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Black-ish: “Oedipal Triangle”

Marsai Martin and Jenifer Lewis (ABC)
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This week on Black-ish, Andre has to figure out how to love both his mother and his wife when the two women in his life pretty much hate each other. In one corner, there’s Ruby (guest star Jenifer Lewis), the doting mother who can cook the hell out of biscuits and fried pork chops. And in the other, there’s Bow, the hardworking wife, more of a kale salad kind of gal. Bow thinks Ruby is manipulative and selfish; Ruby thinks Bow nags Andre too much and parents poorly. Andre can’t play mediator because, well, he’s in love with his mother, which the episode reminds us of over and over and over again.


And that’s what’s a little disappointing about this episode—titled, unfortunately, “Oedipal Triangle.” It takes a classic sitcom plotline but doesn’t really elevate it to anything all that new or exciting. The comedy is the weakest it has ever been. Most of the jokes revolve around Andre’s love for Ruby and the misunderstanding that he is actually in love with his mother. He fills the guest room with romance in preparation for her arrival, sprinkling the bed with rose petals and lighting the candle Bow got him for their anniversary. He falls asleep in Ruby’s bed—“it was an over-cover biscuit nap!”— and tells his coworkers Bow’s mad because she found him “in bed” with his mother. Black-ish usually excels at this kind of over-the-top, heightened reality humor, but all the Oedipal jokes feel tired, not to mention a little too much.

Zoey and Junior, for the first time, get their own storyline that takes place entirely outside of what’s going on with the family. It’s a smart choice for the writers to try to develop the younger characters of the show a little more, but Zoey trying to get Junior a date with one of the hot girls at school doesn’t really add much to the episode. In fact, it only really highlights just how well the stories on this show work when they somehow touch all or most of the members of the Johnson family. Diane, for example, becomes tied up in the middle of the main conflict between Bow and Ruby when the two decide to take out their disagreements on her poor tenderheaded scalp. It’s funny, but it’s also a very real depiction of how family conflict affects everyone in some way. Zoey and Junior, however, sort of exist in their own little box this week, and they can’t quite carry it on their own. There are some fine moments, including a few physical gags and well timed comedy when Zoey coaches Junior through the flirting via bluetooth. But it’s nothing compared to what we’ve seen from either Yara Shahidi or Marcus Scribner, especially the latter, who is consistently usually one of my favorite non-Bow characters on the show. Maybe these two just aren’t quite ready to go solo.

Pilot Viruet noted last week that the show has been adding a lot of depth and development to Bow lately, and “Oedipal Triangle” continues that work effectively. In fact, the episode’s best moment isn’t a joke or a gag at all, but rather a very revealing, emotional moment between Bow and Andre. In a very casual aside, Ruby lets slip that she knows that Bow started seeing a therapist after she had children. Bow’s shocked at how her mother-in-law knows something so intimate, and she immediately pulls Andre aside to tell him he can’t be telling his mother such personal things about her life. It’s a small moment, there mostly to heighten the tension between Bow, Ruby, and Andre. But it once again shows us that Bow doesn’t only exist in relation to these other characters. She isn’t just a mom or just a wife, but also a very real human woman with problems of her own. We don’t really know the specifics of why she sought out therapy, but we don’t really need to—this is, after all, a largely screwball family sitcom, and mental health doesn’t exactly provide a wealth of comedic material. But the fact that it’s included as a plot point at all feels significant. Bow is just so much more than the average sitcom mother, and the writing makes that clear, even in an episode that’s mostly average.

Stray observations:

  • “I made finger sandwiches!”
  • “I’m fine. I don’t internalize things.” Love you, Diane.
  • “an emotional hafro”
  • Jack’s excited reaction to pork chops is exactly how I feel about pork chops.
  • It’s subtle, but if you watch Tracee Ellis Ross in the final dinner scene, you can see her dancing with her bowl of quinoa in the background and it is very important.
  • Speaking of which, I could watch Tracee Ellis Ross just make incredulous faces for a full half hour.
  • To those of you who will inevitably complain because I am not Pilot Viruet (listen, I get it, I prefer Pilot Viruet to me, too): Fear not! I’m only stepping in for tonight, and she’ll be back.
  • But will Pops ever be back?

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