Black-ish, Season 1, Episode 3, “The Nod”
October 8, 2014, 9:30 PM (EST), ABC
After three episodes, I’m starting to get comfortable with the rhythm and structure of the show. Andre Sr. is the lens through which we view the vast majority of the episode with the secondary story of the episode often having to do Rainbow’s parenting style. Andre brings up some aspect of his family’s blackness he finds lacking and Rainbow unsuccessfully tries to talk him down. Many shenanigans ensue, ultimately leading to a compromise between father and son and occasionally, some approval from Pops. “The Nod” is much more like the pilot than the second episode in that it directly deals with black stereotypes instead of a more universal family theme. However, sexist jokes mar an otherwise very funny episode full of so many laughs it felt like 30 minutes was inadequate to fit them all.
Choosing to situate the show from the perspective of a “typical” black man is turning out to be problematic. In the second episode, Pops uttered an offhand remark about how stretching can be seen as “a little gay.” Andre Sr. prefers to have the sex talk with his son while doing overtly “manly” things such as lifting weights. In this third episode, there is overt sexism toward women in the form of a joke that brings the men of the family into agreement about the proper way to react to a woman’s figure they find attractive. Even little 6 year old Diane has already been poisoned by our sexist culture evidenced by her insult to a male Nurse that he’s “a man with a woman’s job.” Since the show favors portraying the Johnsons as “real” people instead of simply “good” people, these moments fit within in the context of the show. However, they make my skin crawl even as I’m laughing hysterically. There are ways to address the insidious forms of black masculinity and sexism in this comedic context simply by confronting the viewpoints of the characters head-on instead of taking for granted that the audience won’t get offended. I would like to think Black-ish wants to be as inclusive as possible, so I doubt this trend will continue for much longer. Rainbow could be a great voice of indignation by fleshing out her character with a healthy dose of feminism.
At the same time, Rainbow’s character is showing that the narcissistic side of her personality can have lasting consequences on the way her children grow up. The young twins Jack and Diane are coloring in pictures of their dream jobs for Career day. Jack chooses “Teen Sensation” which he hilariously explains as appearing in the Rose Bowl and dancing to “No Flex Zone.” Rainbow is hurt when Diane chooses to follow in her father’s footsteps and work in advertising. Diane trots out her signature line “I’m gonna stop you right there” when Rainbow tries to sell her on becoming a doctor. I hated the moment when Rainbow puts down her two older kids – she reduces Zoe’s future to “marrying well” and doubts Junior will move out of the house before he’s 30. If it wasn’t for the show’s great characterization of the two older Johnson kids I would feel a lot more animosity toward Rainbow and the show for that line. It makes Rainbow a compelling choice as Andre’s wife in the sense that she’s just as close-minded and unnecessarily reductive about complex issues.
The issue Andre takes up this week is the acknowledgment of other black people, even strangers, in the form of a nod. Andre tries to find Junior some black friends to spend time with after realizing he doesn’t participate in “nod culture.” The guest star this week is a new black employee at Andre’s company. They become acquainted after giving each other the nod and striking up a conversation riddled with red flags about his boundary issues and tendency to overshare. Andre purposefully ignores in order to prove to himself that he’s right about the importance of the nod. Andre and Pops are so adamant about the nod because they feel it’s necessary to stay in touch with their roots in struggle for acceptance and equal standing in society. That shouldn’t be trivialized, but Andre has a habit of focusing on the wrong aspect of the observations he makes about the progress evident in his children’s generation.
Stylistically, I thoroughly enjoyed the intercut scenes of Andre taking Junior to the hood to awkwardly play basketball with Diane coming around to the idea of becoming a doctor like her mother after she experiences the excitement of a hospital ward full of blood and guts and a hatchet embedded in a guy’s head. Diane is likely a sociopath but all Rainbow cares about his her daughter emulating her career choice. The lessons learned here are similar to the first two episodes. Andre’s views on blackness need to shift from relying on weak generalizations to seeing people as individuals, especially his son. Rainbow’s narcissism is endearing but has real consequences. Andre also comes to terms with Junior’s interests in fantasy novels by theorizing “Struggle comes in a lot of different forms. Junior’s was different from ours…Nerd is the new black.” That statement felt profound and insulting at the same time. I’ll be chewing on it for a long time. Getting people to have meaningful conversations by pushing boundaries, pressing buttons, slipping uncomfortable truths in the middle of genuinely amusing quips and over-the-top gags – it’s a strategy that could work out very well for Blackish.
- “What are you boys, 12? 13? Do you like chips and salsa? I’m looking for some young black boys to bring back to my house.” Worried woman starts fumbling with her phone.” “Maam, after playing that back in my head, you are doing the right thing.” Andre drives away.
- “In what way would you like to see your son enriched” “Like an overall blackening.”
- “What we’re interested in is the horde of black children you have.”
- “What concentration of black - are we talking about raw uncut biggie black or low-cal drake black?”
- ”Maybe it’s just my pee face”
- And you said sometimes patients die and sometimes it’s the doctor’s fault but you can’t know for sure, right?” “Yes, that’s technically right…” “I DEFINITELY wanna be doctor now.”
Sexist jokes mar an otherwise very funny episode full of so many laughs it felt like 30 minutes was inadequate to fit them all