Welcome to “Paths of Delusion,” Diane Johnson’s new documentary on the seedy underbelly of children’s sports, parents’ obsessions, and terrible game snacks. After February’s heavy (and great) episode about police brutality, Black-ish seamlessly returns with a lighter note: “Any Given Saturday” shows us how many life lessons Dre can still learn from his family.
Diane and Jack are tasked with creating biographies on each other for school, and while Jack creates an unflattering portrait of Diane with a thick layer of chips (and later, a rim of marshmallows) as the photo’s frame, Diane makes an incredibly detailed and yet scathing documentary about Jack’s journey to becoming a basketball player, which includes the rest of the family’s many, many antics along the way.
Most of the episode is shot as part of the documentary, which gave us the added bonus of Diane’s color commentary throughout. Take Diane’s opening line of the documentary for starters: “Sports. Who plays them? Who watches them? Who cares? Every weekend, millions of American families waste hours upon hours of their lives watching untalented children play games that don’t matter. And one of those kids who doesn’t matter is Jack Johnson.” Pure genius.
The story begins with Diane asking Dre one last question for her documentary: When did he lose his way? The answer to that question is complicated. We immediately get a flashback to two weeks prior, when Jack was already crushing on the basketball court in his rec league. But what’s more telling than Jack’s skills on the court is just how excited his parents get for his every move. Dre and Bow are the most vocal and physical in their displays of joy and anger during the game, and they believe they have every right as their kid is the star. Bow is especially happy her kid is talented as it means she doesn’t have to be the designated “snack mom.” See, there’s a “mom hierarchy” at these games, and currently she’s on top. “Sure we’re enthusiastic, but not like these parents who live vicariously through their kids,” Dre very incorrectly states.
The reason for Dre’s over-enthusiasm: In his eyes it’s because his children’s athletic abilities in the past have been muted thanks to “Bow’s white daddy,” and that Jack’s talent was untainted by the “Caucasian Curse.” And thanks to this talent, Dre states that the family has decided to support him as a family — meaning he and Bow decided for the family as Zoey quickly states to the camera. But Zoey has more important things to worry about, like trying to FaceTime with Derek and later talking to other boys who are much more interesting than Derek.
And Junior? Well that kid has his own documentary in the making: “The delusions of referee grandeur.” That’s right, as Jack has taken to basketball, Junior has taken to basketball refereeing. And in typical Junior fashion, he takes it much too seriously.
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After Dre learns that one of the kids in Jack’s rec league moved over to playing “travel ball” in Compton, a.k.a. a much more intense league, Dre and Bow decide that Jack needs to be at the same level. “The thing about being a bad parent is you end up working harder for being such a failure. But my dad doesn’t work harder. He just works louder,” Diane says as she reveals through some eavesdropping how Dre attempts to get Jack a spot in travel ball. After threatening to “end” quite a lot of people, Dre finally gets Jack that coveted spot by having his client State Farm sponsor a new team in the league: The Good Neighbors.
Unfortunately, Dre and the family quickly learn that Jack’s talent in rec league doesn’t necessarily translate as well in “big boy ball in the hood” as Bow so lovingly calls travel ball. For one, Janine’s son Caleb is in a travel ball league (as Janine had Caleb join for the “cross-cultural exchange”) and he’s clearly better than Jack. And Jack’s less than excellence on the court has relegated Bow to “snack mom” duties. Then of course there’s the obvious stars in the league like Jack’s teammate Adonis Culpepper, whose skills on the court and passion to find a way out of poverty for his family makes him a great subject for a real documentary, a future 30 for 30, perhaps?
But nothing is going to stop Dre from making Jack the best. He wakes Jack up at 5 a.m. for the makings of a good Rocky-style training montage that Diane doesn’t show. Instead she shows the montage that “Hollywood doesn’t have the courage to show,” the one about periphery characters, which includes more shots of Zoey FaceTiming with her man friends (including one who is actually a man at 19 but was held back as a junior twice for sports-related reasons), Junior ironing his socks and whistle thread, and Bow chopping tomatoes for her ill-advised game day snack: gazpacho. Seriously. Once the next game begins, however, Jack barely gets any time to play, and when he does, he is pushed to the ground over and over again until he requests a sub.
NEXT: Jack ain’t no quitter
We’re then transported back to the episode beginning with Diane’s question: When did Dre lose his way? Diane shows Dre a few of his choice parenting moments, and Dre is undeniably upset. All he wanted was for Jack to have fun and shine, but he’s clearly doing neither in his new league. Dre wants Jack to know that he can compete in life. He doesn’t want to raise Jack as a quitter. Ruby interjects that she did exactly that and it worked to Dre’s advantage. If Ruby hadn’t let Dre quit so many things as a child (including ballet apparently?), he never would have found his true talents. Bottom line is if Jack doesn’t want to play, he shouldn’t have to, Ruby says, and Bow is surprisingly on the same page.
When he talks to Jack to let him know it’s okay to quit, however, Jack tells him he wants to go back to Compton. “If I want to be the best, I have to play the best. I look at Adonis, and I want to be that kid. I’m gonna get better, and I’m gonna be one of those kids who deserves to be there,” Jack says. So while Dre may have been too into Jack’s basketball dreams for the wrong reasons, at least Jack’s head was still on his shoulders.
Diane ends her documentary with family updates:
1. Jack went on to score 2.9 points per game and still reads at a first-grade level.
2. Dre quit 15 more things since making this movie, including two diets and lunchtime walks.
3. Rainbow never brought snacks again and still believes gazpacho is the “king of soups.”
4. Zoey went back to Derek when she heard he had tickets to Kendrick Lamar.
5. Junior started rethinking his referee career after an unfortunate whistle-swallowing incident.
Seems about right.
QUOTES OF THE NIGHT
“My dynamic with my dad is one of the things that makes me so suited to be a ref. I’ve practically been training my whole life to have people who are loud and wrong yell at me. I’ve built up a callus.” —Junior
Junior: “Everybody thinks reffing is a joke. You put on these stripes and people look at your differently.”
Diane: “Like you work at Lady Foot Locker.”
“And that’s how huge life-altering decisions get made in our family — pride, nonsense, and petty jealousy.” —Diane
“He is my brother. Well, allegedly. There’s a chance I’m Rick Fox’s daughter. I’ll know for sure once I get some of his hair off the Internet.” —Zoey
“Not his fault. The boy’s the product of too much quinoa — whatever that is — and not enough wholesome, Lawry’s seasoned meats.” —Ruby’s reason for Junior’s weirdness
Zoey: “No one has any idea what I do. I mean, you have good grades, and you stay under the trouble radar. The guy, he’s 19. Nobody knows.”
Diane: “Dude’s in college.”
Zoey: “Nope. He’s a junior in high school. He’s a double holdback for sports. He could vote. Doesn’t, but could.”