Black-ish consistently provides grinning acknowledgments of “okay, that was funny,” but when I actually laugh out loud, I’m always surprised. Not because the show isn’t funny. It is. Sometimes the jokes telegraph themselves a little too much, so when the unexpected ones catch me off guard, I find myself falling for Black-ish all over again.
Dre is feeling traumatized after a prostate exam. While whining to Bow and Pops about the experience, he discovers that Pops hasn’t been to the doctor since 1985 because he thinks two shots of Afrin a day is all he needs. In the opening voice-over, Dre alluded to reasons why black Americans largely distrust health-care providers, such as the Tuskegee Experiment, and Pops’s refusal to see a doctor speaks to that. Pops thinks he’s fine and uses his old-man strength to lift the twins like sacks of potatoes over his shoulders to prove he’s healthy. Grandma Ruby is back, after an unmentioned absence last week, and reminds Pops he not only has old-man strength, but old-man smell, old-man credit, and old-man balls. Pretending the kids are sacks of potatoes will prove to be the Chekhov’s gun of the episode.
Dre and Bow convince Pops to see a doctor. It turns out he has a clogged artery and needs an angioplasty, a routine surgical procedure to unblock the blood vessel. Despite repeatedly warning Dre not to freak out, he does just that, curling up on the couch to cry because he thinks his old, decrepit father is about to die. Dre then worries about how to say good night to Pops in case it’s his last time and tries to serenade him with Luther Vandross’s hit “Dance With My Father,” but Pops takes a swing at him. The punch barely lands, convincing Dre that Pops really is getting old and about to die.
The kids handle the news of Pops’s health much more calmly and with calculation. Junior researches balloon angioplasty online and becomes determined to record Pops for posterity. Zooey and Jack enter a competition to see who will get Pops’s stuff when he dies, and Diane becomes focused on power of attorney.
During breakfast the next day, after Grandma Ruby tries to force death on Pops via a heaping plate of bacon, Zooey and Jack secretly mark Pop’s possessions with stickers: pink for Zooey, blue for Jack. (I am reminded strongly of the 11th episode in season one of Frasier, "Death Becomes Him." Frasier convinces his father, Martin, to go see a doctor, after Martin keeps refusing to see one because he feels fine. The doctor dies unexpectedly, forcing Frasier to think of his own mortality. He later asks his father and his brother, Niles, to apply stickers to the objects they’d like left to them when he dies.)
It turns out that part of the reason Pops won’t turn down the death bacon Ruby offers is because he’s decided not to go through with the procedure. He received quite a few second opinions at the barber shop, including Charlie's, who advised him all he needs is cranberry juice because it cleanses the blood. Bow lets Pops know that cranberry juice is for urinary-tract infections and not heart issues. Pops doesn’t seem to care, as he’s laced his cranberry juice with gin.
At work, Dre tells his co-workers about his father’s reluctance to have the angioplasty, and Charlie offers his cranberry-juice prescriptive again. Dre shoots that down: “Cranberry juice doesn’t do anything!” And here is my first laugh-out-loud moment of the night. Charlie freezes in place, eyebrows arched in confused revelation, and says, “I gotta go make a phone call.” He slides out of frame, still frozen with a look of “oh no” on his face. It’s the best physical acting of the night.
Dre later interrupts his father watching Scandal to tell him he has to have the surgery. Pops doesn’t want to hear it and picks Jack up like a sack of potatoes to change the subject. Unfortunately, he becomes winded and clutches his heart, dropping Jack to the table. As Zooey hovers in the background trying to mark a wheezing Pops with one of her stickers, he agrees to have the procedure.
The next morning, as they prepare to head to the hospital, Pops asks Dre to go for a walk with him. Just as Dre worried he might be saying his last good night to his father, Pops, in his own way, is worried this might be his last walk with his son. The two share a mostly silent walk, Pops clearly struggling with how to deal with his emotions. But he finally speaks when he warns Dre not to step in dog poo. Dre smiles, understanding that was Pops way of showing love — always looking out for him, even in the smallest of ways.
In the hospital waiting room, Dre is nervous, fast-talking to an uncaring woman. A mother and child arrive, and my second round of out-loud laughter follows. The little boy’s balloon pops, startling Dre, who screams and begins crying, “Oh! My daddy’s dead!” We get the requisite black sitcom allusion when Dre exclaims, “Damn, damn, damn, James,” referencing Florida Evans’s outburst following the death of her husband, James, in Good Times.
Of course, Pops recovers well, and Dre ends up getting to dance with Pops, disguised as exercise to keep his heart healthy.
While everyone was obsessing over Pops’s health, Grandma Ruby was spoiling the kids, ignoring Bow’s rules about no sugary breakfasts, movies, or violent video games during a school week. When Diane gets sick from too many sweets, Ruby admits she’s a bad grandmother. Bow corrects her: “You’re a bad person, but you’re a fantastic grandma.” Grandparents overindulging their grandchildren is expected, but in an episode about mortality, the overindulgence also says, "Enjoy the time you have with your family, and do what you can to make them happy."
- “I’m sorry. I don’t speak little bitch.”
- “Hospitals are a young man’s game. Like hopscotch. Or erections.”
- “Death by pork. A warrior’s death.”
- Charlie reading YASSS! magazine in a meeting.
- Bow quoting decreasing survival rates for the angioplasty.
- Consistent, realistic portrayals of black women’s nightly hair-care routines.