Of the four Johnson children on Black-ish, the oldest daughter Zoey is certainly the least-developed. On the opposite side we have Junior who not only was the main focus of the pilot but also has received plenty of attention in subsequent episodes, especially toward the beginning of the first season. Twins Jack and Diane largely play off each other and exist in their own little world but still have a few memorable, defining characteristics (Diane’s is mostly that she’s mean-spirited, but adorable, as we saw in last week’s subplot while Jack is basically just the cutest boy in the world, an early ladies’ man who knows how to charm everyone). That leaves Zoey who has had bit plots here and there. She usually remains interesting while on screen but it’s never for too long. We don’t really know much about her except that she’s pretty and popular—her popularity is especially a nice choice here—because Zoey, more often than not, fades into the background while Andre participates in whatever overzealous high jinks he has planned this week.
In “Andre from Marseille,” Zoey finally takes center stage and Black-ish lets us in on more aspects of her personality and her relationship with her father. It’s not that much insight, but it’s still good enough to suffice for the episode. “I love all my children equally but Zoey and I are particularly close,” Andre narrates early in the episode, noting Zoey’s popularity and style as two of the reasons why they get along so well. As he‘s driving her to school, Andre learns that she has her first boyfriend: A super white, super French boy also named Andre. Dad Andre tries to hash out this problem at work. The work scenes, which were originally my favorite back in the pilot, aren’t quite working that well anymore, largely because they don’t really serve a purpose besides giving Andre a place to complain and reveal expository information. It also gives Andre a few allies who encourage his utter insanity, such as when he’s warned against French Andre because the French are “erotic pioneers” who invited the french kiss and the ménage à trois.
Now all riled up, Andre is on guard when French Andre shows up—and so are Jack and Junior who struggle to act hard, aiming to come off protective over their older sister but mostly being laughable because Jack is so cute and Junior is so awkward and scrawny—and is not ready to warm up to the kid. It turns out Andre is a good dude who is heavily involved in charity work and who can charm all of the Johnson women with a little slight of hand magic. But nothing gold can stay and the relationship quickly ends, as high school relationships tend to do. At first, Andre struggles to hide his joy but then he finds out that it was French Andre who broke up with Zoey, rather than the other way around.
There are some interesting things happening in this episode. First, there is the father/daughter relationship that largely follows the stereotypical sitcom format: father is overprotective, hates his daughter’s dates, shoots daggers at them from across the room, and believes no one will ever be good enough for his own flesh and blood. It’s not a fresh or captivating storyline in 2015 but instead one that often leaves a bad taste because of the sometimes-icky overprotectiveness, the refusal to let these teen daughters be independent. Second, there is the exploration of an interracial relationship—and what’s more radical, one that involves high schoolers—though this barely lasts. This is my biggest issue with “Andre from Marseille.” There was so much that could have been said about Zoey’s first boyfriend being a white classmate, such as the reactions both in her home and at her school. It’s not that I was expecting biting social commentary on the frustrations of being an interracial relationship but I was hoping for a little more than just “Andre gets angry—again.”
Still, the episode pulled out a few twists with Andre convinced that French Andre broke up with Zoey because she was black, only to learn that the real reason is because she’s shallow. This is one of, like, three things we’ve been told about Zoey during these last few months so it’s not exactly revelatory. I did thoroughly enjoy her reaction to the news: She doesn’t get upset or protest or even try to claim that she’s not shallow. Instead, she shrugs and says “I thought it was something serious, like I was ugly.” The episode moves on to Andre getting his daughter back, the two bonding over expensive material items which I suppose is a sweet note—they are buddies again! Shallow buddies!—but felt really abrupt. Tacked on is another new boyfriend, this one a black classmate named Derrick, whom Andre also hates even though they are carbon copies of each other right down to the outfit, effectively proving that this has nothing to do with race and everything to do with Andre’s worry that his daughter is going to grow up too fast and leave him. In case you couldn’t catch that, the narration makes sure to hammer the point home.
But problems aside, it was great to spend a night with Zoey and I do hope the show continues to switch between its characters (especially the children) to provide a more developed, balanced look at each one.
- If I sound a little down on this episode, it’s not because it was bad but because it was so … average (and not necessarily in a bad way) in that it entertained and made me laugh, but I kept expecting more to happen.
- The B plot revolves around Bow finding a gray hair not on her head (Andre observes that she’s going “all Frederick Douglass down there”) and deciding to do something about it. It also has an abrupt ending that was far too easy and cloying—Diane questions why her mother would do something like hot wax or lasers if it makes her hurt—which is a shame because that waiting room conversation between Bow and Diane could’ve been something really smart and special but instead was handled breezily in almost-robotic dialogue.
- This exchange was great though: “How long before downtown gets totally gentrified?” “It happens fast. When you get to be my age, it’s like a Dave Matthews concert down there.”
- “I don’t have a problem with white people. Some of my best friends happen to be white” might be a frequently made joke now but it never fails to make me a laugh.
- “I’m not pretending you’re my daughter, Charlie.”
- Andre and Derrick bonding over advertising would’ve been great if that “Bump N’ Grind” music cue wasn’t so creepy.