The seventh episode of ABC's Black-ish aired this week, and as the show establishes itself thematically, one of the motifs that it consistently explores is parental trial and error. No matter how many books one reads or advice one stockpiles, parenting requires on-the-job training, and the perils of poor parenting decisions have served as prime comedic fodder for family-sitcom plots for decades.
And Black-ish scores big by routinely taking us behind the scenes into the making-it-up-as-you-go nature of parental decision-making. Andre (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow's (Tracee Ellis Ross) job as parents is complicated by the fact that their children are growing up with a significantly more privileged existence than they knew as kids. When faced with the unprecedented challenges that stem from this reality, they frequently find themselves on the field without a playbook, and the fun and the funny come from watching these two parents essentially feel their way over every parenting hurdle.
In the pilot, Dre attempted to help his eldest son, Junior, "connect with his roots" by re-creating a makeshift African rites of passage ceremony. Then, in the episode "The Nod," Dre learned that Junior was unfamiliar with certain African-American traditions that he considered Black 101, and set out to find him more black friends by trolling random boys at a bus stop and attempting to bring them home with him to befriend Junior.
It was never more clear that Dre and Bow are figuring it out as they go than in the episode "Crime and Punishment," in which, for the entire show, we watched these two second-guess, flip-flop and hand-wring about whether or not to spank their youngest son.
This week's episode, "The Gift of Hunger," was no different. Dre becomes concerned that his children have grown up with too much luxury after he takes them to “Beef Plantation” (have mercy), a pay-what-you-weigh, all-you-can-eat buffet that was a staple of his own childhood but that his children find intolerable. As Dre's youngest daughter remarks, "This food makes me sad."
So Dre decides that his kids need to learn to "live with less" and attempts to give them "the gift of hunger." Black-ish hilariously takes the proverbial syrup-mayonnaise-fried-bologna-sugar sandwich that almost every black child heard about from a parent (or, at the very least, from a stand-up-comedy routine) to new lows with the addition of ketchup and baking soda. Then, after concluding that their kids don't understand the value of a dollar, Dre and Bow decide that their children must get jobs, stat.
Most parents try to provide more opportunities and comforts for their children than they had when growing up. Naturally, it follows that if they are successful in this pursuit, then their children will grow up with a different financial reality than the one they knew. Nevertheless, it's common for parents to want their children to, at the very least, be aware of how good they have it.
For instance, it has become an annual holiday tradition for my mother to stuff my Christmas stocking with cans of Spam and Vienna sausages so that I'll "never forget," as she says. Never mind that I never ate potted meat when I was growing up, but my parents did, and they want me always to be aware of how fortunate I am. It's a silly gag gift (literally), but I sincerely appreciate what is at the heart of my mother's gesture.
That's why so many Black-ish fans enjoy listening in as Dre and Bow huddle about how to navigate uncharted waters, and then watching them fumble as they try to figure it out week after week. No matter how misguided their effort, we never doubt that their actions are motivated by how much they love their children. And equally important, whenever they misstep—which is always—they acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them. Indeed, what gives Black-ish heart, in addition to some very funny punch lines, is that we have the pleasure of watching Dre and Bow grow up right alongside their kids.
Akilah Green is a recovering Washington, D.C., lawyer-lobbyist-politico turned TV and film writer and producer living in Los Angeles. She currently works for Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show, Chelsea. She has also worked as a staff writer for Kevin Hart’s production company, HartBeat Productions, and as a consultant for Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO. In addition, she co-wrote and is producing Scratch, an indie horror-comedy feature film, and is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow Green’s adventures in La La Land on her blog, Twitter and Facebook.