“Churched” is a very simple episode of Black-ish, and that’s it’s biggest weakness. It’s almost too simple. In combining Dre and Bow’s decisions to say “yes” more and attend church into one episode, Black-ish takes two plots that could probably sustain their own episodes and splits them in half. It doesn’t help that the episode is the weakest season two episode so far when it comes to subplots, even though the little that we get from said subplots is actually pretty enjoyable.

On the plus side, religion is a touchy subject, but that’s not really the point of this episode. Sort of like “Crime And Punishment,” “Churched” is an episode all about what’s right for Dre and Bow as a united front on a certain topic. What’s the right thing to do? Is it saying “yes” more? Is it going to “white church?” Is it going to “black church?”

In Black-ish fashion, the episode doesn’t go for a straight right or wrong answer, but it does pretty well to highlight the key differences between these two types of churches. The predominantly white, Presbyterian church is the perfect one for the Coopers and even Junior. And the mostly black, Baptist church is the right one for Ruby, who needs a church experience that gels with her theatrical behavior. And even when trying to mix it up, the very open-minded Coopers—who are even better at black church than Dre and Bow are—know what church is best for them and decide to stick to it. Knowing where you belong is the most important thing, and that’s the lesson for Dre and Bow, who still aren’t sure of the “where” by the end of the episode.

It feels a bit reductive to say “white people do church like this, black people do church like this,” but at the same time, it’s also pretty honest, and Black-ish isn’t afraid to acknowledge that. Having attended both white and black churches a few times in my youth, watching the church scenes in this episode was like having my own memories projected from within my television screen—right down to the white band that sings only one song and the black service that lasts an eternity. The this and that of the episode nails it, as that’s something Black-ish knows how to do very well. Black-ish is a family comedy that thrives on observational humor, and even though it usually turns those observations into ridiculous nonsense, they’re still very much observations. Just look at the scenes with Dre and his co-workers: All of Dre’s co-workers have their own twisted reactions to whatever Dre brings up, even when it comes to the idea of being “churchy.” But they’re strangely real reactions. Usually, none of it is advice Dre should ever take, but these scenes absolutely represent real people and real conversations.

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What’s especially interesting—but also kind of a problem with the episode—is that neither Dre nor Bow ever really consult their children about how they really feel about the idea of church or religion. The episode makes it very clear that both Dre and Bow came from households where church and religion were forced on them, so now they somewhat resent it. But that’s essentially what they do here when they make the kids go with them to church, despite their previously scheduled extracurriculars (like Diane’s court-mandated therapy, which is not working). Even Junior doesn’t contribute a religious opinion, as all he really cares about is his suits (Easter or Steve Harvey) and playing tambourine with the Presbyterian band.

Also, after a nice streak of having more screentime than she probably had in the same amount of episodes back in season one, Zoey is very much in the background this week. She’s able to bust out a couple of one-liners, but if you really want to know the eldest Johnson child’s opinion on anything going on in this episode, you aren’t going to get it. It’s not just the fact that this one character is underserved here—most of them are.

The subplot that spawns out of Jack and Diane not being baptized feels so obvious that it’s actually necessary. How could the show not do a plot like this? Of course Diane would want to use a loophole in order to create chaos, and of course Ruby would throw out the cruelest shame of them not being baptized, despite how young and cute they are. But it’s also a much less subtle version of the power of attorney plot from “Dr. Hell No;” only here, Jack is only around to say it’s a bad idea. The solution is obviously as easy as just having them baptized—as the last scene of the episode proves—but there is a joy to be gained from Diane’s immorality, as unsettling as it is.

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“Churched” is overall a fun episode of Black-ish, but “fun episode” is basically the default setting for Black-ish. After four good to great episodes in this season, this drop in quality—and in attempts to do more with the episode—is disappointing.

Stray observations

  • What did the WNBA ever do to Jack?!
  • I’m sure you already know this, but Marc Evan Jackson (The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) plays Mr. Cooper.
  • …and now I’m realizing Black-ish didn’t do a single Hanging With Mr. Cooper joke?
  • Ruby: “Black Jesus doesn’t see color.”
    Dre: “You’re lucky he doesn’t see crazy.”
  • Black church takes four hours and 57 minutes to finish. Yep. That sounds about right.
  • Bow: “There’s no take-backs at black church.”
    Mr. Cooper: “That sounds like a real, established rule.”

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