Well, hey! Black-ish reviews are back! This season has had some great episodes in ”40 Acres And A Vote,” “God” and “The Purge,” but “Jack Of All Trades” is Black-ish at peak performance. The episode swiftly dives into intersectional issues of class with Jack while delivering one of the best Diane plots of the season. At a time when things feel so uncertain and hopeless, Black-ish delivered an episode that made it feel ok to laugh again. The show’s cast doesn’t often get a chance to shine as an ensemble, but “Jack Of All Trades” is packed with great cast moments between Rainbow, Dre, Pops and Ruby.
The premise of the episode is simple––Rainbow and Dre are worried when Jack takes a career exam and is categorized for a blue collar job. Pops and Ruby obviously encourage this development and see no shame in manual labor (despite their own difficulties in the workforce). Rainbow and Dre worry that he won’t live up to his potential and do better in life than them. It’s an honest, hilarious portrayal of an issue many newly rich or affluent black families face and it’s often met with blatant, unfair classism. That’s on display here as Rainbow throws a hammer out of Jack’s hand and says she’d even settle for him being a psychologist in disgust. At the same time, the episode uses a classic boardroom scene to make it clear that Jack does face different circumstances as a black kid and Rainbow and Dre have a right to be concerned. Despite the fact that his parents are successful, to white people who already expect little of him, a blue collar job would be enough to land Jack on the cover of Jet.
The episode also highlights the absurdity of treating white collar jobs as inherently better than blue collar jobs. When Dre brings Jack into work, he and his coworkers play video games and eat popcorn, but it’s a janitor who comes in to save the day when a pipe bursts. Dre can champion research and creativity, but in the end, Pops raises a great point in their conversation––he didn’t see his son dressing up dogs for a living and selling out when there’s nothing wrong with using your hands to build something. Ruby and Pops come from a generation that could only focus on work and survival; they didn’t care if Dre was doing what made him happy. Rainbow and Dre realize that Jack does have that privilege. No matter what he does, he’ll be happy and provided for.
While the episode never denies this is possible because of the Johnson’s wealth, they make it clear that such affluence is one of the few ways black kids have to escape the stereotypes of what black success looks like. During the final moments of Rainbow and Dre’s talk, they beam at Jack as he dances and makes a snack. Jack is full of black boy joy and free to choose his own future. It’s a touching moment and Black-ish gives it the weight it deserves. It has been difficult to smile since the election, but there’s something about seeing Jack’s carefree blackness that made everything feel just the tiniest bit better.
“Jack Of All Trades” also works because it balances this more serious storyline with Ruby’s belief that Diane is possessed by the devil. Usually, I find Ruby’s overly religious antics to be distracting or over the top, but Diane can ground pretty much any storyline she’s given. As soon as Diane walked through the door and mentioned she was going to be “in a position of power in a political organization,” I was on board. Rainbow’s terrified expression after Pops said Diane was standing behind her was amazing. The school principal’s fear of Diane and assumption that she was the topic of discussion was also great. If the complement to Jack’s black boy joy is Diane’s black girl power, I’ll take it because I love seeing it displayed unapologetically.
While the resolution of Diane’s storyline––she closes her eyes, makes the lights flicker and scares her family––felt too cartoonish, I always love when Junior and Zoey come together for a prank. The shot of Junior throwing the dead bird at the door was hilarious, but I wish they’d been given more to do this episode. I don’t think either one of them would’ve crowded Jack’s storyline by being involved a bit more, but I did enjoy seeing more of Dre’s office. Nelson Franklin has been an excellent edition to that environment and, obviously, Charlie is still the best thing that ever happened to this show. This has been a stellar season of Black-ish so far and “Jack Of All Trades” only continues that pace.
- “The teachers are scared.” Oh, Diane. Please be my terrifying best friend.
- “I killed a burglar when I was 9.”
“Oh my god, so did I!”
- The entire “Good People” conversation and Charlie’s balled fists was another great moment of social commentary. This show can do so much to address the subjugation of the “docile” working class in such a small amount of time.
- “I’m gonna unball one of my fist. Keep one in the chamber.” Always keep one in the chamber, Charlie.
- “Look at me, I’m a handworker”
“Is that a hammer?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know what they do.”
- “He was a backbreaker. No one listens to me around here.”
- I loved Jack asking for a spanking instead of learning Latin. Agricola!
- “You know they hate you, right?”
”I never knew how much until right now.”
- It feels so good to be talking about this show again! It’s one of the few shows that has so many laugh lines, it’s all I can include in the Stray Observations.
- After this season’s election episode, I am sure that Dre needs to be held right now and is probably making an Obama slideshow to Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee” right now–– “Can you tell me how to get things back the way they used to be?”