Screen Wars

‘Black-ish’ is a sitcom unafraid of big questions

Kai Ryssdal Sep 23, 2014
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Screen Wars

‘Black-ish’ is a sitcom unafraid of big questions

Kai Ryssdal Sep 23, 2014
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“black-ish” is being hailed for bringing new ideas to the family sitcom landscape, but it’s all very familiar for creator Kenya Barris.

“My wife is a doctor, we have five kids. We kind of came from humble beginnings and pulled ourselves up,” Barris says. “[Then we] looked around at who our kids were, looked around at our friends’ kids, and kept having that same conversation over and over: We didn’t really recognize the life that they were living compared to the life we were living.”

That closely resembles the premise of “black-ish,” which stars Anthony Anderson as a successful marketing executive who’s worried his family — his four children, his wife (a doctor) and his father — have lost sight of their roots.

“Black-ish” also stars Tracee Ellis Ross and Laurence Fishburne. Larry Wilmore helped craft the first season before leaving for his own Comedy Central show.

Wilmore says he was on board as soon as he read the first page of the script. “black-ish” tackled race as a social issue, putting it at the center of the plot, not the sidebar.

“There was content on this show that I felt hadn’t been on television in a long time,” Wilmore says. “And the fact that he was so honest about race: It wasn’t a family that happened to be black.”

The show, which debuts Wednesday on ABC, has already drawn praise for the way it handles nuances of race, class and identity. TV critic Alan Sepinwall wrote that “black-ish” has a smart, defined point-of-view while still achieving the sitcom ideal of “mak[ing] the universal specific and the specific universal.” NPR called it one of the fall’s best new shows and the A.V. Club wrote that “Black-ish” refreshingly brings more perspectives and ideas to prime time, instead of just “‘diversity’ for diversity’s sake.”

For more on “black-ish,” listen to Kai’s conversation with Barris and Wilmore in the audio player above.

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