We’ve spent eight seasons with the Johnsons, following their ups and downs, watching the kids grow up and bonding over our shared experiences. Now it’s time to say goodbye to one of our favorite TV families, and honestly, we’re ready for a big celebratory send-off. Black-ish showrunner Courtney Lilly spoke with The Root about the series finale “Homegoing” and what the show has meant to him.
The crew began planning for the end back in Season 7, as no one was sure Season 8 was happening. To prepare for where the Johnsons would find themselves, Lilly and his team went back to the pilot.
“For us, a lot of the anxieties that drove Dre as a character were rooted in him being an outsider in the communities he was in, both in his neighborhood and his workplace,” he said. “It’s a common experience for a lot of African-Americans living in predominantly white neighborhoods and workplaces. A lot of that anxiety is brought on by ourselves in a way. Obviously, there are microaggressions, there are real aggressions, there are things to contend with. But it’s the things we do to kind of not bring those things on, as if we can control that, that creates a level of anxiety. We found a lot of our stories driven over the years by Dre trying to control those anxieties.”
Unlike complex, mythology heavy dramas, there was no major question for the final season or as Lilly puts it, “Nobody’s going to be on the Iron Throne.” However, the writers did want to showcase everything that’s made Black-ish so special for the last eight years.
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“We did want to spend 13 episodes with this family and celebrate a lot of joy and a lot of love, because that’s what we’ve watched for eight years,” he said.
One of the highlights of Black-ish has been its ability to effortlessly blend comedy with important issues. The series delivers that perfect combination one last time in Episode 12, “If a Black Man Cries in the Woods...” Dre, Pops and Junior head to the woods to help Junior with his broken heart and end up confronting some vulnerable truths.
“Laurence [Fishburne] in Season 7 came to us with a story. He said ‘I want to do a story about why it’s hard for Black men to hug each other and genuinely say I love you. It’s always an I love you man or a bro hug,’” Lilly said. “We thought it was a great opportunity to explore something that’s been in the DNA since the pilot. Anthony as Dre being hard on Junior and Pops being hard on Dre.”
“It was a really hard episode to crack, until we figured out we needed Pops’ POV on this. As the oldest generation in the family, as someone who’s getting ready to live his third act and say ‘I’ve done my job, job well done’ and take a victory lap,’” he continued. “To know that while he’d done the hard work…to say that there’s another piece missing, which for Pops was just acknowledging his guilt that he could never talk about for not being there for Dre as a character. In seasons before we’d come to the peace of acknowledging where they were before, but he still carried that guilt. And being in a place where he could admit to his son that he still felt like he didn’t deserve the love that his son had given him, it felt like that was our finale.”
Lilly was recently named the co-showrunner of Grown-ish Season 5, but before he headed to college, he needed to say goodbye to the Johnson family, both in front of and behind the camera. To him, those are the people who’ve made Black-ish the success that it is.
“For me it was really about the days I spent on this lot, working on this show,” he said. “I interacted with the crew, cast and post production, especially the last two years when we were making this during a pandemic. When we were asking people to leave their families and journey to a workplace where we didn’t know what was going to happen. To make it a safe work environment we had to trust each other, to love each other. The thing that I know will never come back is that camaraderie for eight years. All the stuff about the finale, as much as we made a show, we lived a life. That’s what’s been impressive to me about it.”
Black-ish is available to stream on Hulu.