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Does a spoonful of “Black Nanny” help the Johnsons calm down?

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In “Black Nanny” (not to be confused with “Black Annie”), the Johnson family’s upper-middle class lifestyle comes to the seemingly inevitable: the need for a nanny. Dre and Bow are two busy parents with four kids who are each a handful in their own special ways. They have some help in Dre’s parents, but as they make clear in this episode, Ruby’s love life and Pops’ party life don’t exactly guarantee all the help in the world, 24/7. (And based on “Stuff,” the Johnsons are also completely in-over-their-heads money-wise, but with Dre’s constant sneaker deliveries, it looks like that’s either settled or really, really on the back-burner.) A nanny makes sense given their circumstances… But it just so happens that also the Johnsons are a black family, and in true Black-ish fashion, the idea of a nanny isn’t just something that can just be taken lightly.

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In fact, a nanny isn’t something someone like Dre would have even known about growing up. Not in the hood and not with an extended family of helpers.

Instead of going really deep into the idea of a black, well-off family having a black nanny (or not having one), the episode chooses to focus on how Dre and Bow both react to the situation after the hiring occurs. Dre’s “black white guilt” (which he’s had before with his own family and friends) and Rainbow’s deep bond of sisterhood with Vivian the “black nanny” (Regina Hall) are both are great reactions in their own ways, while also being very Dre and Bow.

Dre’s part is actually overshadowed by the back-and-forth between Wanda Sykes’ Lido and Peter Mackenzie’s Stevens in their scenes, but part of that is because over-the-top Dre isn’t really a feature in this episode. Instead, the Dre that walks on eggshells around the “black nanny” allows Anthony Anderson to play a different part of his arsenal for once, and it’s refreshing to see. Plus, there’s no need for over-the-top Dre in this instance when Bow takes on that role in a fresh way herself. In fact, it appears that the television gods have smiled upon us through Black-ish’s Tracee Ellis Ross/Regina Hall scenes in this episode, and that’s even before a nude, blurred Bow flashes Vivian and Dre.

It’s a strong overall plot, which somewhat excuses the slightly weaker—well, less heavy, at least—plots for the kids themselves. Ultimately, those plots factor into the “black nanny” plot as a whole, but they’re technically both fine of their own. Diane and Zoey have some sisterly bonding in their plot, with Zoey immediately turning Diane’s class president campaign into a smear campaign. And Junior and Jack have some friendly brotherly competition by “fighting” for the love of Vivian. Both plots do very well with the time that they’re given, but the former is certainly one that could easily sustain a much larger role, especially after episodes likes “Twindependence” and “Any Given Saturday.” The latter is just really fun though, as Junior learns the very hard way (which is how Junior often learns) that he’s not a boy, not yet a man.

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And while the girls’ plot could be larger, it notably isn’t in this episode. It’s apparent by the end of the episode how little the actual campaign (and poor little Susie Kwest) means anything, because it’s simply all a means to a blood feud. Vivian’s lesson-teaching interference in the plot costs Diane the presidential race, officially setting the “broken inside” one’s sights on her. I didn’t realize how much I needed to see Regina Hall face-off with a child until this episode of television, and now I can’t remember television before that.

Also, despite being the most “normal” recent Black-ish episode, “Black Nanny” still maintains one of the more underrated aspects of Black-ish—how weird of a show it can be. The return of Dre’s work and conference room scenes obviously fill that void (while getting the music of Carlos Santana stuck in everyone’s head), but those are nothing compared to Dre’s out-of-nowhere “impression” of Bow (and then vice versa). It’s so brief and weird and perfect and, again, out-of-nowhere. That moment is just as much of a reminder that an episode of Black-ish doesn’t need to change its entire genre to still work outside of the box, and hopefully the show continues to play around in these types of episodes. Because why shouldn’t it? The Johnsons are clearly a weird family—that’s part of the appeal, especially when it comes to Diane—so why shouldn’t the show intentionally reflect that all the time? Keep it weird, Black-ish.

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Stray observations

  • I’m excited to see Regina Hall in future episodes as Vivian the “black nanny,” since I’m generally pretty excited to see Regina Hall in anything. (By the way, she’s also doing pretty well in a recurring role on Grandfathered right now.) Also, I just listened to her appearance on her buddy Anna Faris’ podcast the other day, and now I feel like the woman is full of so much wisdom.
  • Black-ish is the one show that understands me when it comes to the song “Oye Como Va.”
  • Dre forgetting Vivian’s name makes the fact that he just kept calling her “black nanny” even better. He wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, he just got in too deep and couldn’t possibly ask her name. That’s very Dre.
  • Lido and Stevens have very strong opinions on Trinidad versus Tobago and Turks versus Caicos. I think I love them.
  • Diane: “Wow. If I knew how, I’d cry.” Diane is officially on murder watch after this episode, right?
  • Bow (as Dre): “Bow, we gotta be down with our hood and look out for our own.” So weird. So great.
  • Diane: “Watch it, meatball head.” Monster.
  • Zoey’s motivation to go as negative in the campaign as she does isn’t really touched on at all, but it does lead to Vivian warning her that she’s going to get her ass kicked one day if she continues down that path, and that’s definitely worth it.
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