Christmas is the time of family, togetherness, and giving. For the Johnson kids on Wednesday night’s episode of Black-ish, “giving” is definitely the most important word, as they fight for their parents to give them as many presents as possible. Like many of Black-ish’s holiday episodes, “Stuff” introduces us to yet another facet of the Johnson family — while reminding us of the facets that never change. Once again, Dre goes above and beyond during the holidays, and the kids try to take advantage of their parents in hilarious situations.
The setup for the episode is a good one. Dre begins by narrating how much he and his family love “stuff” at Christmas. In fact, he likens the whole tradition of opening presents to a “competitive eating contest.” But when Pops witnesses Dre literally falling on top of piles and piles of presents under the Johnson family Christmas tree, he tells Dre that once again, he’s overdone it. It takes quite a bit of lecturing, a thumbs up from Bow, and a revelation that Junior traded his previous gift of a skateboard for a pizza before Pops finally persuades Dre that it’s time to experience “old school” Christmas a tradition Pops grew up with and forced on Dre as a child as well. Unfortunately for the kids, “old school” means finding the spirit of the holidays and taking less — by only getting one present for Christmas. Though thankfully, Dre would never give the kids a jar of pickles as a gift, unlike his own father. (“Boy, you know you love pickles!”)
Bow takes the whole idea of taking less to the next level by telling the family that she will be volunteering this year, an idea that the rest of the grownups immediately shut down. It’s quite possibly the only true annoying moment of the episode, as it shows how little respect Bow gets from Pops, Ruby, and even, at times, Dre. Even Dre’s co-workers don’t understand Bow’s plan when she visits Dre for lunch at work and explains that she’s been volunteering
Of course, the kids are not planning on taking any of this lying down. They decide to trick their parents and grandparents into caving and getting them more presents. Diane convinces Jack and Zoey to be kinder, while she will be more helpful. As for Junior, she wants him to just stay out of the way and disappear. “Less of you is more,” Zoey agrees.
Dre feels confident about his one-gift decision, but Daphne and his co-workers call him a “cheap bastard,” and tell him that stuff makes the world go ’round, especially in their line of work as ad men and women. When Dre tries to argue that he is beginning a new tradition, Daphne launches into a sad story about how Phillip took all of their traditions in the divorce. The discomfort could not be more real, and Dre tries to break it by inviting Daphne over for Christmas dinner. The idea doesn’t take right away, but obviously it happens eventually, after Bow’s visit makes Daphne reminisce once more about family and consider the fact that she’ll be eating a 25-pound turkey alone this year.
Meanwhile, the kids begin their plan to get their parents to cave on their one-gift rule, but right as Dre and Bow start to reconsider the idea, Pops reveals the kids’ deception. Fortunately for the kids, their “sad, one-gift lists” are more of a reason to reconsider the plan than their trickery is, as Bow and Dre both worry that their new tradition will lead to disappointment. Dre experienced enough of that as a child.
So, inevitably, Dre and Bow cave — but they tell the kids that their normal Christmas, filled with presents, will have to be a secret from Pops and Ruby. The only thing the Johnsons have to do first before enjoying their normal tradition is to sit through Pops’ traditional, “old school” Christmas dinner: Takeout from Church’s Chicken. Dre can no longer contain his annoyance with Pops and confronts him about why he is making the family go through all of the “old school” traditions he hated as a kid.
“This is what you had. You turned out all right,” Pops says. But Dre fires back, “I turned out all right in spite of all this.”
NEXT: “Old-school” Christmas meets “new-school” Christmas
Dre decides that enough is enough and that his family will continue doing things their way, with a stuff-filled Christmas. Of course, things go horribly wrong as Dre realize that Pops was right and his kids are still completely selfish about the “stuff” they received. From Zoey’s disappointment at iPhone 6 (she wanted a 6S) to Diane’s frustration at receiving less presents than Jack — who is annoyed that he got a goldfish (“a daily chore that ends in heartbreak!”) — Dre can’t believe how ungrateful his kids are being. After he gave up his own traditions and turned his back on the way his father raised him to give the kids what he thought they wanted, he expected better.
Heading back downstairs, Dre tells his father that he regrets his decisions and that the downfall of both “old school” Christmas and “secret” Christmas rests on his own shoulders. The next morning, Daphne arrives for Christmas celebrations and finds that Dre is gone, there is no Christmas meal, and the kids don’t have any presents because Dre threw them all out while they were sleeping. Oh, and Ruby has made a cake and is singing, “Happy Birthday, Black Jesus.”
Dre and Pops sit down together, and Pops tells Dre that he hates Church’s Chicken and only used to buy it for Christmas dinner and talk it up so much because it was all he could afford while working a minimum wage job. Pops explains to Dre that “old school” Christmas may have been a bit overboard, but “new school” Christmas isn’t working, either. Pops finally gives Dre the present he always wanted as a child: a pair of new Rydell skates (though I was kind of hoping for more pickles. Seriously, Dre loves pickles). The happiness on Dre’s face makes the kids finally apologize to him for being such monsters and not appreciating all he does for them.
But things don’t end on a sentimental note — this is Black-ish, after all. We leave the Johnsons as Dre attempts to skate with his new Rydells. Things go hilariously wrong, and the kids leave him in favor of Ruby’s cake. That’s the kind of Black-ish Christmas we expect and love.