I spent the majority of this week’s Black-ish episode, “Chop Shop,” wondering why the show was doing another barber shop episode so soon after doing one in its first season. Eventually, I realized it was not a Black-ish episode that I was thinking of in the first place… so I then spent the rest of the episode wondering what show and episode of television I could possibly be thinking of. After realizing that Google would only provide me with answers like Barbershop (the TV Series), House Of Payne, and Cuts (a show of which I had seen every episode, by the way), I was able to come to the conclusion that I was thinking of an episode of The Bernie Mac Show from 2004 (season three’s “Hair Jordan”). That was an episode that, much like Black-ish’s “Chop Shop,” focused on the sanctity of the barber shop; only in that case, it was the child (Jordan), who missed the point of it all, with the “father” (Bernie Mac) being the one to talk some sense into him. Here, of course, Junior is the one to talk sense to Dre, and he somehow does it with the help of Pootie Tang.
In other news, “Chop Shop” is far from the best episode of Black-ish. And it’s not just because Dre is in full-on season one Dre mode here.
“Chop Shop” is an episode with plenty of funny lines and sometimes even funnier visuals, but the stories it tells sadly don’t add up to fully convey that funniness. It’s actually a bit disappointing, because the introduction into the entire A-plot comes from Dre’s history lesson on black people and their hair. I’ve brought it up before how, but for all of Black-ish’s teachable moments about black culture, it often keeps it’s blackest aspects as subtle, every day moments in the lives of the Johnson’s family. The biggest example of that is when it comes to the women’s hair; in “Dr. Hell No,” there were two back-to-back scenes of the Johnson women preparing their hair for bed, without even a moment of feeling a need to address it.
But Black-ish is obviously a show that can and obviously will address the cultural hair situation. In this episode, it just so happens to do so from the male perspective. Though, as many people know, the barber shop experience isn’t exactly about the hair part of it all. In fact, the hair aspect in this episode really just leads to the sight gag of Dre’s hairline getting progressively worse and his assortment of hats on a scene-to-scene basis.
The hair aspect being such a small portion of the episode really changes the complexion of the episode. Because despite it not factoring into the lesson learned by Dre at the end the episode—when he has the full Dennis Haysbert cut, a pretty specific black reference point—it is pretty ridiculous for the episode not to address the fact that Dre’s barber, T. Jackson, is an absolute mess of a barber now. That’s not a cry for this to be a Very Special Episode of Black-ish—though Black-ish has proven it can handle that—but it is an oddly unanswered question. See, when Smoke messes up Junior’s hair during a fight at the barber shop, the show makes it very clear that the bad hair is purely because of said fight. But T. Jackson isn’t having a fight every time he ruins Dre’s hair. Then again, the whole premise is flimsy when you think about how he didn’t mess up little Jack’s hair.
The lack of an emotional beat from T. Jackson’s diminishing skills aside, the episode doesn’t even stick the landing when it finally does come to the lesson part of things. Those are actually the most superficial parts of the episode, and that’s when there actually are lessons. Ruby wins in her non-competition competition with Ruby (though we all lose for not seeing the Johnson family as the cast of Empire), Junior plays a girl due to barber shop advice (which surpasses the tag of “The Nod” as the most “Is misogyny supposedly a part of black culture?” moment of Black-ish), and… That’s about it.
The episode wants to do so much without actually doing much of anything. Just look at the B-plot, with the family Christmas card. Is this the Christmas episode of Black-ish? Because if so, it’s a big step down from last year’s “Black Santa/White Christmas.” If not, it’s a plot that could have easily taken over an entire episode but is instead too condensed to fully work. You have a stressed out, mostly passive Bow; there’s the kids’ attempts to be elegant (and Zoey’s near death experience); Junior is completely absent from something that would technically concern him; Ruby finds elegance in marble, animal print, mahogany, and Coach bags. Stressed out Bow is honestly more like resigned Bow, because the only time she has to react to anything is when she nips the Empire shoot (which is beautiful while it lasts) in the bud. Sadly, her stress is far less shown to us as it is told.
The episode momentarily going into the history of black hair and the dynamics of barber shop culture is so very much Black-ish that the fact that it downshifts quality-wise is so disappointing. As I said before, there’s an amusement in Dre’s hat changes, but it’s not laugh out loud-worthy, and Junior’s reaction to living in a post-Smoke haircut world is honestly more obnoxious than anything else. Until that Pootie Tang line, of course. The standard conference room scene with Dre and his co-workers is obviously a highlight and a nice retreat from the rest of the episode. In fact, that scene is very much as honest interpretation as it possibly can be of white people not understanding the culture of black hair. If I can generalize just a bit, it even highlights how little white people can think about black hair unless it’s to ask to touch it or if it’s to “steal” a hairstyle. But then again, there shouldn’t be a need for a retreat within an episode of Black-ish, now should there? Season two of Black-ish is still extremely strong overall, but it’s not perfect, and “Chop Shop” is right there on that “not perfect” line. But at least there are some funny moments in the episode. It’ll be time to worry when there are no more funny moments.
- I want to thank Kevin Johnson again for filling in for me last week. I’m still upset I didn’t get a chance to witness Charlie’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel?)” meets Nancy Meyers adventure live. But I’m even more upset I didn’t get to write about Amber Rose’s “acting choices.”
- By the way, Black-ish showrunner Kenya Barris is the writer of the upcoming Barbershop 3, and I can only assume that movie will have more fleshed out plots.
- I’m sure I’ve recommended it before, but another current show that’s great about the black experience—and from a different perspective—is Survivor’s Remorse. As for The Carmichael Show, I know I’ve definitely recommended it before.
- Speaking of Survivor’s Remorse, I’ve seen every episode of that show, You’re The Worst, and Black-ish, and I still can’t believe DeShauwn May, Honey Nutz, and Curtis are all played by the same actor. Allen Maldonado is pretty great.
- My note on Diane calling herself “quirky”? “GURKEL.”
- Mr. Stevens: “Okay, that is dumb. Lucy, how often do you cut my hair? Oh, everybody—Lucy cuts my hair.”
Lucy: “Yeah. I have a pair of scissors thisclose to his jugular every six to eight weeks.” The face she makes is so beautiful.
- Junior: “Is it cool if I start listening to The Fray?”
Dre: “The who?” And the answer is no, Junior.
- Upon Zoey’s elegance tutorial, I found myself wondering if “Chop Shop” took place in the ‘90s. Luckily she had a horrendous fall with glass everywhere to make it better.
- I asked myself why Bow couldn’t be Anika instead of Rhonda in the Empire #ELEGANCE card, but I gave into the idea that Ruby would want to make sure Bow knows how low she is to the ground, even before the mock-up. Plus, Bow was wearing a Beach Boys t-shirt when Ruby branded her Rhonda, so she kind of deserved it. Then I came back around and realized that Bow is totally Anika, both in the biracial sense of things and the fact that she tried to keep Lucious (Dre) away from Cookie (Ruby). Then I remembered that Ruby describes Lucious’ character as a “dreamer,” and I can’t listen to another thing Ruby ever says.
- It pains me to confess this, but there was a time in my life that quoting Pootie Tang was slightly a major thing within my family’s home. “Sa da tay.”