Black-ish, Season 1, Episode 15, “The Dozens”
Wednesday, February 25, 2015, 9:30 PM (EST), ABC
After the oldest Johnson kid Zoey had an entire episode to herself, Junior gets his turn. Andre overhears in the morning carpool that Junior’s being bullied at school. Since Andre was bullied himself as a teenager, he figures out that he can help Junior defend himself. At first, he actively demonstrates karate chopping his opponent’s throat and groin on Junior, but later realizes he’s in possession of a much more powerful weapon: the art of roasting. It’s an episode that walks the line between sharp and mean-spirited humor, where a quick succession of jokes are actually built into the plot.
Andre gets his inspiration for how to help Junior while talking his problem over with his colleagues. Josh and Mr. Stevens tell their stories of being bullied, but in reality, they were the bullies. Charlie suggests that Junior has two options: a beatdown (which is implausible for Junior, he’s not exactly a physical specimen) or talking to him until he cries. When Andre namedrops “The Dozens,” his white coworkers seem confused, so he goes into a long, outrageously insensitive and borderline offensive history of how black people got so good at insulting each other. Long story short – black people were able to mine comedy from pain. Then Andre and Charlie demonstrate on Josh. My favorite was probably “You’re so white you’re the light people see before they die.” When Charlie tried to do the same with his boss, he threatened to fire him, so that ended quickly.
Back at home, Andre begins his roasting instruction. He advises Junior to study his tormenter, find his flaws, then go in. there are a few different options: state the obvious with the right tone, give false compliments, finish the “you big….” prompt. Unfortunately, he fails miserably during his trial run, so they consider homeschooling. When his next showdown with his bully comes, he has a breakthrough. He singles out Tyler’s cystic acne and declares “you look like you’re allergic to your own face!” A crowd gathers to cheer him on, so he keeps going. “You look like you should have a proactive IV.” His insults aren’t particularly funny, but they’re harsh enough to entertain the masses at school. The principal finds out and suspends Junior, which doesn’t seem to concern Rainbow too much (she’s too sleepy to truly care), but absolutely delights Andre. He’s so proud of his son’s pizza face insult that he spontaneously breaks out his happy dance.
As usual, Diane was the best part of the episode. She’s gotten so used to growing up faster than Jack that when he’s ready to let go of the night light, she panics. Even though she learned how to talk first, pee standing up before Jack, and now she’s reading at 10th grade level, she’s still terrified of the dark. This is bad timing for Rainbow who’s already sleep-deprived from work. Rainbow tries to put the dark into terms Diane should be able to understand, like pure science. Darkness is just the absence of photons. Diane is more disturbed by this than anything else, muttering to herself “I’m full of photons, oh no!” In a season full of stellar Diane moments, her reaction to the truth about photons and darkness tops them all.
Junior’s head has blown up so much from his newfound roasting prowess that he uses his gift against his own mother and sister. He observes that Rainbow doesn’t have bags under her eyes, she has luggage. It’s a good burn, but unnecessarily cruel. Andre tries to rein him in a bit so that he only trash talks as a means of defense, not attack. Junior feels that his bullies can handle it, though. He plans to screenshot the Tinder profile of one of their mothers for the whole school to see, which combines his nerdy cyberstalking with his newfound skill. Right before he’s about to go in for the kill, he remembers his father’s words and devolves into self-deprecating weirdness, knocking his social status back to zero where it was before this whole roasting business. He also gets punched again, which sends another very mixed message.
What’s frustrating about this episode is that Junior is being physically bullied but it’s mostly just a joke. When he gets punched at the end, it’s supposed to be funny. I don’t like that such a painful subject for so many young people out there, some of whom are driven to attempt or complete suicide, is used for laughs without much nuance or empathy. Dre still makes fun of Junior for being a nerd, but he never really solves the bully problem. Meanwhile, Diane fixed the night light problem for herself by tricking Jack into watching the Shining. Rainbow, in her dangerously sleep-deprived state, let it slip that the Shining may be a terrifying movie. Jack was so freaked out he wants the night light back. The closing image is of Jack and Diane as the creepy twins in the hallway, which is all just in Rainbow’s head. What a brilliant subplot and film reference to close things out.
- You made the women of the house cry, but you carried on my legacy.” “You’re giving mixed signals right now.”
- “I don’t have any jokes today, just facts”
The Dozens walks the line between sharp and mean-spirited humor, where a quick succession of jokes are actually built into the plot.