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Black-ish: “The Talk”

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The biggest concern after Black-ish’s very good and unique premiere was whether the show would maintain its dedication to intelligently remarking on cultural diversity while putting race at the foreground or would it instead fall into the trap of becoming nothing more than a simplistic family sitcom (albeit one that makes the stray reference to a prominent aspect of black culture). Because it’s only the second episode, it’s still too early to make a strict judgment but it’s fair to say that “The Talk” is a slightly disappointing step in the wrong direction.

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There’s no question that “The Talk” is a well-made, consistently enjoyable, and generally funny episode of an ABC sitcom. The problem is that it feels distant from the pilot and at odds with the statements that first episode was trying to make. What I was hoping for was a deep dive into Andre’s ongoing struggles to reconcile two distinct cultural ideals and more humorous situations born out of this clash. What I got was your garden variety sitcom episode centered around a father’s uncomfortableness with giving the sex talk to his son and a mother’s poor attempts to bond with her teenage daughter. That’s fine because “The Talk” does an admirable job with injecting some life into these two stale plots but it’s too little too early, adapting so easily into this basic format that I wonder if the pilot was nothing more than a bait-and-switch.

The central plot involves Andre and Andre Jr.—let’s just call him “Junior” from now on, cool? After Andre walks in on Junior going to town on himself and learns that his wife has been the one having sex talks with their son, Andre decides he needs to take over that role. As one would expect, the sex talk is awkward especially because Andre is constantly trying to overcompensate for his uptightness. To prove he’s comfortable, he takes his shirt off before the talk begins (“Just a comfortable man with no shirt on talking to his son about nasty stuff!”), beginning a strange ritual and funny running gag where Junior immediately takes off shirt before talking about sex with his father. Andre quickly realizes that he’s definitely not comfortable with any of this because Junior is a little too open and willing to talk about absolutely anything and everything from his crush on Helen Mirren to his questions about manscaping. (Best line delivery of the night: “It’s patchy but I feel like things are gonna get CRAZY down there!”)

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Over in the B-plot, Rainbow is trying to connect with Zoey and get her to open up. Zoey opens up surprisingly quickly but Rainbow is too busy patting herself on the back to pay attention to what she’s saying. This later happens a second time. Neither time is particularly funny although Tracee Ellis Ross’ performance continues to be subtle and sublime. The runner in the episode is better: twins Jack and Diane are jealous that their older siblings are getting so much attention. The twins are absolutely adorable in everything they say and do so the scenes of them trying to figure just what constitutes ”the talk” is unbearably cute.

By the end, everything has returned to normal. Andre tells Junior that he can’t handle the talks and has him go back to his mother for all the everyday sex stuff while Rainbow is left in the dark when Zoey decides to get advice from Pops instead. Pops is, once again, perfectly used just enough here, mostly showing up to dole out “I told you so” to both parents which is basically his only purpose (and I’m OK with that).

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Overall, however, the episode just felt… flat. It was uninspired and seemed to abandon the premise it was so proud of. On the bright side, the children are already becoming more well-developed which speaks to the smart writing. However, the voiceover is till grating—seriously, what is with this pilot season and excessive voiceover?—and there’s still some unnecessary over-explanation (see: visuals on the screen noting that Rainbow grew up in a house comfortable with nudity immediately followed by Andre explicitly saying so) but those are things that can always be fixed.

To Black-ish’s credit, “The Talk” does add a nice twist to the usual “birds and bees talk” family sitcom and the montage of the two of them doing “manly” things (lifting weights, shooting hoops) while having these conversations is funny, as is the montage of Andre later hiding from his oversharing son in increasingly absurd ways. It bodes well for the series that it can teach an old dog new tricks but I still wish it wasn’t already so intent on being that old dog.

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Stray observations:

  • Despite all that: I remain optimistic! I am looking forward to next week and hoping it really will become that show that I want it to. Though, I should add, that I’ll continue to watch it either way.
  • There were plenty of lukewarm reactions to the pilot from viewers who thought Black-ish dealt too much with race (sure!) and wanted it to follow the same route of The Cosby Show so I’m curious to know if this was the direction you had hoped for.
  • “I Morgan Freeman’d her.”
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