To be perfectly frank, upon reading the episode title and DVR description—“Crazy Mom” is about Dre taking over “mom” duties for a week—I was quickly filled with concern about how enjoyable it would be. Because it’s not the most original concept, there was the worry that it would be an episode of an old rehashed sitcom plot (Father tries to take over the “Motherly” duties like housework and school meetings, becomes overwhelmed, learns a valuable lesson). That was the largely the problem I had with “The Talk.” Don’t get me wrong: I do think that Black-ish can very well exist as a typical family sitcom (and I’m sure ABC would dig that) but it shouldn’t aim that low when it has something much better and more nuanced on its hands.
Plus, there is an inherent, unfair, and disheartening strike against a show like Black-ish (and not just its title) that is also representative of minorities in general: It has to work harder than your average sitcom just to be seen as good. It has to continue to prove itself. Modern Family can churn out ordinary, garden-variety episodes and win Emmys without breaking a sweat; Black-ish (and other similar, black-centric sitcoms like Everybody Hates Chris or The Bernie Mac Show) have to hustle and be on the top of their game with every single scene in order to just be considered.
Fortunately, “Crazy Mom” knows exactly what it’s doing. It takes an average plot and twists it to fit perfectly into the Black-ish world, not only finding new ways to examine the “Mom duties” and “Dad duties” within the house and their parenting approaches but it also expertly continues to explore race—and Andre’s overzealousness—within the same story but without it taking over. It’s the necessary balance that I’ve been looking for. Also, it must be said, that “Crazy Mom” is very, very funny.
It does start out in a fairly familiar fashion with Andre hoping to get a pat on the back for accomplishing a tiny household task even though Rainbow does virtually everything else. There are times when “Crazy Mom” retreats into tired Mom/Dad division territory (Rainbow is the only one who attends school functions and is an obsessive neat freak when it comes to her kitchen whereas Andre is chill, clueless, constantly putting his foot in his mouth, and totally unhelpful around the house) but it mostly avoids this by being very upfront. Rainbow explicitly states “Moms do everything and no one ever notices and then Dads do one little thing and people get crazy.” There is also the sadly honest scene when Andre shows up to work late but is praised for being a good father while a woman who shows up late is lightly scolded. This reference to gender roles and inequality—mothers are expected to do everything related to children while maintaining a solid professional career; fathers are given a gold medal for just being there (which also taps into perceptions of black culture and again, sadly so)—is presented to the audience in a way that is humorous but carefully considered.
After Andre becomes immediately addicted to the praise he reserves at school for ”saving the world through cupcakes that I bought at a liquor store,” he then becomes obsessed with trying to recreate that worthy feeling but by the next day, he is already yesterday’s news. Andre’s learning that you don’t get praised for things that are mandatory, like bringing in health forms, but part of him still keeps thinking that he will. Once again, his overzealous and obsessive takes over. This time it’s during an amazing scene where the class is learning about Harriet Tubman—”H. Tubbs,” as he calls her—through a skit that he interrupts only to realize that he doesn’t actually know that much about Harriet Tubman. It’s actually a remarkable scene: For all of Andre’s nudging his son to act more black or that all of his children are knowledgeable about their heritage (see: the scene in the pilot when he is floored to learn the young twins didn’t know Barack Obama was the first black president), it’s fascinating to see him get knocked down a peg by not knowing basics about one of the most famous women in black history. The earlier scene where the teacher is railing off her credits to prove she knows her shit was also golden and gave us the line of the night: “Being white is awesome. I study American History so I should know. I’m kidding; we’re the worst!”
“Crazy Mom” was just a good episode for Andre and Anthony Anderson. We’ve seen Andre compromise in the other episodes but we’ve also seen his insistence come off stronger. Even when he is seen as kind of wrong, you can see that Andre still thinks he’s right but here, he owns up to it completely. As for Anthony Anderson, he’s been fully embracing his character more and more, with Andre becoming livelier each week. Anderson also really sells the fantasy sequences—which, overall, are done very well here—such as when he’s tossing out cupcakes to children like he’s in the strangest Disney Channel rap music video or when the episode switches gears to show Andre and Pops in a movie theater, cringing with embarrassment while watching Andre’s actual interactions with Rainbow.
There is nothing groundbreaking about the episode’s ending, even though I liked the children’s stilted performances while appealing to their mother under Andre’s coaching, but it was still satisfying. The entire episode was satisfying and full of genuine laughs. Black-ish may be tasked with having to work a little harder than its peers but at least we know it can rise to the challenge.
- What a great night for Pops! He is still mostly in the background but had more screen time than prior episodes, shooting off great lines and disbelieving looks to his son. “Look what’s here in the paper: Your obituary.”
- “When people see mustaches now, they think hipster not Hitler. And that, people, is the power of creative rebranding.”
- A weird sitcom pet peeve I have is when a parent makes breakfast for their children but then the kids are immediately told to grab their backpack or head to the bus or whatever. They never eat breakfast! They’re going to be so tired in school!
- “Want to go hit a bunch of balls?” “…What does that mean?”
- Rainbow going stir crazy without any of her usual chores was also to be expected but her attempts to bond with her children (she sat on her daughter’s bed!) were truly funny.
- Within the past week, between that bizarre and offensive interview I had with the Nickelodeon dude, attending multiple diversity-focused panels at Comic Con, and, well, the general television landscape, I have just about talked my throat dry about the importance of representation in pop culture BUT I must say there is some pretty amazing hair in Black-ish and I’m stoked to see girls on TV who have also probably broken a few dozen combs in their lifetimes.