Even with a very good lesson about the racial biases of the judicial process, “One Angry Man” feels a bit like filler — and that’s okay. After Black-ish gave us such strong episodes in “Lemons,” “Good Dre Hunting,” and “The Name Game,” there’s nothing wrong with a little coasting in the middle of a long season.
Despite Dre’s insistence that jury duty is part of the price we pay to live in America, he fully intends to ignore his summons — until Junior tapes it back together and submits it online. Junior recently watched a documentary that exposed the biases of the criminal justice system: Public defenders frequently only have seven minutes to prepare a case before going to trial, while 97 percent of defendants take a plea deal to avoid going to trial because it’s rarely a jury of their peers and they think they’ll be better off. Of course, Dre doesn’t want to hear any of that, so he punches through Junior’s high-five attempt after admitting he was selected for jury duty.
It’s a family sitcom tradition to pit a father at odds with a son or son-in-law, such as Archie Bunker’s distaste for Meathead, James Evans’ exasperation with J.J., Cliff Huxtable’s annoyance at Theo, and Jay Pritchett’s frustration with Mitchell and Phil. Given that legacy, it makes a sense that Dre and Junior don’t get along as well as they should — but the sight of Junior often makes Dre frown up, which in turn makes me tense. I don’t think I’ve recovered from Dre trying to demoralize Junior for beating him at basketball. It doesn’t seem like the lesson Dre learned at the end of that episode stuck. He’s still content to put Junior down as much as he can. Maybe it’s because Junior and Bow are so much alike, but if Dre loves Bow, why can’t he love Junior enough to not look like he actively hates his own son? I know, I know. It’s not that deep, but I’ve reached a point where I dread any scenes with the two of them interacting. Maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed Marcus Scribner’s scenes with Marsai Martin in the last two episodes so much. He’s able to be funny and show his comedic timing, while Junior gets to be more than a kicked kitten.
Back at court, Dre is part of a trial for a young black man named Antoine, who’s been accused of robbery. Antoine’s public defender confuses him with another case and enters the wrong plea before making the correction. As soon as Dre realizes he’s the only black person on the trial, Junior’s words come back to haunt him. Dre decides to make sure Antoine gets a fair trial, even if it means he’s the only one who votes “not guilty.” The other jurors know he’s the hold-out, but he stands firm. He lets them know he wants to make sure justice is served; he won’t allow yet another black man to be wrongly sentenced.
After another day of deliberation and seeing a photo of Antoine in the stolen jacket, Dre changes his mind … but now another juror, a white woman, has changed hers. She researched the jacket and found it couldn’t have come from the store in question. The remaining jurors agree that Antoine is not guilty, praising the white juror for her care and attention to justice, while completely overlooking that Dre fought for the young man the entire time as well.
When Dre tried to make sure Antoine got a fair trial, his concerns were dismissed because they’re both black. However, when a white woman does it, she’s lauded as a hero and even gets a steak dinner date with the foreman. It’s another reminder of racial biases and unfair advantages that permeate society.
While Dre is busy battling his fellow jurors, Bow wonders if she should let the kids curse freely. Neighbor Janine’s son Seth let some swear words fly while playing games with Junior. When Bow mentions Seth’s dockworker mouth to his mom, Janine insists that letting him curse has allowed them to have better communication. After realizing the kids don’t open up to her, Bow lays down some ground rules and encourages them to let loose with their potty mouths. Jack has some trouble at first, but Diane catches on quickly — no surprise there. Jack calls Diane a “b-hole,” and Diane corrects him: “It’s butthole, asshole.” (Of course, ABC bleeps and blurs appropriately.) Junior lies and says he never curses, but when Bow points out Janine has video of him swearing, he exclaims, “That bitch!”
The kids eventually open up more to Bow. Zoey’s having trouble with a teacher. Junior is only doing “top stuff” with his girlfriend Megan and finally explains why he needs so much lotion. And Diane keeps coming home with leaves in her hair because she’s fighting her friends for calling her a friend. (It actually turns out that Diane is in a fight club at school. Is she preparing for war against Charlie?) Bow decides to let the kids keep cursing, despite her discomfort and Ruby’s nagging complaints, until she sees Seth treat Janine like the help. Bow would rather not be close to her children than to have them think they can disrespect her, so she puts an end to the potty mouths.
It’s an old joke that white parents let their children get away with certain kinds of behavior and language that black parents won’t tolerate, but as Black-ish, the news, the criminal justice system has illustrated countless times over, black youth are not granted the leniency that their white counterparts enjoy. A black teenager can be killed for enjoying loud music with his friends, but a white college student can get only three months of jail after being convicted of rape. The responses to perceived disrespect from black people is often disproportionate to the offense, and so black parents may overcorrect and be harder on their kids about showing respect.
In “One Angry Man,” Black-ish gives an important history lesson about racial biases in the judicial system, pairing it nicely with a lesson about the ways in which black and white children are taught respect and communication. It is solid work, even if it’s not as compelling as the season’s standout episodes, but I appreciate the continued work Black-ish does to educate and entertain simultaneously.