Dre: “Growing up, I tried to care about Father’s Day…Father’s Day is a damn joke. No love, crappy gifts, lonely hobo breakfast. It pales in comparison to—”
the kids: “HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!”
Just let me get this out of the way: Black-ish’s quality level this season is almost unfair. Remind me, what’s a sophomore slump?
In an earlier review for this season, I asked if Black-ish could ever be like a Modern Family-type sitcom, choosing instead to go just with the very irreverent goings-on of ever day life instead of making every episode one with a message. At no point did I say I would want that to happen—in fact, I really don’t—but it was a question I felt necessary in discussions about the longevity of the series. Ultimately, I realized that the show doesn’t even have to really try to put out a message (at least not a major one), because just by virtue of being a well-written show about a black family, the real life issues of that situation constantly shine true.
Look at this week’s episode, “Daddy’s Day.” It’s technically the least message-centric episode of this season’s first four episodes, instead focusing on the universal concept of Father’s Day and how it’s treated as a second-class parental celebration. But even in the case of Father’s Day or Daddy’s Day or whatever you want to call it, Black-ish is able to frame it from a black (and/or “old school”) perspective, despite that not really being the focal point of the episode. Sure, fathers of other races may believe that Father’s Day should get the same amount of fanfare as Mother’s Day—and Dre’s otherwise misguided co-workers definitely fall under that umbrella—but there most likely isn’t the added “deadbeat dad” stigma that you’ll get from those specific cultures.
The episode isn’t even really about that, because Dre is far from a bad father. But it’s definitely there—you’ve got Charlie, and that’s good for a laugh, but closer to home, you have Pops, who shows plenty of great fatherly qualities now, but the show has made it clear from day one that he wasn’t the best fatherly figure back in the day. And I’m not just saying that because his absence allowed young Dre to just let his soul glo with a jheri curl. He was and is an old school father, but that doesn’t let him off the hook for his behavior; in fact, Dre doesn’t hold back in this episode when he talks of the way the man acted when he was around, “beating” his kids. Not whooping. Not spanking. The b-word is used, because Black-ish isn’t afraid to shy away from the truth. It makes you wonder if there are white people (or non-black people of color) in the audience who don’t actually see what the show is doing in these instances, which is great for the show’s inclusiveness but ultimately bad for getting an understanding across to those same people.
The episode, surprisingly, is relatively straightforward for the show. Over-the-top, “yelly” Dre (who makes a very good point about the lack of parallel parking in the Fast & Furious franchise), is actually very much in the right this week and doesn’t go about things too much in the wrong way (so shenanigans aren’t really too much in full force). In true sitcom fashion, Zoey ultimately listens to Pops and throws the almost perfect Daddy’s Day celebration for Dre (who, in turn, learns to appreciate his unappreciative children); but in truer sitcom fashion, before that, Dre makes a room full of potential clients think he’s into a kinky relationship with a young girl who reminds him of his daughter. It’s sweet; it’s delightfully weird; it’s Black-ish.
“Daddy’s Day” is also an especially impressive episode for its decision to not let the other shoe drop with certain plots. As soon as Junior becomes momma’s little helper and Rashida (Zendaya Coleman, who will hopefully return after this) goes on and on about her own deadbeat dad, it feels like there’s only a matter of time before the reality sets in with these plot. In the case of Junior, it feels like it’s leading to him fessing up to buttering up his mother for ulterior motives, but it never happens. He just loves his mom and hates how tired she always is. And there’s a very real idea in the back of the audience’s mind that, for whatever reason, Rashida is making up her entire backstory about not having a father around. Eventually, Rashida’s father following her on Instagram but not liking her pictures is minuscule compared to other father-child relationships, but it reads very much like that’s literally the only “interaction” he has with her, and that’s not great. Rashida genuinely ending up wanting a father figure—and one like Dre, who for all of his crazy, is a very good dad—surprisingly isn’t played too much like an emotional beat but instead one of simple honesty. It’s a fact of life, and the show treats it as such. Same with Junior, though that’s more absurd.
Jack and Diane aren’t really factors in this episode, though they do technically have their own highlights. Unfortunately for Jack, his moment is merely a throwaway line about how Dre accidentally cut off his oxygen at a point when he was a baby—a fact that actually makes quite a bit of sense today. As for Diane, her “WHHHHYYYY” as she vomits up car meat is literally all she needs in this episode. This is the rare episode with a very strong Zoey plot, and if it takes sacrificing the twins for that, then so be it.
Ruby: “It just goes to show he loves you. No matter how much you’re a disappointment as mother.”
Bow: [pours enough wine to summon the ghost of Cougar Town and make it proud]
Bow’s sublot with Ruby follows a lot of the same beats as the usual episodes, but this week, it goes as far as it can to say that Ruby basically wants Bow to be just like her. And, it’s a subplot that doesn’t rely on Ruby being especially obtuse. Ruby basically believes that a mother-son relationship should be akin to one from a horror film, and as the episode continues, Jack becomes more and more of a Norman Bates to his mother’s Norma. This is what it takes for Ruby to almost, sort of accept Bow and understandably, it’s the most extreme route possible. But the fact that Ruby honestly isn’t attempting to actively sabotage Bow throughout this whole thing shows that Black-ish doesn’t have to resort to the same “Ruby Hates Bow (And Vice Versa!)” storyline each week. A variation is all we ask, and that’s what we get.
As for the glue that holds the whole plot together, Marcus Scribner completely rocks it as the super attentive version of Junior. The thing about Junior is that it’s very easy to believe he’s a momma’s boy at this level, but it’s also easy to believe that this could just be part of a teenage boy long con. When it’s not the latter, it’s easy to shrug those thoughts off because it works either way. It would be so much harder to believe the innocence behind it all if not for Scribner’s performance. Try to imagine little Jack in the same plot: It’s adorable too, but for different reasons, and it’s much harder to ultimately buy the genuineness of it all. You just can’t trust cute kids.
Before this episode aired, I saw a since-deleted tweet complaining about black viewers watching Empire while Black-ish spent its first two episodes tacking the n-word and guns and this week’s 17th season episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit focused on Black Lives Matter (which is just as uncomfortable as it sounds). Said tweet of course ignored the idea of DVRs or watching more than one show or the fact that SVU isn’t hurting for viewers, but it also implied the very terrible idea that there’s only one right way to watch or depict something on TV (and that Empire was not the answer in any form).
The fact that there are options like Empire, Black-ish, this one episode of SVU, and The Carmichael Show on network television (and there’s Survivor’s Remorse on cable) in the same era is a huge deal, and nothing is gained by comparing them for the purposes of tearing any down. It’s not an either or situation. Black-ish and Empire are doing two completely different things, but they still exist in a world where the black experience is an important aspect; the season two premiere of Empire actually had a lot of subtle (for Empire) stuff to say about about the depiction of black people in the media and within the context of interactions with law enforcement. But it’s not Black-ish, and people shouldn’t be shamed for tuning into another show, especially when they’re on at the same time.
“Daddy’s Day” continues the terrific streak of Black-ish’s sophomore season. It’s not quite as funny as the first two episodes of the season—which are, coincidentally, the most issue-heavy—but it’s still very good, and yes, people should honestly be aware that it’s very good. They can still watch Empire, but there’s nothing stopping them from watching Black-ish too. The same is true for the inverse. You can share the viewership wealth. (I was going to then say “do it for daddy,” but then I realized how strange of a note that would be to end on.)
- Ruby: “Boy, you know your daddy ain’t here. And you better eat every bite of that damn food. Wasting that Cream of Wheat…”
- Dre: “We’re starting this new holiday initiative at work called Daddy’s Day. And it’s every thing that Father’s Day is not. That’s why we’re having it in the Fall. Far from the tyranny of Mother’s Day.”
Jack: “I love Mother’s Day!”
Diane: “It should get a whole month!”
Junior: “I love mom! I love you, mom!”
- Junior: “Don’t worry! JuJu’s got this!”
Bow: “Who’s JuJu?”
- Keeping with Black-ish’s excellent music choices, this week’s episode has Zoey driving in Charlie’s car to Kanye West’s “Drive Slow.” But the best musical bit is courtesy of Dre’s Daddy’s Day “soundtrack of love,” with “CeleDRE good times.” Even Pops finds it catchy as hell.
- Pops was “a rolling stone,” which is actually quite fitting, considering Jenifer Lewis was in The Temptations biopic. Surprisingly, Laurence Fishburne was not.
- Dre’s co-workers may have suggested Zoey as the perfect Daddy’s Day child due to her “ethnically ambiguous” looks, but it wasn’t until the recasting with Rashida (a decision that immediately sent my mind to Rashida Jones) that the beauty of that particular criteria truly came through. The lighter-skinned Rashida was simply a much better choice for that—especially as the commercial itself flipped though a list of cultures—as we all saw.
- Charlie is called “The Snowman” by children because of the sugar in his pockets (and definitely not because of the “focus powder” in his office). Also, learning to drive from him only leads to failing your driver’s license test and the instructor thinking you’re drunk.
- Morgan Freeman?