Laurence Fishburne (left), Lorraine Toussaint (right)

Black-ish has always been an amazing show because of its ability to capture honest nuances and dynamics within the black family. “Auntsgiving” is the perfect example of this as it pays tribute to one of the most important figures in black families––the aunt. The ”cool because they’re not your mom, but don’t you dare tell mom that,” aunt plays an important role in black families as she rotates roles between stand-in mom, big sister and friend to her nieces, nephews, and, as is the case in this episode, her own brothers and sisters. Black TV shows have always paid due diligence to the important role aunts play within the family. The quintessential portrayal of the black aunt can currently be seen on OWN’s Queen Sugar. where Tina Lifford has perfected the portrayal of Aunt Vee. If you haven’t checked out Queen Sugar, you should, because Aunt Vee’s cool, weed-smoking, and fierce character illuminates Lorraine Toussaint’s performance as Almaviligerais (or A.V.). “Auntsgiving” finally lets Black-ish pay tribute to this important matriarchal figure and the fun of family secrets.

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Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion to introduce Pops’ sister, as Dre states in the opening, it’s a holiday that transcends everything––except the grudge between Ruby and A.V. Before Pops even opens the door, the dynamic is defined. Ruby feels something cold, something evil in the air. Dre plays along until he can no longer contain his love for his aunt. The excitement on Dre’s face as he tells himself to breathe and makes plans to watch movies and end his vacation to spend time with her feels so real. There’s a certain honest, fun power black aunts have and it makes you want to spend every second you can with them. While Dre doesn’t get the chance, he’s in awe of A.V. because she’s the only person who can check Pops while keeping it cool and casual as she handles business. In reality, A.V. has come to visit her brother to get her part of Pops’ secret condo sale. This sets off a great b-plot as the kids finally think they’ve found the answer to one of their “great family mysteries” (and no, it’s not about Junior’s underwear).

Every family has mysteries, but one of the cornerstones of any holiday celebration in my family was all of the children getting together to figure them out. Usually, the adults would cook and play spades in one room while gossiping and sharing the latest news. We didn’t have a family newsletter, we just had all the adults in the garage laughing and whispering. As kids, we’d stand on the other side of the door, picking up whatever we could hear and daring each other to sneak in to get closer to the action. I know my family wasn’t alone in this and “Auntsgiving” captures this experience that bonded brothers, sisters and cousins. One by one, the Johnson kids sneak downstairs to eavesdrop on A.V., Ruby and Pops’ argument. Their guesses were as outlandish as the ones my cousins and I would come up with––Pops helped fake the moon landing, Pops and A.V. are robbers and there’s secret money in the house, Pops and A.V. aren’t actually siblings, but lovers!

Finding out the the actual truth is secondary to the actual excitement of guessing because, of course, the truth is never as good. When Zoey finally does hear the truth––Ruby has held a grudge against A.V. because she told Pops to leave her after his non-stop affairs––she realizes she can’t bring herself to break the image her little brothers and sisters have of their amazing, cool aunt and grandparents. She dutifully tells them what they want to hear (except Diane) and learns the actual lesson of the episode––”a good big sister knows when to cover and when to tell the truth.”

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While Zoey covers, A.V. tells the truth. She admits she covered too much for her little brother growing up and didn’t protect her friend. With everything out in the open, the two finally reconnect and all is forgiven. It’s a moment that could’ve felt forced, but Lorraine Toussaint and Jenifer Lewis have more than enough skills to handle every beat. It’s a moment that also helps center Ruby as a character. Far too often she has enemies and the show could’ve turned her grudge with A.V. into a long-running joke like they did with Bo’s mother. Instead, they chose to highlight the importance of the friendship between the two women and never let Pops forget he’s actually the one to blame for their issues. Ruby and Pops have been more central to the narrative this season and it’s been great to successfully see them transform from wide caricatures to realistic people with their own backstories beyond Dre’s view of his childhood.

Finally, there’s Dre and Bo. They go on their last vacation before the baby is born to try and “reconnect.” This storyline isn’t interesting or that sentimental, but Tracee Ellis Ross sells her heartbreak when she realizes this is the last time she’ll ever have morning sickness ever again. It’s a smart move to get Dre and Bo out of the house so the other two storylines can flourish and, luckily, we don’t spend too much time focused on them. Dre certainly would’ve forced himself into A.V. and Ruby’s reunion and the kids’ bonding experience is made stronger by Zoey taking the lead instead of Bo. Black-ish knows how to use its cast well and “Auntsgiving” is a near perfect example of this.

Stray Observations

  • “You can get salmonella from that!”
    ”That’s my baby!”
  • “I keep this house at a steady 82”
  • I loved Dre’s excitement over A.V. and his subsequent whispering.
  • “You’re just saying that because you want to see my mom get mad.”
    ”I am and I do”
  • “Damn it, Sophie, how did you make these choices?”
  • “So why are you here, Almaviligerais.”
    “To spend time with my little brother and his beautiful grandkids.”
    ”Now I know you lying because they’re just ok.”
  • I want an entire Ruby and A.V. spin-off based on this interaction alone:
    “You stole my Calvin!”
    ”What? Who said that?”
    ”Calvin!”
    ”What did he say exactly?”
    ”That you stole him!”
    ”Well, that’s pretty definitive”
  • “Those pants that don’t keep any secrets”
  • I loved that Diane had the weirdest and most twisted guess at what the family secret was. No, they’re brother and sister, Diane. Don’t be gross.

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