Black-ish returns from winter hiatus with a particularly helpful episode, especially for those of us who have vowed “less screen time” as a New Year’s resolution. The internet can be a gift and a curse, exposing us to the good, bad, and ugly of the world within a few clicks. As much as it brings people together, it can also keep us from interacting with the people right in front of us. In “Their Eyes Were Watching Screens,” Dre and Bow have to figure out a way to keep the convenience of the internet from corrupting the kids.
As the episode begins, the girls at Diane’s school were talking about sex, so she wants to know more about it. Zoey and Junior automatically suggest she Google it, and when she does, she clicks on an adult video. Luckily, Bow catches her just as the video starts — but Diane is so traumatized by the experience, she tosses her laptop and starts using Dre’s old encyclopedias and worrying about why no one is talking about the situation in East Germany. Bow and Dre worry that Diane’s exposure to porn will traumatize her, so they each ask their colleagues for advice.
Bow’s co-workers frighten her even more by rattling off statistics that kids Diane’s age are addicted to porn, while Dre’s reveal the different ways they accessed porn as children. Connor admits he and his brother used to watch the neighbor’s dogs having sex, then they'd throw a cat at them just before they finished. (Mr. Stevens brushed it off as “boys will be boys,” but if you listened carefully, you heard Charlie say, “Yeah, white boys.”) Meanwhile, there's a new woman in the office, Rachel (Diane Farr), who’s been sent to make sure the men stay on task and actually do work. When she hears the men discussing online porn, she mentions how HR called their office a ticking time bomb.
Dre: "Is this about the toxic racism?"
Rachel: "Not mentioned. Are you mentioning it now?"
Charlie: [nods his head vigorously, eyes wide]
Mr. Stevens and Connor: [lean in]
Dre (nervously): No.
This is such a great moment that highlights the way black people and other people of color often have to overlook blatant racism in order to keep their jobs, even when given the opportunity to report such inappropriate behavior. Sometimes the backlash can outweigh doing the right thing.
Once everyone realizes it’s Diane, not Zoey, who stumbled across the porn, they begin to take the matter more seriously. Charlie is concerned about what it means for Diane, the evil one, to have such unlimited access to the internet. She knows he has nowhere to hide. This callback to the feud between Charlie and Diane is hilarious, but I still wish we could learn more about what’s behind it.
Dre and Bow decide not to ask the kids about their internet habits, and instead, they sneak around, peeking behind doors to watch them. They see Junior watching beheadings; Jack is watching other people play video games; Zoey is taking sexy selfies in swimsuits; and Ruby is engaging in a naughty Skype session with her younger lover Davis. Dre and Bow confiscate all devices, but Zoey and Junior won’t give up without trying to get to the heart of the matter. Junior was watching CNN; the beheadings were a part of the news. Some guy named Marco had told Zoey she had a little booty, so instead of giving in to being body-shamed, she took selfies in her swimsuit to show how proud she is of her body. Do Dre and Bow want their kids to be uninformed and insecure just because they’re afraid of what’s on the internet? Junior says the internet offers him a place to talk about elves without being mocked, a point he proves when Dre calls him a nerd as an insult. The kids argue that the internet is a good source of information, not like those books from the 1950s that would suggest beating them as discipline.
Ruby points out that when she was raising Dre, explicit music videos gave her cause for concern. There’s always something that makes its way into our homes and we need to address the questions about it, not just the offending material. Dre and Bow — well, just Bow, really — talk to Diane about the questions she has about sex and let everyone have their devices back. They also decide to implement a no-phone zone at dinner and figure out ways of using technology for family time, like dance video games. Naturally, Diane’s glad to be over her fear of the internet because now she can get back to cyberbullying Charlie via a Twitter account that tweets as Charlie’s butt.
In its three seasons, Black-ish has done a great job of covering issues that affect all modern families. We go to the internet because we’re curious. Our curiosity sometimes leads us to incorrect information or inappropriate material, but that doesn’t mean we should ban the internet. It just means we should talk to each other to get proper information and find additional resources. “Their Eyes Were Watching Screens” argues as much, which makes it one of the best how-to-parent episodes of the season. It is well-balanced, showing both the dangers and benefits of our modern dilemmas: easy access to too much information. It is also a good reminder that while Diane might be the most, uh, advanced in certain parts of her thinking, she’s still a child a heart. Good job all around, Black-ish.