black-ish is good-ish. That’s the problem with this promising sitcom from Kenya Barris (The Game), which pokes fun at the idea that Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) and his family might lose their culture as African-Americans if they try to fit in with their white neighbors: It’s funny, but it’s not revolutionary. Granted, it’s just a comedy—it shouldn’t have to be revolutionary—but when you give your show a big-umbrella title that speaks to racial identity in 2014, you’re setting up high expectations. So maybe it’s inevitable that black-ish skews too broad. Barris lays out his thesis too obviously with Andre’s episode 1 voice-over: ”Sometimes I worry that, in an effort to make it, black folks have dropped a bit of their culture and the rest of the world has picked it up,” he says, as though network execs suggested that he spell it all out for a white audience. And some jokes feel too easy, since they assume that black kids don’t play field hockey or eat yogurt.
Luckily, Barris has plenty of smart things to say about being successful and black. He’s particularly sharp on matters of institutional racism, as when Andre gets angry that his white boss promoted him to the head of the company’s ”urban division.” Of course, Andre’s wife (Tracee Ellis Ross) points out that he’d be angrier if a white guy had gotten the job. Ross and Anderson have great chemistry, and Barris clearly has stories to tell about African-American families that network TV needs to showcase. The hope is that once Andre can speak as a fully fleshed-out character, not a spokesperson for black-ish men, we won’t need a voice-over to tell us how he feels. B