Positive or negative? Yes or no? Church or…brunch? These are the choices the Johnsons are confronted with in tonight’s episode.
It all starts when Dre and Bow realize that they’re “no” people — which, more crucially for the kids, means they’re also “no” parents. They more often decline and/or reject all sorts of offers, from sleepovers to parties, by coming up with fake excuses, like a dead “Aunt Condoleezza.”
Yet that just-say-no policy is starting to hurt the twins’ social life, so they try becoming the house of yes. This leads to all sorts of unexpected results: parties, margaritas, and (gulp) church.
While at a birthday party for the (white) Cooper family’s kid, Dre and Bow are asked to join the family at church the next Sunday. Harmless enough, right? Not quite: At the Johnson house, Sundays have gotten a little less Biblical — like many the seventh day has become a busy one full of college prep, field sports, basketball practice, court-mandated therapy…and no church. As Dre puts it, the Johnsons have slipped into becoming “CEO churchgoers” — they see the pews on “Christmas and Easter only.” In your face (slash forehead), Ash Wednesday!
So, perhaps out of guilt, Dre thinks maybe it’d be good to get back into a church-going habit. Bow — who was raised by a liberal, hippie, multiple-goddess-worshipping, “naked church”-attending mother — is opposed at first but relents, deciding it’d be good for the kids. Besides, it was those very kids who begged the parents to get their yes-game on.
When their parents give them the news, 75 percent of them are utterly devastated. Their feelings can be best summed up by Zoey’s protest cry: “We just went six months ago!”
Yet a quarter of the children are more enthusiastic — and that 25 percent represents, of course, Junior, who can always be counted upon to go against the grain of his generational peers. He, for one, is eager to wear his Easter suit one more time “before it gets too small. I’m growing like a weed.”
Also: Grandma Ruby has an opinion, too! She’s skeptical of all this. She particularly resents that, after avoiding going to her church with for years, Dre’s faith is suddenly resurrected just because some pale-skinned people suggested it. “Now white folks call, and here you come!” she laments.
And it gets worse for Ruby: In the midst of this impromptu religious-ish debate, it’s soon revealed that Dre and Bow never got around to getting the kids baptized. This is just too much for Ruby. She warns the small children that when they die, they’re destined to go somewhere worse than hell. “I’m going to get helmets for these babies’ heads,” she declares.
The twins each interpret this prophetic omen differently. Jack is instilled with the fear of God (or at least grandma) and decides it’s best to stay on the nice list. The reliably naughty Diane, on the other hand, reasons that if she’s already doomed, she may as well go hard. She starts eating all the cupcakes.
Yet for most of the family, any doubts about church are reversed once they join the Coopers at their suburban (and largely white-ish) Sunday services. Everyone is pleasant! There’s a band! The band is wearing fashion hats! And playing “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”! And the reverend speaks in relatable everyday metaphors!
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Needless to say, Dre and Bow are smitten. Jack is obedient. The daughters are less thrilled, but they’re surviving. And Junior is thriving. “This could be our spot!” Dre marvels. “Tight 45-minute service? The rev got us out in time to beat the Methodists to brunch?!” The Coopers love it all, too — and invite the Johnsons back for a second week. Everyone is happy!
Until Dre gets back to
the writers’ room the ad agency where he works. “You’re not getting churchy on me, are you?” asks his boss Mr. Stevens. He views church-going as a slippery slope, where one-too-many visits can quickly translate into a destructive habit. “The same way you sleep with a woman for the third time, she becomes your mistress,” he warns. “The next thing you know, you’ve bought her an apartment on the Wilshire Corridor.”
Things continue trending downward on the family’s second Sunday. There’s… a band. The band is wearing…fashion hats. And playing…“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”. And the reverend…speaks in relatable everyday metaphors. “It’s like the second night in Vegas,” Dre determines. “We’ve already played blackjack, ate the steak dinner, and paid extra for the poncho at the Blue Man Group show. We’ve got to go now.”
NEXT: Junior joins the band [pagebreak]
But there’s a twist: Junior has joined the band onstage. He’s gone rogue, and now the whole family is stuck in this vanilla house of worship.
After the fashion-hat band finishes, the Johnsons give the Coopers what they think will be their out: “the race card.” As a black family, they’d much rather go to their black church, what with its black cultural practices and all. The Coopers fully understand — so much so that they offer to join the Johnsons at their (fictitious) black church next week. Christians: literally too nice! So, as is the tradition of the episode, the Johnsons say yes.
At this point, Dre has only one card left up his sleeve: his mom, who regularly attends a non-fictitious black church. Ruby turns out to be less flattered than put upon by her son’s request (forgiveness isn’t her strongest suit), but she ultimately lets him play out his ruse and bring the “snowflakes” to the Downtown Baptist Church. “Black Jesus doesn’t see color,” she explains. Just so long as he pretends to have been in the military fighting the Taliban for the last however-many-years. Yay, hypocrisy!
But it doesn’t take long for Dre and Bow to realize they’re just not cut out for their mother’s black church; they max out somewhere between the third and sixth uplifting choral sing-along. The whole charade backfires when it turns out that the Coopers seem to love it. Their devotion even remains steadfast when Ruby goes up to the pulpit to address some key community concerns among the flock: stolen hearing aids, pneumonia, cancer, more cancer. “Is anybody okay at this church?!” Dre wonders.
Overall, the whole shebang lasts some four hours and 57 minutes (but who’s counting). Dre and Bow basically leap out of their seats at the end, racing to the exit the way one might after the third quarter of an Oakland Raiders game. Not before the Coopers pull them aside, though: Turns out, they didn’t love The Black Church Marathon Experience either. In other words — the Johnsons have successfully escaped church duty! Hallelujah!
Of course, this is a family-friendly sitcom airing on a broadcast network, so the conclusion is a bit more nuanced than that. After sleeping in the next Sunday, they realize they might have caught the church bug. “It’s just such a nice feeling, being connected to something bigger than yourself,” Bow says. They agree to not give it up. “It took us three months to find the right mattress,” Bow continues. “It’s okay if it takes more than a minute to find the right church.”
Meanwhile, Ruby baptizes the twins in the swimming pool. Amen!
Bow: Jack is waist-deep in the pool, and he’s got that look in his eyes….
Dre: Look, I know it doesn’t matter to you because you were raised by a godless hippie.
Bow: Correction: She believed in many goddess and the healing power of tree nuts.
Ruby: Oh, really — are you the expert? Late-in-life Christian? Ex-snake charmer?
Bow: It was just once…
Bow: Ruby! I think you’re being a little dramatic.
Ruby [dramatically]: I have never been dramatic a day in my life. Not ever ever ever ever ever ever E-V-E-R!
Jack: I don’t want to go to a place worse than hell — I’ve already been to a WNBA game!
Diane: If we’re damned if do and damned if we don’t, I say we do.
Jack: I say we don’t! Put your helmet on! Why are you tempting fate? We live in earthquake country!
Junior: That whole thing about exiting the dark hall and finding the bright path — where’d you get that from?
Reverend: Uh, I was telling people where the bathrooms are.
Zoey: Do Presbyterians not believe in cell service?
Jack: God is everywhere! Except WNBA games. Nobody goes to those.
Bow: Is it crazy that this is one of the best Sundays I’ve had in a while? I mean, ever since Jack made me give up those WNBA tickets.
Dre: With two kids, I could’ve kept that PT Cruiser.
Bow: That’s a good argument for four kids.
Mr. Stevens: Whoa, whoa — stop being so self-hating.
Lucy: It’s okay… We call ourselves Jews.
Mr. Stevens: Not in this office, you don’t, little lady!
Lucy: As a practicing Jew…
Mr. Stevens: You take your hateful mouth to HR right now!
Mr. Cooper: Wow…six songs!
Bow: Each one more uplifting than the last.
Diane: My hands are raw!