Wednesday, October 29, 2014

REVIEW: 'black-ish' - Dre Freaks Out When the Family Doesn't Want to Pull Pranks During Halloween in 'The Prank King'

ABC's black-ish - Episode 1.06 "The Prank King"

Dre fears his holiday fun will be ruined when the older kids balk at the glorious Johnson Halloween tradition of seeing who can pull the most outlandish pranks on the each other.

black-ish has slowly but confidently become my favorite new network comedy this year. It has important things to say about a plethora of topics - I really enjoyed last week's episode dealing with disciplining children. With Halloween taking the focus for this week's episode, the show decides to deal with the Johnson family and their own traditions with the holiday instead of doing something about challenging cultural stereotypes (although that still plays a part of the work subplot).

Dre loves pranking his family - and his family has the knack for it too (well, Jack and Diane are still working on it). But the thing that frightens him the most is the thought of the rest of his family outgrowing this longstanding tradition. It also smartly confronts the idea that pranks can be funny but they can also be very hurtful. Dre gets a good laugh out of Josh scaring the other guy at work. And yet, the family also points out how Dre's pranks - dropping a new baby, faking an affair, scaring Junior - can be hurtful. It's all a part of the grand twist that the family is doing one big prank on Dre by pretending to not care about pranking at all this year. Dre is the prank king and the rest of the family just wants to get one over on him.

And yet, it's their confidence - specifically Bow's - that lets Dre in on the big secret. This is a well structured episode of comedy where you can sense that some grand twist with the pranks is coming but you're not entirely sure how it will happen. The cameras spread throughout the house serve both a practical role of spying on each other - I'm hoping they become a recurring joke - but are also the thing that dooms Bow's elaborate prank. Dre is the prank king for a reason and him going along with everything that his family is doing gives them the satisfaction of winning until he does his prank on them. It helps that the audience doesn't know what is going on until the episode's final third. It helps us get into Dre's headspace - or at least the headspace that he is putting on for his family along with some deceitful voiceover.

Not everything worked in this episode. The workplace stuff continues to be less interesting than the stuff going on with the family. That's a setting that only Dre goes and interacts with people. The strengths of the show so far have been the family reacting to each other. That's the comedic material the show should truly be digging into. And yet, without all the set up in the office scenes, it would not have been as funny when Bow punches the intruder i.e. Josh in the face. So everything does seem to come together in the end. It just doesn't feel like the office dynamics should be an integral part of the show.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Prank King" was written by Lindsey Shockley and directed by Matt Sohn.
  • Charlie is such a weird character and energy for the show that I don't think quite fits in. I didn't quite know what to think of the idea that between him and Dre they know a lot of black people.
  • This is the first episode that doesn't feature Lawrence Fishburne. He's only set to appear on a recurring basis and the show was fine without him. And yet, it would have been humorous to see what his reaction to all the pranks would have been.
  • It's also important to remember that Bow is very accomplished as well. She revived a man after being in water for 20 minutes. That's quite impressive and yet Dre doesn't care at all. It feels realistic but she deserves some major credit too.
  • Jack and Diane not knowing who The Beatles are was really funny - although perhaps a bit too similar to the Obama is the first black president joke from the pilot.
  • Why would Dre just leave a nail gun in his front yard? That seems horribly irresponsible.
  • But the Johnson family got to dress up as the Jackson 5 after all in the end.