[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show: "Black-ish" (ABC)
The Pitch: "What if it turns out that not all modern families are white?!?"
Quick Response: I don't know if there was an official ABC comedy mandate this year that nobody should illustrate the premise of their shows through action and that everything should be larded up with over-explaining voiceover, but Kenya Barris' "Black-ish" script is at least 50 percent voiceover (so... less than "Manhattan Love Story") and the pilot sets in motion a premise -- Anthony Anderson's Andre worries that his family is no longer putting the "B" in "Buppie" and that they need to recover their racial identity -- that is basically abandoned by the end of the pilot. The frustrating thing is that "Black-ish" absolutely has some smart and somewhat funny things to say about race in 2014, but it chooses to, all too frequently, have Andre just say those things rather than showing them to us in motion (or sometimes we're told something and then showed it in motion immediately after, as if we wouldn't get it or make the connection otherwise). Because networks have shied away from African-American-driven comedies recently, a lot of the things Barris wants to say have been going unsaid outside cable sitcoms -- BET and TBS have had zero problems picking up the slack -- for years and I'm happy both that this show exists and that ABC is giving it the support (i.e. the post-"Modern Family" time period) the network refused to give either "Goldbergs" or "Trophy Wife" last year and it's my hope that the over-reliance on voiceover and the "Not Black Enough" hook of the pilot are just a way of introducing this family, before allowing "Black-ish" to relax its way into being a family comedy with embedded and interwoven racial and social commentary as a series. Anderson is a really funny guy when he's given life-sized characters to play and he has good comedic chemistry with both Tracee Ellis Ross, a total pro's pro when it comes to parts like this, and Laurence Fishburne, who I always enjoy in those rare projects he isn't required to be The Most Serious Guy In The Room. The main family has somewhere between three and seven children [4, if I'm being serious], but only the youngest daughter and eldest son made any imprint on me and any time that more than those two kids were on-screen, I found myself wondering if they were characters I'd seen before. In addition to the voiceover, there are several other heightened stylistic ticks that "Black-ish" uses for comic effect with varying levels of success and it'll be interesting to see which of those survive into subsequent episodes.
Desire To Watch Again: I definitely want to see "Black-ish" again, but a big part of that stems from my hope/confidence that this is a structurally clunky pilot that is merely setting the scene for a more relaxed subsequent series. I want to see *that* series, but only if it does, indeed, largely do away with the voiceover and let the story play out more naturally. I was much more excited for the evolution of "Black-ish" when Larry Wilmore was going to be showrunner. It seems like Barris will now be showrunning, which speaks well for maintaining the intellectual interests of the show, but I don't know what it means for the voiceover and narrative inconsistencies and whatnot. I can only say so many times that "Black-ish" is an awful title and ABC would do the show a service by finding something better, but it doesn't look like ABC cares.