Black-ish Season 1 Episode 21 Review: “The Peer-ent Trap”

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Black-ish Season 1 Episode 21 Review: “The Peer-ent Trap”

Black-ish

For Black-ish‘s outlandish main characters to work, the show has to embrace their absurdity, and relax on the whole “actually trying to make a point” thing. Black-ish works better when its contrasting the parenting styles of Dre and Bow, rather than focusing on the black family’s journey through a white man’s world (which it doesn’t have to be, but has certainly tried to present itself as such during points of the first season). Maybe it’s the return of that kind of material that marks a return to form for Black-ish – or maybe it’s just the return of Pops; but either way, “The Peer-ent Trap” benefits from this slight shift into absurdity propelled by conflict from the parental units of the Johnson family.

Some of this can be attributed to Bow meeting Dre’s levels of ridiculous this week: the dichotomies in their relationship are much more vibrant when both are operating on the same over-zealous plane, in this case with the two of them panicking over how to discipline Zoey (after she’s caught bumping M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” by her father at a stoplight). Their back and forth feels much more balanced, with Bow’s attempts to appeal to Zoey and soften her father’s hard stance on punishment, but her behavior is equally outlandish, pandering to her daughter to try and foster some kind of unity behind Dre’s back. Meanwhile, Dre’s running around threatening Zoey, or informing Jack that no, he can’t keep a half-dead piece of roadkill in his sock drawer in the hopes that it will heal. With Bow matching Dre’s energy, he doesn’t quite stick out as a sore thumb; it sure helps that the episode gives him something legitimate to freak out about, rather than some kind of manufactured internal debate about race, social class, or any other one of the stories Black-ish has been proven so ill-equipped to handle.

Clearly, Black-ish thrives more working within the traditional frameworks of sitcom stories. Instead of aiming at cultural norms with no real point of view to express, “Peer-ent Trap” plays off the simple dichotomies established in Bow and Dre’s relationship and allows  that conflict be reflected in the children, placing the B-story on the same plane as the A-story, and letting the two work in accordance with each other. For once, “Peer-ent Trap” is able to make Zoey something besides aloof (she’s actually pretty clever here) and Junior more than a simpleton, and their story, though it lacks any kind of resolution, a lot more entertaining to watch (for the first time in weeks, I even found myself laughing at Junior while he exercised his “legal loopholes”).

Maybe an episode like “The Peer-ent Trap” shows Black-ish‘s ultimate limitations; it certainly seems the narrower the show’s scope is, and the farther it moves away from its high concept premise about being a Landmark Race Sitcom, the more Black-ish can portray its characters – who themselves are not naturally endearing types, save for maybe Bow – in a much more amusing light. For this week at least, the series appears to be moving away from the shrill, jaded material of previous episodes for a much more level-headed approach to comedy, and “The Peer-ent Trap” is all the better for it, one of the stronger entries in recent memory.

[Photo via ABC]

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