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Series / Black-ish

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The Johnson family.
Black-ish is a 2014 American sitcom created by Kenya Barris and starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis-Ross, and Laurence Fishburne (the show is co-produced by Fishburne's company Cinema Gypsy Productions). The show centers around Andre "Dre" Johnson, Sr., an ad executive, and his anesthesiologist wife Rainbow, as they try to raise their kids in an upper-middle-class environment. The show premiered on ABC, and is one of the few minority-led sitcoms to air on a major network.

After three seasons, Zoey left for college and her own spin-off, Grown-ish, on ABC's sister channel Freeform.

Tropes in this series include:

  • Adult Fear: "God" features a truly chilling scene where Bow has a sonogram, and the doctor just can't seem to find the baby's heartbeat.
  • The Alcoholic: It's implied quite a few times that Pops has a drinking problem.
    Pops: (about a Hot Wheels track) Well beat him [Jack] with something I love. I love this... because I used to beat you with it.
    Dre: How many White Russians have you had?
    Pops: Irrelevant. But a lot.
    • In "Lemons", Pops says Junior might have "the gene."
  • Anachronism Stew: Deliberately played for laughs in "Pops' Pops' Pops", in which Pops' story about his grandfather is ostensibly set in the 1920s but features various anachronisms both blatant (breakdancing is invented) and subtle (a mention of Spanish Flu).
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: In "The Dozens", Dre teaches Junior how to roast people as self-defense against bullies. The way we see him do it is by locating 3 faults about the person and using those as his ammo. Remember, Junior is generally The Ditz.
  • Ax-Crazy: Diane shows signs of this.
    • In "The Nod" she says there's no way a patient's death in the ER can be conclusively blamed on the doctors.
    • In "Crime and Punishment" she's really excited about hitting someone with a frying pan when Pops is showing her how various kitchen items can be used to spank someone.
    • In "Martin Luther Skiing Day" Charlie says she scares him.
    • In "The Purge", Diane is enthralled with the idea of Ruby's Mischief Night. She even had a Molotov cocktail on standby before Bow intervened. Also during Charlie's mock funeral, she seems to like the concept of death.
    • "Jack of All Trades" had her principal try to discuss her behavior during school, though Dre and Bow brush it aside since they're more worried about Jack's interest in blue-collar work.
  • Black and Nerdy: Dre struggles to relate to Junior, who is more interested in Marvel Comics and the works of J. R. R. Tolkien than basketball or other traditionally "black" pursuits.
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  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: In "Andre from Marseille", Zoey dates a white French guy (also named Andre) that Dre disapproves of. Until he breaks up with her, that is, at which point he assumes that Andre is racist and enlists Junior to find out information about him, only to find out that the "Becky" that he left Zoey for is in fact black.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Downplayed. Bow is uncomfortable with Junior dating a white girl despite the fact that she herself is bi-racial and has a white father. (Curiously, she did seem okay with Zoey's white French boyfriend in "Andre from Marseille".)
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Both of Bow's parents. Andre and Ruby aren't fans of Bow's mom due to her "bougie" attitude most of the time.
  • But Not Too Black: As the name implies, a running theme of the show revolves around the family (particularly Dre) trying not to seem like they're selling out or "acting white" now that they have achieved financial success. Bow receives the brunt of it thanks to being half-white. "If I'm not black, could someone tell my hair and my ass?" Ironically, when we meet her mother, she's more "white" looking than Bow.
  • Celebrity Paradox: When Dre is panicking about the family coming down with something in "Daddy Dre-Care", he mentions a movie that starred Laurence Fishburne:
    Dre: It is happening. Contagion is here and it is gonna get me and gonna get us!
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Dre's work friend Charlie.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Both of Dre's parents run on this. Pops took a little too much glee in the thought of Dre corporally punishing his grandkids, while Ruby (allegedly) blew up Pops' car. And his boat. Twice. And burned all his hats.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Dre tells his mom Junior wants to become a Republican, she has no problem with the idea of him running a tavern. That is, a publican.
  • Confirmation Bias: Invoked in "Hope." When Pops is complaining about the police killing case on the news, claiming it's a textbook police attacking a black man case, Junior points out that Pops is ignoring several facts about the case such as the fact the suspect was armed and the police pulled him over because he was driving 90 MPH.
  • Continuity Snarl: In the season 3 episode "Their Eyes Were Watching Screens," both Andre and Bow refer to Diane (and by extension, Jack) as being 10 years old, despite the fact she was introduced at six years old (in fact, according to an early episode, she was born not very long before the 2008 presidential election).
  • Darker and Edgier: Even beyond the racial stuff, this show tackles subjects no other sitcom would likely touch. Bet you never thought you'd see such a show take on, say, graying pubic hair.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: "The Talk" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, centering around Dre having to have this conversation with Junior after he accidentally catches him in the act.
  • A Day in the Limelight: The episode "Being Bow-Racial" focused more on Rainbow while Dre gets negated to a side plot. She even does voice-over monologues and has a mini-segment dedicated to explaining the ideology behind being interracial.
  • Discriminate and Switch: Common enough.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: Pops mentions that he lost his beloved car when he and his ex-wife got divorced. A later episode reveals that's because she blew it up. Along with his boat.
  • Documentary Episode: "Any Given Saturday" is shown as a video documentary prepared by Diane for class about Jack playing basketball.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Pops got his nickname from the fact that he used to swiftly and brutally punish his son by spanking him with a Hot Wheels track. Dre and Rainbow worry about the effect that using corporal punishment on their own kids might have.
  • Do Wrong, Right: When the principal tells Dre and Bow about Junior insulting the other kids, Dre, who was the one who taught Junior how to do it, is so happy he starts dancing.
  • Do You Think I Can't Feel: Dre's speech to his coworkers near the end of "Lemons" when he's asked why he hasn't said anything regarding Trump's election and if he even cares about what's happening to America. Yes, he's sad, angry and scared. Very much so. But at the same time, it wasn't completely shocking either.
  • Double Standard: When Dre and Bow find out that Junior had sex with his girlfriend, Dre is actually happy for him and congratulates him, while Bow is more negative and thinks that he just used his girlfriend for sex. Meanwhile when Bow reveals that Zoey is sexually active, Andre is horrified and Bow is okay with it.
  • Everything Is Racist: Dre attempts to invoke this in "Martin Luther Skiing Day" to teach Junior about prejudice. Hilarity Ensues.
    • "Colored Commentary" also shows he frequently plays the race card for fun. Rainbow says that Dre is the Marco Polo of racism, because he is very good at finding it everywhere.
  • First Gray Hair: Bow expresses some horror when she discovers a single white female moving in downstairs.
  • Flanderization: Dre's white co-workers gradually slide from blissfully clueless about racial issues to openly racist, though his dad thinks that they just plain hate him at the end of the episode "Jack of All Trades."
  • Generation Xerox: Junior’s relationship with his parents is almost exactly like Dre’s with his own. Junior is closer to Bow as Dre is with Ruby, and Dre shows Junior tough love like Pops did/does. Also, Bow looks down upon Junior’s girlfriend similar to how Ruby treats Bow.
  • Genius Ditz: For all of Junior's dimwittedness, he turns out to be incredibly skilled at insulting people once Dre teaches him how. This has been used for a quiet Continuity Nod in "Jacked o' Lantern" when he does it to his cousins, and in "Chop Shop" he cuttingly points out Dre's hypocrisy, leaving his father really uncomfortable and unable to respond.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Bow struggles a lot with her biracial identity, and the constant jibes from Ruby calling her "Halfrican" don't help.
  • Hippie Van: Rainbow's parents live in one. It runs on poo.
  • Hollywood Drowning: In "Sink or Swim", Dre does this after attending a pool party despite his inability to swim.
  • Imagine Spot: Dre has these from time to time. One of the best examples is probably the golden bike and ice cream truck scene.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Performed by Bow on Charlie in the middle of her cocktail party. Involved a steak knife, a bendy straw and a dash of vodka.
  • In-Series Nickname: "Party Time" for Jack.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Tanya, one of Dre's coworkers, is a Korean-American woman from Torrance. Despite this, one of her white coworkers repeatedly asks her questions about Chinese culture and apologizes whenever saying something negative about China.
  • It Makes Sense in Context
    Rainbow: Gandhi inspired the world. YOU are a giant man-baby.
  • Irony:
    • Dre's mother is a devout Christian. She's displayed Wrath, Pride, Lust, and Sloth, with Gluttony, Greed, and Envy missing. Sometimes she's done it in the same episode, like crossing herself and proudly describing herself as a "bad @#$%&!" like Empire's Cookie.
    • In "40 Acres and a Vote", she's a Democrat In Name Only as much of her ideals sounds a lot like Trump rather than Clinton, such as wondering why there wasn't a wall bordering Mexico built yet, and even unironically quoting Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: "Your mom can be a bit-... much."
  • Maiden Name Debate: Rainbow did not take Andre's last name. Technically, it doesn't really matter, as her maiden name was also "Johnson", but Dre is still furious.
  • Multigenerational Household: Pops lives with the family and watches the kids while Dre and Rainbow are at work, though Dre states that he thinks this arrangement is not the best idea. Later in the series, Ruby also stays with the Johnsons whenever Pops is not around.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: In "Manternity", Rainbow is trying to hide her pregnancy from the hospital staff because she's up for a promotion.
  • New Transfer Student: Junior, to public school in Season 4.
  • Nice Hat: Pops' signature hats.
  • Noodle Incident: There seems to be a tension between Charlie and Diane, which hasn't been explained so far. See "Martin Luther Skiing Day" for an example.
  • Not So Above It All: When Junior brings home a white girlfriend, it's actually Bow far more than Dre who has a problem with it, to the point of taking over narrating duties.
  • N-Word Privileges: Discussed on the second season opener "The Word". Jack says the word while rapping the uncensored version of "Gold Digger" at his school's talent show and, thanks to a no-tolerance for hate speech policy Bo advocated for, faces the possibility of being expelled. Dre thinks it's okay for Jack to use the word while the school principal, who is also black, does not.
    • In a fantasy scene set in the 1920s, the privileges even seem to ripple backwards in time against all logic; Dre objects to white Josh's period-appropriate references to "Negroes" and isn't even sure why:
      Dre: I know it's the exact right word for our times, but... just the way you say it...
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: To say that Bow doesn't get along with her mother-in-law Ruby is an understatement.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Dre's father goes by the name "Pops".
  • Overprotective Dad: Dre automatically dislikes Zoey's boyfriends.
  • Pædo Hunt: In "Who's Afraid of the Big Black Man?", when Bow calls out Dre for leaving a little white girl all alone in an elevator and asks what's the worst could've happened. Dre imagined that he would be accosted by Chris Hansen himself with a news crew labeling him as a molester.
  • Parental Favouritism: Andre and Bow love all their kids the same, but it’s clear they’re closer to one over the other with the teen characters:
    • Andre makes it no secret that Zoey is his favorite child and considers Junior a disappointment. Likewise, Bow prefers Junior and is usually dismissive of Zoey. They don’t play favorites with the twins and Devante.
    • Also indicated with Pops and Ruby; Andre is total Mama's Boy for Ruby and has a distant relationship with Pops whereas his sister Rhonda is closer to Pops and not very close with Ruby at all due to her uncomfortableness with her sexuality.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Ruby's main weapon of choice, especially when talking to Rainbow.
  • Playing Cyrano: Zoey does this for Junior. It works, but only because the girl wanted to use Junior to edit a video for her.
  • Precision F-Strike: Happens in "The Word" during a talent show when Jack sings "Gold Digger".
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Dre's work friend Josh does this frequently, with hilarious and equally annoying results. Dre and Charlie constantly make it clear that it's not okay, to no avail.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Diane and Jack. Diane is incredibly intelligent, mature, and well-spoken for her age, while Jack is a prankster and troublemaker.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: "Liberal Arts" is a barely veiled trial-run for the potential Zoey college spinoff series. Complete with her own funny sidekick and romantic interest.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Ruby makes Rainbow hit this after four seasons by meddling with her baby's formula (Bow was breast-feeding).
  • Reality Ensues: After a season and a half of outrageous Conspicuous Consumption, Dre and Bow discover their financial situation is completely screwed.
    • Rainbow ends up with Post-partum depression after having D'evante.
    • Dre being the standard clueless sitcom dad who overreacts to everything would have been uncommented on in other shows, but in this one it leads him and Bow to the brink of divorce.
  • Relax-o-Vision: An animated segment explaining the history of trash-talking in "The Dozens" ends with a title card from the producers explaining that "Slavery animation too depressing to show."
  • The Reveal: How does Dre's mother cook all that delicious Soul Food every Christmas? She orders it from a Hispanic lady while everyone's out and fakes it. Once Bow stumbles upon it, she gets roped into the charade.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: In "Lemons", Dre compares the election results to a shocking upset in sports.
    Dre: What happens when the winners and losers are supposed to be on the same team? Seriously, I'm really asking. What happens?
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • "Hope" centers around a news story about a black man being shot by a cop, echoing a number of news stories that had happened prior to the episode.
    • Season 3's "Lemons" discussed the general political climate of America in the wake of the 2016 election two months after said election, which is when the episode aired. Dre saying it felt like only a few days might be a Development Gag.
  • Rule of Funny: After showing flashbacks with Dre's mom blowing up Pops' car (and getting arrested), then his boat (and getting arrested), then Dre mentions her "boat dynamite" stash. Even in the 70s, it's extremely unlikely for someone to be able to buy a large amount of dynamite without the authorities looking very closely at them, especially someone black (who keeps blowing things up). Maybe that's how she got arrested.
  • Scary Black Man: In the Halloween episode, Dre thinks he sees one in his living room while looking at a security feed of the house. It turns out he's looking at himself.
  • School Uniforms Are the New Black: At least for the younger kids, the teens don't have them (which apparently isn't an unusual setup for an LA-area private school).
  • Shout-Out: The twins are named after a song by John Cougar-Mellencamp. This is addressed in Season 2, where they're naturally quite weirded out to be named after a romantic couple.
  • Shadow Archetype: As much as Dre rather not admit it, he does have quite a lot in common with Junior; namely both being huge Momma's Boys and No Social Skills (though Dre is bit better in that regard). Also, it's indicated that as a kid, Dre was as awkward as Junior is.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Dre's parents have a rather tumultuous on-and-off relationship. It involves high explosives (until the authorities confiscated them). His mom is portrayed as the primary aggressor, and Dre does his best to keep them apart at all costs. Leaving aside the dynamite, this isn't exactly an unrealistic portrait of an abusive relationship.
    Pops: When I'm with your mother, I never feel more alive!
    Dre: What about when it's over?
    Pops: Well, then I feel lucky to be alive!
  • Special Guest: Spoofed with Jermaine Dupri's appearance in "30 Something", where almost all his lines are just randomly spouting facts about himself.
  • Sucky School: What Bow and Dre, and everyone else for that matter (except Pops), thinks public school will be like when Junior gets expelled from his private school. The school is actually not that bad.
  • Take That!:
    • Diane on a boring story Jack kept her up late with: "Thirty minutes. No twist. It was like an episode of Entourage."
    • In the fairly serious episode "Hope", one of the bits of levity comes when someone suggests that the black boy who was beaten by the police may have been attacked because he was selling copies of the Spike Lee movie Chi Raq.
  • The Talk: Dre discovers that Junior already got it from Bow years earlier without him, and insists on giving his own. Much to his discomfort.
  • Training Montage: Defied in "Any Given Saturday", where Diane decides to not show Jack's training on her documentary and instead show the montage "that Hollywood doesn't dare to do", showing what the others are doing while Jack is training.
  • Token Minority: In-universe, Dre worries that this is the only reason he was promoted at the ad agency he works at, especially since he's the new head of the "Urban Division".
    Dre (internal monologue): Did they just put me in charge of "black stuff"?
  • Very Special Episode: The highly acclaimed "Hope", in which the family simply sits around discussing the issue of police brutality.
    • Season 3's "Lemons", which discussed racial and political tensions in the wake of the 2016 election.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Subverted. In "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gun", Pops tells Zoey he's going to teach her karate, but later admits he just wanted her to do chores. Then Zoey does the same thing to Jack.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?: Happens In-Universe in "Lemons", where Zoey makes it clear to Bow that the lemonade she's making for her friends is just lemonade. It isn't a Shout-Out to Beyoncé's album or "When life gives you lemons" or anything, it's just lemonade. Bow is annoyed by this.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Junior dates a white girl during the episode "Being Bow-racial", which makes Bow feel somewhat uncomfortable and forces her to confront her identity as a biracial woman who herself was the result of the gender-inverse.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: Played for Laughs when Junior tells Dre that he joined the Young Republicans club. Dre's mom and Bow even hug each other and cry when they find out. Turns out he only joined to impress a girl... who also happens to be black.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: Andre was raised in an impoverished urban family while his kids live an upper-middle class suburban one. He's concerned with things like his oldest son having no black friends or trying out for field hockey (a sport that is typically only played by girls in US schools) but they took it Up to Eleven.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Diane is easily the most level-headed and mature of the Johnson kids, and possibly the whole family. She's six (at the start of the series).
  • Younger Than He Looks: Dre. To his children at least.
    Junior: I think you look good for your age.
    Dre: Thank you, son. Forty's not bad, huh?
    All the kids gasp in horror.
    Junior: You're only forty? Good Lord! You've lived a hard life!