As Dre says in the opening narration of tonight’s episode, communities need to look out for each other in times of struggle. Black-ish wants to emphasize the importance of a person’s past, and explore why we should help out those who helped us.
Enter Dre’s childhood friend Sha (Faizon Love), who’s currently sleeping on his couch 18 hours a day. Sha is an artist with questionable hygiene and eating habits. His presence frustrates Bow and the kids, but Dre remains firm in his decision to support Sha with whatever help he needs. Dre explains that Sha once took a bullet for him, causing Diane to perk up with interest. After learning it was a pellet fired from a BB gun, Diane is unimpressed. This kid!
Dre refuses to kick Sha out, though, and drops the moral of the episode: “You’re supposed to take care of your own.”
At work, Mr. Stevens has his collar popped and his jeans skinny, ready for his business partner Phillip Lido to arrive. The two pulled up their bootstraps and founded the company together — using $5 million of their fathers’ money. Unfortunately, Lido’s ex-wife Daphne (Wanda Sykes) got the company in their divorce, and she wants to shake things up by firing Charlie.
While the kids slowly pick up Sha’s habits, Dre tries to figure out how to save Charlie from getting the ax. Daphne doesn’t just want Charlie gone, though, she wants Dre to fire him. She wants to show that she isn’t the kind of black person who is afraid to fire other black people, a direct contrast to Dre’s mantra to look out for your own.
It’s important to note that looking out for your own can mean many things. After all, we all belong to multiple communities that frequently intersect. When you’re one of very few black people in a workplace, though, that loyalty can become more focused — especially when you don’t have any other support. On the other hand, people like Daphne want to show there is no favoritism because of shared experiences. Black-ish often does a great job showing the intricacies of being a minority in the workplace, and “Man at Work” was no exception. As Dre learns, looking out for your people while trying to remain impartial can be a delicate act.
Dre warns Charlie about the threat to his job, so Charlie tries to be more professional. After he displays some homonym confusion between PETA and pita, however, Daphne is even more convinced that he should go. Dre eventually proves that Charlie is good at his job; he boasts the company’s highest account-retention rate. Daphne agrees to keep him, but he’s already found another place to work. He didn’t feel valued, so he decided to leave.
Although Black-ish doesn’t explicitly say this, the possibility of firing Charlie speaks to the practice of terminating employees of color because they’re not a “culture fit.” Charlie was an unpredictable goof-off, but it speaks to his professional skills that he was able to find a better-paying job so quickly. It’s hard to imagine Dre’s workplace without Charlie, especially after all the good moments with him this season.
Deon Cole has been excellent as Charlie. His physical comedy doesn’t consist of pratfalls or stereotypically neurotic spasms, and he makes great use of furrowed brows and frozen facial expressions. He is a treat to watch, even when he doesn’t have any lines. Charlie promises Dre he’ll check in on him from time to time. I really hope we get to see him again, if only to see more of his rivalry with Diane. As the two men say goodbye, Charlie gives Dre back his own words: “We watch out for our own.”
To finish out Sha’s tepid story line: He ends up getting a MoCA residency, so he leaves the house after thanking Dre for always looking out for him. Bow snaps the kids out of their starving-artist fantasies, but it’s clear that Jack has been affected by Sha’s stay. Maybe, one day, we’ll see his dream of a LeBron James hip-hop era come true.