Nat Faxson (left), Anthony Anderson

This week’s episode of Black-ish continues a conversation on wealth and class that’s been building since “Black Nanny” earlier this season. While that episode focused on the income inequality between Dre and Vivian (the aforementioned “black nanny”) and Dre’s guilt over his new found wealth, this week’s episode pivots its focus to the uneasy “newness” of that wealth. With Nat Faxon guest-starring, the show easily could’ve just focused on the laughs in this exploration of new money versus old money; instead the episode tries to take a look at the privileges, fears, and consequences associated with parenting at different income levels. In the A plot, Dre worries that Junior will outgrow him now that he’s made new, rich friends. In the B plot, Vivian convinces Rainbow to take a more stern approach with the kids before their deceitful behavior escalates to more serious crimes.

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These two stories generally work to highlight the various insecurities and challenges that parents face when their children start to understand the importance of family finances. At the upper income level, we see the insanely rich, dinner-with-Obama-having Faxon as the parent of Junior’s friend. On the other end of the spectrum, we have both Vivian and Dre’s own background. In the middle, there’s Rainbow, who just wants to know who broke her damn glassware.

The episode falls flat where it trades in jokes for sentimentality. Despite having Nat Faxon, Regina Hall and a returned Charlie (Charlie!!) on the bench, they’re barely put to use as Dre and Junior’s relationship takes center stage. This is where the episode starts to get interesting. The Johnsons are a rich family and in the world of television any financial difficulties they might face are glossed over. Dre and Rainbow can provide for their kids, send them to the best schools while still buying expensive shoes and maintaining their lifestyle. This, however, isn’t always the case for the black families Black-ish usually tries to capture, so it’s refreshing to see this stability questioned. When Dre learns that Junior’s friends “chopper to Pebble” for golf tournaments, he starts to realize he can’t provide his kids with everything. Even worse, he may even be an embarrassment to them.

Dre thinks back to the feelings of shame he had about his own upbringing and for a moment it’s clear why he’s so afraid of Junior surpassing him—he actually has the opportunity to do it. Thanks to Dre and Rainbow’s work, Junior is in a place where he too could some day use a saber-toothed tiger’s skull as a candy bowl or own a private jet like his wealthy friends. Dre isn’t just afraid that Junior will get too cool and use slang he doesn’t understand, he realizes Junior may get too rich for him to understand.

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While it’s easy to see why Dre feel so insecure about Junior’s new friends, their final moment of reconciliation doesn’t feel earned since, well, Junior has never been cool before. His rich friends don’t feel like a legitimate threat to Junior’s view of Dre or his social status. They’re simply tools to drive home the “message of the week.” At the end of the episode, after Dre makes a grave mistake at the wealthy friend’s house and rushes Junior home, he simply declares “We can’t ever go back there” and it’s clear Junior will just go back to being Junior by next week. It’s a shame because this episode barely scratches the surface of an interesting topic and finally gives Marcus Scribner’s Junior some much-needed attention. I’d also be happy to see this story expand a little more if it means we get another week of Nat Faxon and Dre squirming to make up stories about his family’s “old, black, dusty Aunt Jemima” money.

Rainbow and the other kids don’t hit this level of sentimentality and their plot definitely carries the weight of the episode’s humor because of it. It’s interesting to see Vivian and Rainbow’s different approaches to mothering caused by their different class upbringings. Vivian’s lower-income background causes her to see Jack, Diane, and Zoey’s ability to carelessly break expensive items and lie about it as an offense that will lead to stealing and murder. Those are the consequences she understands without the privilege that comes from the wealth the Johnson’s have. Her brother lied, stole, and ended up in prison.

Rainbow, on the other hand, recognizes that her kids may lie, but they’re hardly the masterminds they think they are. She provides a quick, hilarious Sherlock-style breakdown of the crime scene (a broken glass in the kitchen) and makes it clear that, while her kids may try to scheme her, she’s one step ahead of them. However, it’s unlikely the Johnson kids will ever face the same consequences as Thelonious, Vivian’s imprisoned brother—at least not when their crimes mostly consist of broken china and their punishment is revoked Kanye West tickets. In the end, Dre’s boss sums it up perfectly when he says “Wealthy lives matter most”—including the Johnsons’.

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Stray observations

  • Hi! You may have noticed that I’m not LaToya Ferguson! I’m filling in for her this week and I’m so thankful she let me drop in on one of my favorite shows.
  • CHARLIE! Last week’s episode kept the secret of Charlie’s return until the tag, this week we only get one brilliant scene where he makes the case for Richard Pryor’s The Toy being a documentary. Personally, I’m now a #ToyTruther. Hopefully, we get an episode with him and some of that vengeance Diane has pent up soon.
  • Another successful advice roundtable at Dre’s office. I thought I’d get tired of these, but it turns out I will always love hearing rich people guess insanely high prices for groceries. Whether it’s Jack Donaghy estimating milk at $90 a gallon or Dre’s boss insisting bread is $125.
  • A list of things insanely wealthy people have: dinner with Barack Obama, nickname privileges with Barack “Barry” Obama, shoe-free verandas, saber-toothed tiger skull candy bowls, the second Lego movie (before it’s even out), pool parties with Steven Spielberg’s dog Jaws, a kitchen that can prepare Chicago deep dish pizza (north or south side style) and a sushi-themed Thanksgiving dinner at a moment’s notice
  • It’s always a joy to see Nat Faxon, but he’s sadly underused here. Oh well, every TV appearance he has makes up for at least 2 minutes of Ben and Kate we never got to see.
  • Rainbow: “Is there anything you love?”
    Diane: “Revenge”
    Why, yes, I would watch a reboot of Revenge starring Diane as she schemes against wealthy private school moms.

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