Performer of the Week: black-ish's Anthony Anderson

THE PERFORMER | Anthony Anderson

THE SHOW | black-ish

THE EPISODE | “The Word” (Sept. 23, 2015)

THE PERFORMANCE | He may not have saved 155 lives in a spectacular emergency landing, but from a comedic standpoint, Anthony Anderson’s performance as Dre Johnson in the Season 2 premiere of black-ish approached Capt. Sully Sullenberger levels of daring.

In an episode that began with Dre’s grade-school-age son Jack dropping the N-word during a talent-show performance of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” Anderson managed to score enormous laughs while his character led an impassioned examination (and occasionally a defense) of one of the most divisive words in the English language.

At the top of the installment, as Dre’s wife Bo wondered where Jack might’ve gotten the idea it was OK to eschew the song’s radio edit, we got a hilarious flashback of Dre and Jack on their way to school, jamming out to the tune with joyous abandon and not a moment’s hesitation when they got to the bleep-able parts. A bigger and even funnier misstep came, however, when Dre and Bo met with Jack’s principal to discuss the boy’s possible expulsion. Overestimating the idea that Principal Green being black automatically put them on the same side of the argument, Anderson allowed Dre to cluelessly invade the administrator’s personal space with an unwelcome hug, coo “What is boppin’, brother?” and then, even more ridiculously, refer to him as “My n—-r!” Dre’s subsequent defense of his behavior — “How was I supposed to know the brother hadn’t seen Training Day?” — was delivered with such incredulity, his stance almost seemed reasonable.

Anderson continued to bring the LOLs as Dre polled his co-workers for their feelings on the racial epithet — and then got into a debate with his teenage daughter about why she wasn’t offended when her white friends (Dylan! Asher! Jacob!) dropped it into casual conversation. His voice rising an octave (as Zoey and Dre’s dad wondered if he’d eaten recently), Anderson rose to his feet and launched into a tirade that “My son should be able to say the N-word to his heart’s content — and Asher should never be able to say it!”

By the time he reached the school board meeting to decide Jack’s fate, however, Anderson dialed down Dre’s emotional temperature, allowing us to see a man who — while not entirely certain about his beliefs — was determined to make sure his child got a second chance. Pointedly citing the slap on the wrist Paula Deen got for her N-bomb and the Oscars won by Quentin Tarantino for dropping ’em in his scripts, Dre concluded, “This whole country has been schizophrenic about what to call black people for two centuries. And the last person who should be held accountable is an eight-year-old boy who doesn’t have an ounce of hate in his heart.” With that, he wrapped his son in a hug and exited the room — and Anderson once again put himself in the running for the E-word (that is to say, Emmy.)

jon-Cryer-ncis-performanceHONORABLE MENTION | As NCIS entered Season 13, Jon Cryer stepped up in a big way as the man in whose hands Gibbs’ fate lied. As Cyril Taft, the Two and a Half Men vet was, yes, again playing doctor, but here an esteemed surgeon who caught Gibbs’ case during a stint on a Navy ship. NCIS boss Gary Glasberg wanted a M*A*S*H-like feel to the role, and Cryer delivered just that — a quirky, quippy, capable medicine man, one who uses dark humor to lighten up grave proceedings. Two scenes stood out: first when Taft’s work was done and he whispered to that “tough sonuvabitch,” Gibbs, that he was owed a 12-year-old single malt. And then at episode’s end, when the men reunited months later and reflected on responsibility, mortality and such. In Taft, Cryer created an immediately memorable addition to the NCIS family, one with a special connection to the oft-unreadable Gibbs, that we hope is explored further.

HONORABLE MENTION | It was the booty-shake heard ’round the world. In Empire‘s Season 2 premiere, Grace Gealey tightly wound, sweater-set-wearing Anika Calhoun hiked up her skirt, let down her guard and proved to her rival (and reluctant business partner) Cookie that she was willing to do whatever necessary to complete their hostile takeover of Empire Entertainment. In this instance, “whatever necessary” involved twerking for the pleasure of Marisa Tomei’s billionaire investor Mimi Whiteman — and the result was comedic, gif-worthy gold. Later, when Mimi revealed she’d switched sides and aligned with Anika and Cookie’s ex Lucious, Gealey let us see the devastation in her character’s eyes. “I thought I told you to sleep with her!” hissed Cookie. “I did,” replied the gobsmacked Anika — subtly absorbing the blow from her closed eyes all the way to her toes as Mimi grinned dismissively and gave “Anita” an “A for effort.” Here’s hoping Gealey’s character gets an opportunity for revenge — and some more dancing — as the season progresses.

Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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29 Comments
  1. zac says:

    I thought Sara Ramirez was really good on Grey’s this week. Loved the season premiere too.
    And Mindy Kaling! She’s hilarious in that train scene

  2. Midnight says:

    Constance Wu as always was terrific in Fresh off the Boat’s premiere episode. Famke Janssen was also great on HTGAWM’s premiere. And the entire cast of Masters of Sex brought it for the dinner party episode in what is an otherwise lackluster season.

  3. De says:

    Good choice with Jon Cryer. Liked him so much better in NCIS than I ever did in Two and a Half Men. Much better character, I guess. Would be really neat to have him on as a regular or at least as a recurring character.

    • Kim R says:

      I loved when Abby said it looked like Gibbs had his own “Ducky” when they were worrying about how things were going and what kind of doctor was taking care of their leader. :)

  4. Adam says:

    Fall TV is back so there’s a lot of great performances, but Andy Daly was pretty excellent (as usual) on “Review” this week. It’s such an underrated show.

  5. DaniB says:

    Hayden Panettiere was brilliant in Nashville this week!

    Everyone at SVU should also get a round of applause for still producing quality television 17 seasons in.

  6. Anthony Anderson killed it this week! I also loved the performances of Eden Sher (as always) and Patricia Heaton in The Middle. Frankie’s delivery of the speech to Sue was great.
    I also really enjoyed Contsance Wu as Jessica in Fresh Off The Boat, she is so great!!

    • MyFairLady says:

      Anthony A is amazing on this show..but I particularly loved this episode because it touched on a sensitive issue with light-hardheartedness and lots of humor. Definitely another Emmy-worthy performance. The end just killed me when he was addressing his daughter’s friends

  7. Jon Cryer barely earned his honorable mention, but the other two shouldn’t have even been awarded. There were so many more deserving performers, including Married’s Brett Gelman and Zachary Levi on Heroes Reborn.

  8. hbeachman says:

    Good performances all around on Blackish. I loved Bo’s attempts to explain why Jack should be an exception to the zero tolerance policy of hate speech she so vigorously insisted on being implemented at the school a year or two earlier.

  9. lrdslvrhnd says:

    So, OK, I was the only one in the world that hated Cyril Taft, then?

    • Teddy says:

      Guess so–I felt he deserved the mention as well. I went in expecting a cringe-worthy performance, and was very pleasantly surprised with what I saw. He is an excellent addition to the NCIS family.

    • Pete says:

      No, not the only one.
      A number of viewers still think of him as a previous character, rather than an actor.

  10. Shaun says:

    Constance Wu,Jon Voigt and Robbie Kay.

  11. T.W.123 says:

    The blackish choice wasn’t where I thought tvli be would go this week, but I whole heartedly approve! Anthony Anderson (and Tracee Ellis Ross, Laurence Fishbourne, Jennifer Lewis, along with whoever plays the co-workers) really stepped up the game. In particular, I was touched by the show’s concluding moment between Anderson and his son before bed. Well done, all around!

  12. Aeol says:

    Always great to see comic actors get recognition! Blackish is out the gate with a bang.

  13. night61 says:

    i would have mentioned Rowan Blanchards girl meets world performance, she blew it out of the park for someone so young

  14. Amy H says:

    Great performance for Jon Cryer. Hope we see him again.

  15. Sally McLinn says:

    That was a good episode. I’m team Blackish vs. Empire. I can’t sit through Empire anymore. The writing is soooo bad, the characters keep changing their personality traits….it’s gotten so ghetto….I’ve got to go back to TV that is Intelligent, and Blackish is getting better.

    • Mike M says:

      Thanks you so much for having the same thoughts I did – I watched Blackish followed by Empire (just turned out that way) and I couldn’t believe how wonderfully one took the issues of racism and associated hatred and totally negated them, while the other seemed to just do everything it possible could to create and solidify both. I was a big fan of Empire season 1, but this first S2 episode actually had me saying “Yuck” more than once. Ghetto is so aptly put, felt in the gutter of it most of the show. What makes it so sad is that it attempts to represent to millions of viewers of color watching it that it portrays how you SHOULD behave to get ahead. All I can say is it was wonderful to be able to see both on the same night and know that just like the real world there is still hope in TV that when things just feel so really wrong, there is still somehow an equal amount of really right to balance it out.

  16. Whatevah says:

    Blackish had me laughing out loud A LOT Wednesday..I love this
    show!

  17. Isobel says:

    I liked Robbie Kay and Hayden Pantierre this week

  18. Ram510 says:

    Great choice with blackish. They started the season with what’s probably their best episode yet. I hope the episode helps blackish grow and solidify the show as a true hit and stick around for many seasons like Modern Family and The Middle

  19. Shannon says:

    Carl Beukes from Dominion misses out again.

  20. Allison says:

    Anthony Anderson is so funny in his role on black-ish that I tend to forget that he is doing just that – playing a role. He is a good actor and I admit that I underrate him as a serious actor. I find that odd because I was so blown away by Chris Rock’s performance as a gangsta on Empire but failed to take Anthony Anderson seriously. Perhaps it is because I don’t find Anthony Anderson to be threatening.Chris Rock just has this look that gives me chills. Anthony Anderson has this twinkle in his eyes so every time I look at him I can’t help but smile. Anyway, way to go Anthony Anderson! The writing was great on the episode as were the portrayals of the cast.