black-ish Has Quietly Become TV's Best-ish Comedy

The N Word. The debate over gun control. Clogged arteries.

These topics would probably all score Big Red Xs on a Family Feud survey of “funniest sitcom topics.” Yet in its provocatively bold second season, ABC’s black-ish has tackled ’em all — and in the process, become one of the best comedies on television.

This isn’t to suggest that black-ish has entered Afterschool Special territory: Not with moments like Jenifer Lewis’ eternally indignant Grandma Ruby huffing “Can you believe this n—-r?” after son Dre (Anthony Anderson) schools his parents on the way his generation has claimed the racial epithet “as a term of colloquialism and power.”

JENIFER LEWIS, LAURENCE FISHBURNEIn other words, it’s a tightrope walk, what creator Kenya Barris and the black-ish team are attempting, with high-minded topics of national conversation on one side and “Am I allowed to laugh at that?” punch lines on the other. But there hasn’t been a single misstep — a moment where you feel like the show’s writers are going there for mere shock value — over the first four episodes of the season.

The season’s second outing, “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gun,” finds Dre and his wife Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) vehemently (and hilariously) disagreeing about whether to buy a firearm after a string of neighborhood robberies. There are scathing one-liners (“If you shoot the way you pee, then we’re all gonna be dead!”). There are utterly absurd visuals (a confused, elderly Asian woman cocking her newly purchased rifle over and over again as an ambivalent shopkeep offers, “Honestly, it’s mostly about confidence. Have fun!”). There are even unexpected/believable twits (Bow pulling an about-face and shouting, “Get the gun – and don’t stop pulling the trigger until your finger cramps!” when it appears there’s an intruder in the Johnson home).

ANTHONY ANDERSONblack-ish‘s not-so-secret weapon is its multi-generational cast. Anderson’s Dre is wonderfully reactionary, as evidenced by a weeping meltdown in Episode 3. (“My daddy’s dead!” Dre cries, after a child’s balloon explodes in a crowded hospital waiting room, and makes him imagine the same disaster for his father’s balloon angioplasty.) Ross’ Bow balances educated-hippie charm with exasperated mother realness. As Dre’s parents, Lewis and Laurence Fishburne manage to delight while deliver sometimes garishly un-P.C. points-of-view.

Even the Johnson kids (Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown and MVP Marsai Martin) and Dre’s absurdist co-workers (especially Peter Mackenzie as possibly sociopathic bossman Mr. Stevens) score their fair share of laughs — while contributing to the underlying political vibe. “There’s so much I don’t know about him… First kiss? Secret crush? Is he pro-choice? Anti-fracking? Where is he on Sea World?” asks eldest son Junior when he learns his grandfather needs surgery.)

ANTHONY ANDERSON, MILES BROWN, TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, MARSAI MARTINSadly, black-ish currently ranks as the lowest-rated member of ABC’s Wednesday-night comedy block. This week, its 5.7 million viewers and 1.8 demo rating trailed its neighbors at The Middle (7.1 mil/1.9), The Goldbergs (6.4 mil/2.0) and Modern Family (7.8 mil/2.6).

But with upcoming installments exploring religion (the Oct. 21 episode explores the Johnsons’ status as lapsed churchgoers) and class (on Oct. 28, Dre’s poor relatives create tension when they descend on his neighborhood for trick-or-treating), it appears that black-ish will keep pressing the pedal during its stellar sophomore season.

If that notion doesn’t scare you — or even if it does — then it’s time to start watching (or at least DVRing) black-ish on Wednesday nights (9:30/8:30c on ABC). Just as certain as Pops’ declaration that a Baby Bjorn is “that little half-bra with a baby hanging out the front,” it’s one of the most consistently funny (and arguably important) shows on TV right now.

Are you watching black-ish? And where would you rank its second season among current comedies? Sound off in 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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  1. Tracee says:

    Thanks so much for this article! I agree, and it’s nice to see someone giving this terrific show the credit it deserves. I’m so glad it’s able been able to get respectable ratings in what has been called “the Empire death slot.” Love the cast and the writing is always sharp.

  2. Black-ish is my favorite comedy for all of the reasons above! This season has been so bold and feels really new. The comedy isn’t well tread, so it’s a surprise and innovative. Also, every character adds a unique perspective to the show. Hopefully more people will tune in!

  3. I totally agree with all this. I really, really love each and every episode of black-ish!

  4. LT says:

    Great show!

  5. Guy says:

    If we’re talking about comedies on the major networks, yeah it’s certainly at or near the top of the pack, what with Parks and Recreation over.

  6. rachelle says:

    Yeah, I fell in love with this show. It’s hilarious. I’m glad to see it getting this recognition!

  7. APFW says:

    I love this show. I watch the first half-hour of Empire, which has been a disappointment this season, and at 9:30 I watch Blackish. Then I feel much better.

  8. love says:

    I do think instant mom is a funny show too.maybe not as relevant but consistently funny..highly underrated show!

  9. evababy says:

    Blackish last season was good. This season, it is GREAT! Every episode has been on fire! so many funny lines.

  10. Ram510 says:

    Finally blackish gets some love and attention!!! They have masterfully tackled tough subjects and have not only made it comedy gold but made it thought provoking and heartfelt as well. Really wish the ratings were higher eventhough it’s not in any danger, it just deserves seen by more. Blackish has really hit its stride since late season 1, but season 2 has been phenomenal so far. Long live blackish!!!!

  11. MFL says:

    This article is spot-on and thank you for shining a light on this underrated gem. This is easily the most comedy on TV right now. Hopefully more people tune in..Love the cast, they all have such great chemistry

  12. Gage says:

    I love this show. Season 2 is on fire! The writing and comedy are gold.

  13. jax says:

    Here, here! blackish is the best comedy on TV and this article spells out the why! It is refreshing to see a show that is not afraid of the world and putting a hilarious spin on it! I hope the Johnson family (and Dre’s crazy co-workers Charlie, et al) are around for a long time!

  14. My Opinion says:

    Great article.. I love this show and it’s humor..

  15. Lola says:

    Black-ish is hilarious. I loved the Gun episode with the Karate kid references. “Mop the floor” was hilarious during the supposed attack.

  16. t.w.123 says:

    Yes to all of this! I was watching last night’s episode and found myself thinking, “Man, I knew blackish used to be good, but when did it get so GREAT??”. This article summed up a lot of my thoughts.

  17. Brian says:

    Really enjoy this show.

  18. Maybe this second season would seem a bit more bold if The Carmichael Show hadn’t covered a lot of this ground over the summer. It did the same thing of covering touchy subjects with a comedic slant through the eyes of a black family with differing perspectives, and they already covered some of the subjects black-ish is covering now (gun control, parent with health problems, religion).

    I’m not saying black-ish has been bad or anything this season, I just don’t see it being as bold or provocative as this article makes it sound. Admittedly it did come off as a bit of a rehash to me airing so soon after The Carmichael Show ended its run, but I’m sure even less people watched that than are watching black-ish now.

    • But do you find the show funny? I agree with what you’re saying in terms of covering the same subjects but I barely laughed when watching the Carmichael show at all. Blackish does both for me. You?

      • I’d say I laughed at both shows about the same amount (for the record, I don’t think either show is anywhere close to being the best comedy on TV), though if I had to give the edge to one I’d probably go with black-ish. I’ve had more time to connect with the characters since the show has been on longer (nearly 30 episodes vs. only six for The Carmichael Show), and sometimes The Carmichael Show would get bogged down trying to argue the issue instead of just being funny. But by that same merit, I do think The Carmichael Show did a better job of tackling those issues head-on (part of the reason why I found it less funny was because it said a lot of stuff I didn’t agree with), while black-ish seemed like it employed them more as a backdrop (aside from the N-word episode, I don’t really feel black-ish said anything poignant about the issues it tackled).

    • Win says:

      In one way, while watching this season’s episodes of Black-ish, I did feel it slightly unfortunate that some of the topics were covered by another show (I did watch The Carmichael Show) some would [understandably] compare for the family & skin color dynamic. In another way, I like that it’s coming from different perspectives, which is something I love. I’m one of those people that usually enjoy finding out how different people reacted to seeing/reading/hearing the same thing (but I guess you know that, because I’m in the comments section – that being said, I don’t mind someone’s take/tastes/opinions being different from mine when it’s stated intelligently and/or in a fun way, but wow are some of the TVLine comments/commenters growing increasingly toxic these days). And now back to my regularly scheduled rambling…

      I agree that The Carmichael show lost some humor in their methods, but I appreciated the boldness there and know some “old school” people who did, too. Some of these topics need to be brought up in this way as a wake-up call – the health-related episodes of both shows could be good tools for reflection and discussion. I appreciate that in both shows, the younger generation has built healthful choices into the dinner table (but it also doesn’t ignore the deliciousness of and “love” found in some classic favorites).

  19. susan says:

    I Love Black-ish!!! ‘Nuf said.

  20. Jay says:

    Excellent article. The writers have really raised the bar this season. It’s bold, funny, refreshing. I never though Laurence Fishburne could do comedy but boy was I wrong! Hopefully more people will tune in.

  21. Aisha says:

    the N-Word episode honestly had me cackling so hard, from Ruby casually saying it in the corridor to Dre and Jack singing in the car
    I actually find it funnier than Modern Family which i feel is getting a pass simply because of how long it’s been about
    But, yes Black-ish, FOTB and surprisingly Scream Queens are the only comedy shows that have made me laugh out loud every episode of this season.

  22. Pam says:

    I totally agree with this! Was not impressed with the first episode and almost gave up on this show. Boy,am I happy I stayed around. The writing just keeps getting better! Love black-ish!

    • Michelle says:

      I agree, I was also put off by the pilot episode (son “not being black” because he isn’t a black stereotype), but I’m glad I stuck with the show while it found its footing.

    • lechatnoir says:

      I am jealous so many people absolutely love this show. I have trouble getting past the first episode . Perhaps my humour is terrible. I really want to appreciate the jokes. I’ll watch episode 3 2mora.

  23. Buschling says:

    Black-ish is our favorite comedy! It makes us laugh out loud every week! Hilarious last year (especially the Santa episode) and continues to hit it out of the park this season. Love Anthony Anderson!

  24. Daryl says:

    Goldbergs blows this out of the water.

  25. Sheila says:

    Maybe they should just move it to a different time slot. I really enjoy the show, but have never watched it live because two other shows are recording at the time.

  26. Jeri says:

    I agree with all the raves. This show never disappoints and I love it.

  27. LisaL says:

    Fantastic show — nothing on TV is more thought-provoking, warm and funny. ABC should stick with it and promote it more. Love the cast and especially the writers. Last season’s episode with them renewing their wedding vows, and both sets of in-laws there, was exceptional too.

  28. murley says:

    Agree. Agree agree agree agree.

  29. Alicia Guy says:

    I watch!! And I love it!!! I’m shocked it’s the lowest rated comedy on Wednesdays on ABC because it’s really good!

  30. Holly says:

    ‘blackish’ is a great show. Laugh out loud funny.

  31. Gregory says:

    One of the best tv shows I’ve seen in a while, cover all subject matters. I specifically love the way that allow the entire family to be involved. Great show and can’t wait for the next show.

  32. JR says:

    Yes! I agree 1000%. Best comedy on TV right now…the writing and acting is fantastic! Thanks for bringing attention to this gem!

  33. Sharon D. Smith says:

    This is one of the most well written and acted shows on tv today! I have been watching since season 1.! Kudos to the writers and the entire cast! Yay blackish!

  34. Ryan says:

    Even better than Dre’s boss is Deon Cole’s Charlie. I mean, that man is just fifteen kinds of weird. Like in the gun control episode when he slams down his piece on the conference room table, or Tuesday’s revealing that “Daddy’s Day” would be the perfect thing to show how committed he is to fatherhood at his son’s custody hearing…yesterday, then excusing himself to say goodbye to his son.

    Deon Cole’s Charlie is sheer ruddy genius.

  35. linda says:

    It is the funniest, smartest shows on TV today. I never miss an episode and often watch them over on Demand. I hope more people start watching it – I wouldn’t want them to take it off.

  36. C. West says:

    Black-ish is infinitely better than The Goldbergs. I watch it faithfully every week. If you’re taking count….I’m a middle-aged white woman. The show is funny. Possibly a reverse “All in the Family.”

  37. Taiwo Stanback says:

    Black-ish is an excellent show for Black America AND all of America. It’s timeslot is all wrong. It shouldn’t be in a timeslot that competes with Empire (although it is arguably a more developed and thought-provoking show. I think it should be broadcast after Fresh Off the Boat. The character development and teachable moments in black-ish are incredibly good. I wish Andre and Bow showed more PDA. I also wished they respected Jr.’s progressive views more. Granda Ruby could be a softer mother figure but the multi-generational cast is spot on! Kudos to the creator of black-ish.

  38. David4 says:

    The episode dealing with spanking last year was one of the funniest family sitcom episodes I have ever seen.

  39. Margo says:

    I agree…I am so glad this article was written as well! I thought I was the only one who has been thinking this season has been so timely….so hilarious….SO SO good! Really hope this article encourages more and more people to tune in :)

  40. Amy says:

    This really is the best comedy on TV. I love how they take important social topics, make great statements about them but also make them funny.

  41. A fan of TV says:

    I typically find it so hard to get invested in sitcoms as appointment viewing, but this convinced me. Not that me being in Canada will help its ratings or anything. Ratings need to be given a full week now, for DVR numbers to be counted, for accurate viewing pictures though. I know that eliminates the press release opportunity and means programmers and advertisers will need to start thinking outside the box (heaven forbid!) But this is what people’s viewing patterns demand now. It’s not that people have stopped watching TV shows by a huge mile. I know way more people that watch TV than I know people who ‘don’t really watch TV.’

  42. Melissa says:

    I love this show! It is smart and literally “laugh-out-loud” funny! I hate that it was pitted against “Empire” because people are truly missing a gem.

  43. Clandestine Green says:

    The family casting on this show is incredible…the kids are so good! The only part that seems to fall flat is the workplace.

  44. Spence says:

    I sadly didn’t watch the first season and can’t find a place to watch it, but I’ve watched every episode of this season and am loving it! It’s take on controversial topics is refreshing, honest, and at the core of it all: legitimately funny.

  45. Barry Organ says:

    Only watch it a couple of times . I apologize for not watching it more being that I’m Black . I’ll watch it next Wensday . I promise

  46. Sabrina says:

    Great article. I love this show and think it’s the funniest comedy on TV right now. It’s a pity it does not get more attention.

  47. Nikki says:

    All I have to say is Amen. Hands down funniest thing on TV.

  48. Raven64 says:

    Black-ish is hands down the funniest comedy on tv right now! I’m so glad I didn’t let the title keep me away from this wonderful ensemble! From the pilot episode when the little girl said her older sister would be on her 2nd husband to Charlie and Dre throwing down their guns while talking about the N word at work, I laugh out loud consistently. Thanks tvline, for giving Anthony Anderson performer of the week recently and now some love for the show!

  49. Matthew says:

    I was crushed when Guys With Kids was cancelled… but if that show had to go, thank God that Blackish rose from its ashes. Anthony Anderson is a tremendous talent, and the smart writing in this show is desperately needed in prime time. Thanks ABC

  50. Whatevah says:

    I so agree w/ this! I still love Modern Family but Blackish has made me laugh out loud more this season. LOVE IT!