When urban meets suburban
A successful African American fears selling out in the daring satire “Black-ish” By Dean Robbins9/24/2014
Andre (Anthony Anderson) is a self-described former “big scary black guy” who’s succeeded in the white world. He’s a successful advertising executive who lives in the suburbs with his doctor wife (Tracee Ellis Ross) and four kids. But Andre has the nagging feeling that, in achieving the American dream, he and the family have lost their black identity. His wife serves baked chicken instead of fried, and his son plays field hockey instead of basketball. Andre’s dad (Laurence Fishburne) chides him for selling out their heritage, and he starts thinking it’s true. “I need my family to be black, not Black-ish,” Andre moans.
“Black-ish” (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., ABC) delves into one of the most dangerous American subjects — race — with complete assurance. The new sitcom investigates the nature of black identity in a white-dominated culture that at once appropriates and denigrates it. The white folks at Andre’s agency are quick to trade hip-hop slang and cool handshakes with him, but there’s no way they’ll ever see him as more than just their “urban” consultant. A colleague developing an ad campaign says to him, “We wonder how you think a black guy would say ‘good morning.’”
Don’t think the satiric barbs are reserved for whites. Andre himself is often the butt of the joke, as when he leads his skeptical family through ancient African rituals. Anderson is a master of comic exasperation, blowing his top every time a white person tells him to “keep it real.”
God help me, but I hope “Black-ish” keeps it real for many seasons to come.
“How to Get Away with Murder”
Thursday, 9 p.m. (ABC)
This new series stars Viola Davis as a law professor who teaches her class “how to get away with murder” — that is, how to get an accused client off the hook. A group of students apply her lessons all too well when they themselves become involved in a homicide.
Davis cuts a fearsome figure in the classroom, to the point where I kept my head down hoping she wouldn’t call on me. Then again, her character has an emotionally vulnerable side that sets the criminal plot in motion. The series (by “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes) wallows in bad behavior: greed, lust and lies. The pilot verges on wretched excess, but with a strong cast and a snappy script, “How to Get Away with Murder” gets away with it.
Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ABC)
In a lively sitcom update of “My Fair Lady,” Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) is a social-media-obsessed career woman. Eliza wears up-to-the-minute slutty fashions and peppers her motormouth voiceover with hashtag-worthy phrases. Her life is a brainless blur or BFFs, GIFs and LOLs, until one day an epic fail makes her realize that being friended is not the same thing as having friends. Enter a social-media-hating coworker named Henry (John Cho), who agrees to “rebrand” Eliza as a person a substance.
“Selfie” understands exactly how silly we are right now as a nation of tweeting, texting narcissists. It satirizes Eliza’s cell phone addiction while holding out hope that an actual human being is buried somewhere in that camera roll of selfies. If there’s hope for her, maybe there’s hope for all of us. #MustSeeTV. CV
Dean Robbins is a syndicated TV columnist from Madison, Wis. He graduated from Grinnell College. See more of his work at www.thedailypage.com.