Before we get into a discussion of the real meat of the episode, can we pause to praise the child actors on Black-ish? I am consistently blown away by them week after week. They have the tricky task of performing sitcom acting—this is ABC—while also keeping their performances very raw and real. They don’t do over the top playing-to-the-audience acting like most child actors on sitcoms but instead keep it quiet and fresh, acting out the serious (but also humorous!) emotions that the scripts demand in an eerily relatable way. They are all capable of keeping up with veteran actors Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross but, more importantly and impressively, the way in which the children work together, the effortless chemistry that exists in their faux sibling relationships, makes it seem as if these four children truly are an actual family. When they defend and go to bat for each other and then, just as quickly, sell each other out to save their own asses, it’s all believable. It’s one of the most accurate depictions of sibling relationships currently on television.
But that’s not what everyone is going to be talking about when it comes to “Crime and Punishment.” The talking point of the episode is spanking or, more specifically, whether it’s OK to physically punish your child or not. If I recall, “Crime and Punishment” was originally supposed to be the second episode of the series but was replaced by “The Talk” after Adrian Peterson’s child abuse scandal made headlines. The Peterson case opened up a dialogue about child abuse, particularly within the black community. “Crime and Punishment” also opens up a dialogue, albeit in a much more acceptable way—it’s fiction!—and it makes for an odd (but not bad) comedic episode of television.
Jack is the MVP child in this week’s episode. In a department store, he hides in a rack of clothing while his mother wails and freaks out, worrying that he’s gone forever. When an employee finds him hiding, not missing, Rainbow understandably goes from worried to angry in a split second, telling Jack that his father is going to spank him as a punishment. Andre isn’t too keen on the idea; he’s spanked Junior once before but felt awful about it: “He shed that one tear like Denzel in Glory and I cried like Whoopi in The Color Purple.“
The thing about parenting—and obviously, I’m guessing here—is that everyone always has an opinion on how to parent. There’s a reason why shitty but addictive reality shows like Extreme Parenting exist. Andre tests the waters by essentially using his coworkers as a focus group but gets mixed results. Most of his coworkers were spanked as a children and believe that they are better for it but the second Andre puts a name and a face to it—and such a cute little face!—everyone quickly changes their tune. Everyone is fine with spanking in the abstract sense but not when it becomes personal. So Andre decides not to hit Jack but Jack can’t just take the victory and instead keeps pushing his parents, testing the boundaries of what he can get away with it. Just hours after he’s in the free and clear, Jack hides once again and Andre gets so fed up that he decides that he actually will spank Jack. The back-and-forth that runs throughout this episode doesn’t really do much to add to it, except for provide some really neat scenes between the siblings, but I suppose it does successfully remark on the wishy-washy nature than Andre and Rainbow exhibit in ”Crime and Punishment” because they’re hesitant to commit to one way of parenting.
Because really, how do you commit to one certain way of parenting? How do you decide what is best for your children—your family—when everyone is chiming in or when your partner is second-guessing you or when you’re even second-guessing yourself? Andre and Rainbow aren’t sure what the correct solution is and for Andre, there is the added frustration that this isn’t a question that can be easily answered by looking back to his culture. Sure, Pops keeps chiming in (his enthusiasm about the idea of Andre hitting Jack is actually very off-putting even if the payoff sort of made up for it) but Andre isn’t sure if he wants to continue the tradition of spanking in the family. Ultimately, Andre can’t do it and instead tells Jack that he’s ”disappointed” which, as we’re probably all aware, hurts so much coming from a parent. What’s worse than the “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” speech?
“Crime and Punishment” wasn’t a very laugh-out-loud funny episode (though I did write down plenty of funny lines) but it didn’t have to be. It instead took a very serious and controversial subject and explored it in a humorous and relatable way, with an ending that was definitive for the family but didn’t provide a general answer to the public. It’s a talking point, not a question and answer, and it works.
- “An ass is an ass is an ass is an ass.”
- Normally, I can’t stand precocious children in sitcoms but there’s a nice balance between Diane’s intelligence and her childishness that makes it very endearing instead of annoying. Also, as the youngest child who was a bespectacled know-it-all, I had a shiver of recognition hearing Junior exclaim, “Why is she like this?!”
- Pop culture references are important to sitcoms and therefore important to me so it’s so wonderful to hear references to predominately black narratives like Glory and The Color Purple instead of the usual ones.
- Jack going for the cute factor by wearing a bowtie and suggesting to his mother that they look through baby photos was definitely one of the episode’s strongest moment.
- So, that Hot Wheels track was pretty specific, huh?
- “How many White Russians have you had?” “Irrelevant, but a lot.”