Faizon Love as Sha, Anthony Anderson as Dre.
I wanted to like this episode a lot more than I did. It seemed more formulaic than usual, with Dre and Bow’s life lessons coming off a little too neatly. Regardless, Black-ish continues to weave the kids into the main story better than ever, and once again, we see how well these child actors have blossomed into their roles.
When Tony, one of Dre’s childhood friends dies, he decides to recommit himself to the rest of the crew: Sha, T-Will, Ronnie, and LaDarius. He feels bad that they’ve reunited at a funeral and vows to spend more time with them. At work, Dre and Charlie explain to Mr. Stevens, Josh, and Connor that a repast is what white people call a wake. Mr. Stevens responds, “You guys have to put rims on everything.” But Dre is feeling too good, having reconnected with old friends, to let the white guys’ daily dose of racism get him down. Charlie insists Dre become the Kevin Garnett of his crew. The former Celtics player had a large group of friends he looked after once he made it into the NBA. Now that Dre made it out of the hood and is the most successful, he should do the same for his boys.
The white men at work take turns expressing their incredulity. Mr. Stevens can’t believe there used to be a black Celtic and Josh can’t get over the idea that Dre is considered a success. Josh asks if Dre’s the one who got out, does that mean the high-school bleachers collapsed, killing everyone else? Charlie responds that did, in fact, happen to him … 50 years ago. I loved this callback to not knowing how old Charlie is, plus it took away a bit of the sting from the uncomfortable racist teasing Dre was getting. The white men wondering how Dre could be considered successful reminds me of that old Chris Rock joke about how his black neighbors are Mary J. Blige and Denzel Washington, some of the very best at their crafts. But one of his white neighbors is a dentist, who’s probably just competent at his job. It’s yet another reminder that black people have to be exceptional to get the same as white people.
Dre likes the idea of looking after his friends, so he invites them over to his house to watch the game. Every time one of them admires something he has, Dre gives it to them. He buys diapers for T-Will’s newborn daughters; pays for Ronnie to have a benign cyst removed and for his vasectomy (since Ronnie’s family is extremely prone to cancer, there’s no need to let those genes carry on); and after LaDarius’ shoddy contract work on Dre’s patio, Dre gets him an office job. Dre even invites Pops’ mother, Mabel (Marla Gibbs of The Jeffersons and 227), to the house in an attempt to save her from the hood. Unfortunately, all those good intentions fall apart when he thinks his friends aren’t being grateful enough.
As usual, Dre’s ego and pride get in the way. If Dre was truly coming from a good place and wanting to look out for his friends, he wouldn’t want them bending over backwards to show their gratitude. Dre constantly wants acknowledgment and recognition for his good deeds; it’s an immature aspect of his personality that he’ll probably never shake. Grandma Mabel doesn’t want to live with him. She loves her home, her friends, and the ATM where her money is. Dre took on the burden of being a savior without asking if anyone needed saving, and so it backfires. Of course, his friends gather one more time to let him know he doesn’t have to buy them stuff in order to look out for them, but they’ll happily take some parting gifts to seal the deal. Dre realizes the most important thing is to spend time with your loved ones while you can because tomorrow is not promised. It’s a very sweet and neat conclusion to the story.
While Dre battles his survivor’s remorse, as diagnosed by Junior who’s training to be a peer counselor at school, Bow is put out that the kids keep going to Ruby for things like pies for a bake sale. “It’s a bake sale, not a bake throw-away,” Ruby explains. When Diane needs a potato costume for Carbohydrates Day at school, Bow insists on making it. The costume consists largely of a garbage bag, which Diane is clearly uncomfortable in. Bow thinks the “imperfect simpleness of a homemade costume” is charming, but Junior can tell Diane thinks otherwise. Going into counselor mode, Junior tries to get Diane to express her real feelings about the costume. He knows kids can be mean and call each other horrible names, but Diane insists nothing can get to her. She’s not weak like the rest of the family. Junior whispers, “What did they call you? What did they call you, Diane?” Diane breaks down in tears: “Poo-tato.” She leans into Junior’s arms and he comforts her. It’s both hilarious and sweet. That’s two episodes in a row where Junior and Diane are paired up, and I really enjoy seeing them bond.
Meanwhile, Zoey reminds Bow that she doesn’t have to be everything in order to be everything to the family. Bow helps out with the really important stuff, so she doesn’t have to prove she can have it all. Zoey fears that “Poo-tato” might be the thing that pushes Diane into super-villain mode. Bow is touched by Zoey’s pep talk and agrees to stick to what she does best. Again, it’s another tidy resolution, but these moments between Bow and Zoey are precious nonetheless.
As Dre continues to cripple himself with his immaturity and frequent need for validation, the kids are becoming much more of the draw for Black-ish. Marcus Scribner as Junior has become one of my favorites. His timing and delivery has improved by leaps and bounds. It’s too bad Dre is still so mean to Junior. I wish the writers would let go of that. Every time Dre tried to shut down Junior’s clumsy attempts at helping him and his friends grieve, it was like watching someone kick a fawn learning to walk. Watching the child actors on Black-ish bloom helps overlook that uncomfortable dynamic. Let’s hope the show gives them even more room in the coming episodes.