Black-ish Season 1 Episode 16 Review: “Parental Guidance”

Black-ish Season 1 Episode 16 Review: “Parental Guidance”


There’s an increasingly cold and nasty tone to Black-ish in its 2015 episodes that has been off-putting, to say the least. Valentine’s Day was turned into a battleground, “the dozens” reared its ugly head – and this week, the in-laws pay a visit for some wonderful family bickering. Throw on a nice little touch of consumerism on top with a side of racial stereotypes, and we’ve got another loud, hateful episode of what’s becoming a very unpleasant comedy.

As much as I love Jenifer Lewis (and her bleeped-out bits of dialogue), her character is basically a farce at this point, singing negro spirituals and participating in obnoxious call and response with the pastor (and Bishop Don Juan, who she insisted be at Bow and Dre’s wedding), with a nice, thick coat of Jesus babble on top for good measure. Black-ish, for all its talk about thinking forward about race, sure seems to love itself some stereotypes, stereotypes that even stretch to the one white character in the episode, Bow’s father, a dumb old white guy who leers at young black women, and has to mention some anatomical part of a black woman at some point in the episode, neatly checking off his special box in the center of Black-ish‘s Racial Trope Bingo. I mean, he can do nothing right: he even gets ridiculed for marching with Pops and the rest of the people who marched with Martin Luther King in 1965!

Forget the whole pitting in-laws against each other trope; the worst part of “Parental Guidance” is how awful the siblings of Zoey are when she finds out her parents got married after she was born (or at least conceived; it’s not really made clear), a story that makes no sense because states recognize marriages as legal bonds, not churches (has Black-ish or any of its characters heard about separation of church and state?). All of a sudden, Junior is calling her a “bastard Jon Snow” (cool reference, said 2011!) and everyone isolates themselves from their older sister, a thoroughly unpleasant series of events to watch (and the kids’ performances aren’t even that bad; the story is just that horribly resentful, it’s unsettling).

I’m hard-pressed to find anything that works about “Parental Guidance”: there isn’t a scene that isn’t littered with regressive ideals, right down to the conversation every freakin’ African-American show seems to have: that education doesn’t rob someone of their blackness somehow. As Black-ish has gone to great lengths to prove, it’s financial affluence that allows an African-American to feel like they’ve “made it” – a bit of consumerism reinforced here when ‘Bow throws out her wedding ring (just a note: she’s had the nice wedding ring for the entire series, including the opening scene. It’s literally replaced in the middle of the episode so Bow can demand something more expensive).

There is but one brief moment where “Parental Guidance” approaches something interesting: when Pops talks to Bow’s “new age” mother (aka: she eats weird stuff! She believes in “expanded worldviews” and other hippie crap!), they talk about how she changed her name, married a white man, and ended up in a better position than she was before, and more comfortable with who she was. There are a number of intriguing things Black-ish could unpack in that scene, like taking a critical look at what she meant by “improving her life” with the identity she built for herself, one with a name and identity more appealing to white America. Instead, we got Pops yelling “Negress, please,” which is not really going to win anybody any arguments about being an innovative show.

“Parental Guidance” is a wall-to-wall disappointment; piggybacking on last week’s tone-deaf half hour (which itself killed the momentum of the show’s best episode), this attempt to poke fun at serious family issues (these parents are trying to break their kids up 15 years after they got married! FIFTEEN!) only leads to an endlessly forced, awkward attempt at a “family moment,” with a bunch of people who hate each other pasting on fake smiles and moving in slow motion for twenty or thirty seconds. That’s not a resolution: that’s a dud ending to an unfunny episode that continues to embrace the very tired portrayals it set out to destroy.

[Photo via ABC]

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