to take Rainbow’s advice to join a “less intense” basketball game (see: one with white players). But Andre is definitely starting to worry more and more about getting older, especially when his children hilariously make it a point to make him feel old. I mean, after 40 it really is just a “long, painful downhill slide toward the unforgiving abyss of death.”

All around Andre are reminders that he’s turning the big 4-o, from his ankle injury that causes him to limp to his tooth falling out as he’s eating a soft banana to his boss explaining that Andre has been aged out of the cooler accounts and now has to work on advertising for stool softener—even despite Andre’s protests that “black 40 is the white 25” (it’s true, by the way). More than just turning a year older, Andre’s biggest concern is his “swag” and that he’s growing too old for people to think he’s cool. For someone like Andre, the idea of turning into one of those aforementioned men with a cell phone holster is absolutely terrifying. If he’s not cool, then what is he?

As for the side plots in “30 Something,” there’s a small, somewhat amusing bit involving Rainbow competing with her mother-in-law to buy Andre the better gift, and there’s the children struggling to figure out what to get their father. Rainbow tells the kids that they need to get Andre something special for his 40th, not any of their usual throwaway presents. The brainstorming session is one of the highlights of the night, mostly because Black-ish can never go wrong when all four Johnson children are in a scene together. It’s impressive how unique and memorable each of the kids are, especially as early as the first season, and it only helps to make their interactions that much more fun. Diane continues to be the best, apparently secretly plotting to disappear when she gets enough money (she handles Jack’s savings, refusing to let him know how much they have). Jack playing up his cuteness never gets old; when told he spelled “birthday” wrong on a card, he responds “I know. People think it’s cute when I do that.” For a while, the kids have a hard time trying to come up with an idea but eventually settle on doing something sweet and homemade.

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Meanwhile, Andre has taken over party planning duties but hits a snag when the venue he was betting on turns out to be closed. He rushes to re-plan everything at home, trying to bump up the coolness factor by inviting Jermaine Dupri in a wonderfully pointless cameo.

The big problem with “30 Something” is that it all feels very rushed. The switching of party venues didn’t exactly add anything to the overall plot but just filled an already bloated half-hour. By the end when Andre learns his lesson, as is wont to happen in the third act of a Black-ish episode, the payoff doesn’t land. At the party, Andre realizes that he’s been so obsessed with his swag (and self-obsessed in general) that he’s ignored the rest of his family—particularly his children—who just want to celebrate his birthday. As he watches the extremely adorable slideshow that the kids made for him, it’s supposed to be a poignant and emotional beat but it doesn’t feel earned. Andre and the kids were separated for so much of the episode for practical reasons that it feels out of nowhere when it suddenly becomes A Thing deserving of a moment. I understand exactly what the episode was trying to say (and even if I didn’t, Andre’s voiceover at the end explained it, too) but Black-ish is usually better at hitting these notes. Here, it was more of a shrug than a conclusion.

Stray observations:

  • I hate to admit this but that “Forever Young” version will get me every time.
  • The joke about white people not being able to tell how old black people are remains amusing to me (it was one of my favorites on 30 Rock) especially as someone who is routinely mistaken for a 16-year-old.
  • Rainbow doesn’t need to have swag because she has that “stupid medical degree.”
  • Can we please get an episode that heavily focuses on Junior and his ventriloquist dummy?
  • OK, the Dupri cameo was worth it just for “I discovered Bow Wow!” Do you think he watches CSI: Cyber?

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