black-ish‘s Season 4 episode “Please, Baby, Please,” is many things: sharply funny, culturally relevant, ultimately hopeful and on-brand critical of the current United States president.
But controversial enough to get pulled from ABC airwaves? Insert your favorite GIF of one of Diane’s withering looks here.
On Monday, series creator Kenya Barris announced on Instagram that he’d successfully lobbied the network to have Hulu release the episode, which was written, produced and then shelved mysteriously — just days before its slated debut — in February 2018. At the time, ABC released a statement citing “creative differences” between Barris and the network as the reason behind the yanking; the executive producer later told The Hollywood Reporter that the network’s suggested edits created an episode that “was not a true representation of what we intended to do,” and that the decision to pull the ep was mutual.
“Please, Baby, Please” takes place during an overnight storm, as a weary Dre paces around the house, trying to get his baby son, Devante, to sleep. The late hour, combined with the crashing thunder, creates an uneasiness in Dre. While telling the little boy a story, he reflects on how the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency (mocked via the allegory of “the Shady King”) seems to have made racism worse in the United States — and how powerless he feels in the face of such emboldened hatred.
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“As bothered as I’ve been lately, the thing that’s bothering me the most is how bothered everyone is around me,” he tells his son, “and how helpless I feel to stop it.”
Nothing in the newly released episode should come as a shock or surprise to anyone who’s seen black-ish before. In fact, after watching the ep Monday, the network’s hesitance to air Barris’ work the way he envisioned it seems ill-founded at best, and cowardly (with a noxious whiff of self-interest) at worst.
Think back to late 2017/early 2018, when “Please, Baby, Please” was written, taped and readied for airing. The Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, was in the early stages of acquiring various 20th Century Fox TV businesses and its film division. And while President Trump wouldn’t have had any direct ability to put the kibosh on the nascent merger, he certainly could’ve leaned on the Justice Department to make it difficult — if not impossible — for all parties involved. It’s very easy to picture a Fox & Friends segment about black-ish‘s mockery of “the Shady King,” and even easier to envision the angry, potentially merger-derailing tweets that would’ve ensued.
Even worse, the socio-political climate into which “Please, Baby, Please” eventually was released is even more harrowing than it was two years ago. None of the points raised in the episode are invalid today… and now we have a new, national health crisis on top of everything else. It’s enough to send anyone scurrying into the safety of a loved one’s arms, as all of Dre and Bow’s kids wind up doing while the storm rages during the episode.
Perhaps we can glean hope from the fact that, ultimately, ABC did do the right thing. And that Barris felt so strongly about his show’s message that he continued to fight for it, even after he left the network’s ABC Studios way before his contract was up. After all, black-ish is fond of mixing brutal truths about society with cautious optimism.
Or, as Dre reminds us in the final moments of “Please, Baby, Please”: “No matter how bad it gets, we get through it.”