Black-ish, Season 1, Episode 12, “Martin Luther King Skiing Day”
Wednesday, January 14, 2015, 9:30 PM (EST), ABC
It’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and that means the Johnsons will take their annual ski trip. “Martin Luther Skiing Day” …get it? Andre forces his family into taking this rigorous trip when they’d all much rather spend their vacation relaxing at home or by the spa. He assumes that his children are well versed in MLK’s accomplishments, but is appalled when Junior seems unmoved by his “I have a dream speech.” He’s even more troubled when it seems Junior’s white friend Zack knows more about the civil rights movement than his own black son. I’ve been waiting for Black-ish to really hit on some truth for a while, and this episode perfectly captures what I believe this show can be. It can be an endlessly hilarious joke machine while portraying this tension between the comforts of a more inclusive and progressive present while honoring the past African-American achievements that lead us here.
On his last day at work right before the MLK holiday, it’s revealed that his white coworkers think of it as only a black holiday, while they get to have a day at the office all to themselves to celebrate their whiteness. In Dre’s fantasy sequence, he imagines them in pastel colored golf attire, dancing terribly to Two Princes by the Spin Doctors. Dre calls them out, but doesn’t take the bait to come into the office on that day. Charlie, his creepy and annoying coworker, finds out that Dre is going skiing and is invited along when it’s revealed that he’s never seen snow before. What’s also revealed is that Charlie’s and Diane are arch enemies for some unknown reason. I can’t remember when this dynamic came about, but I’d totally watch an entire episode dedicated to them battling it out. Diane would win hands down.
When they’re getting ready to leave, Dre reveals he wants the car ride up to the ski resort to be all about bolstering their knowledge of the civil rights movement with minivan screening of “Eyes on the Prize” and trivia. Rainbow suggests that Junior and Zack ride with Charlie and Dre while she takes Zoey and twins Jack and Diane. Of course, the Johnsons have to turn everything into a competition, so whichever car is the most learned by the end wins. Dre grills Junior on important facts while Rainbow’s trip is all about belting out “All About That Bass” and having fun. On the way, Charlie gets pulled over and nearly has a panic attack he’s so frightened of what might happen with the white cop. Dre gives Zack his phone to document the incident in case things escalate unnecessarily. The white cop is very friendly and lets them go with just a warning, messing up Dre’s plan to show Junior the injustice possible in this country first hand. At the convenience store called “Whitey’s” a little later, he tries to provoke the cashier into giving them a hard time. He does, but he’s justified since Charlie is chugging cheese sauce directly from the ladle like a deranged psychopath.
At the resort, Dre is outraged that they’ve run out of adjoining rooms. He decides to stage a sit-in on a luggage cart in order to shame the resort into righting the wrong done upon him. It’s over the top and ridiculous, but very typical for Dre. His family shakes their heads in mild embarrassment, but they recognize how great a father he is and how he’ll always be around, embarrassing the hell out of them. After Dre gets out of “ski jail” all the while comparing himself to MLK in Birmingham, the vacation can finally begin. Rainbow and the kids get the spa treatments of their dreams, complete with vanilla and plain flavored greek yogurt foot baths and deep tissue massages.
Junior is the character with the most growth to make in the episode. He starts out ambivalent about the achievements of the civil rights era because it was “such a long time ago” and “things are better now.” He’s been so sheltered that injustice doesn’t become real for him until as a snowboarder, he and his fellow snowboarders are forced to sit at the back of the bus. In typical cheesy Black-ish fashion, he gives an impassioned reworked “I have a dream” speech, declaring no difference between boarders and skiiers. I could’ve done without the “Free to thrash, thank God almight, we’re free to thrash” bit, but there it is. Junior’s come a long way, telling his father that he’s careful and brave enough to survive in an unjust world. When he draws a parallel with Lord of the Rings, Dre is ultimately disappointed, like he didn’t expect his ridiculously nerdy son to come up with a reference like that.
I loved this episode. With every joke and reference, the writers and ridiculously talented performers demonstrated a level of comedic brilliance the show has always seemed capable of. It was able to address historical facts about race in America without being predictable, offensive, or dumbed down for the audience. There were some very original and hilarious jokes that didn’t feel like they were easy to achieve. The happy ending also felt like an actual moment of growth for both Junior and Dre. The laughs come straight out of Dre’s need to stir up trouble just to prove his point that black people have had it rough, but the flip side that we’ve actually come a long way is also true, as evidenced by Rainbow’s expert throwing of shade on Dr. King’s PhD. I had a great time with the Johnsons this week on the eve of Dr. King’s birthday.
- “You can’t ski in that.” “Exactly. I don’t plan on skiing much, I plan on looking incredible while I relax in the lodge” Zoey is so on point with this.
- “We’re Johnsons, we ski!” “…and ski and ski and ski” “…and ski and ski” “…until all our tears are frozen.” Diane with the win.
- “I can’t sleep knowing we raised a bad black person.”
- “Obama, Tupac, Dave Chappelle. Hell, I’d say MLK is near the top of that list, wouldn’t you?”
- “I tried to show Junior some racism today, but it was thwarted by a cop and whitey.”
- “Did you just toddler me?” “This is a peaceful protest. I Ghandi’d you.”
- “Dre, I just found you crying in ski jail.”
- “Are you air quoting Dr. King?”
I loved this episode. With every joke and reference, the writers and ridiculously talented performers demonstrated a level of comedic brilliance the show has always seemed capable of.