Best friends, beloveds, and beyond (on Black-ish)

Best friends, beloveds, and beyond (on Black-ish)

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Black-ish

“Plus Two Isn’t A Thing”

Season 2 , Episode 11

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As far as an episode of television goes—sitcom or otherwise—Black-ish’s “Plus Two Isn’t A Thing” succeeds based solely on the fact that it doesn’t even dare try to go to the “men and women can’t be friends” well. It would be so easy for it to go into that territory. When the show introduces Gigi (played by Tyra Banks, in case you missed that) as Dre’s oldest and best friend (who also happens to be an international superstar who looks like Tyra Banks), typical sitcom conventions dictate that there has to at least be one moment of something other than platonic feelings or at least the implication of such a thing. But the episode clearly understands that, as Bow and Dre’s conversations with their respective co-workers are reactions to the presumption that there is something “romantic” fueling the Dre/Gigi friendship. (In fact, the Bow scene has already gotten that conversation out of the way before it even starts.)

The concept behind “plus two isn’t a thing” is as much of a fact as there being “no take-backs at black church,” and it honestly touches on the interesting fact that even the closest of friendships change with time and families and all of that stuff that friends always promise won’t get in the way. But the episode itself also brings up a pretty interesting fact about Black-ish: Dre and Bow aren’t best friends. Quite often, they’re partners-in-crime, and it’s easy for them to be on the same wavelength, but they’re definitely not best friends. Even before they give best friendship a shot, we all already know Dre is too high maintenance for Bow to want to be his best friend.

The idea of married couples having to be best friends is… Well, it’s not exactly something you see on sitcoms in the first place, as the genre is pretty littered with “wacky” husband and “killjoy” wife tropes, while the idea of a happy couple is allegedly considered boring—but Black-ish has never really been one for those conventions. Supposedly, married couples as best friends are a real life thing, but I’ll be honest and admit I find it weird when married couples claim to be best friends: All it makes me think is that there’s something wrong with these people that can’t make other friends. While the episode doesn’t outwardly say that, the sterile, robotic nature of the married couples in the cold open feels very much like Black-ish agrees with that point. Even better, the episode makes it clear that there’s nothing wrong with not being best friends with your significant other, as long as you love each other, which isn’t even a question when it comes to Dre and Bow (and never will be).

However, even without the romantic implications involved in male/female pop culture friendships, the episode makes it completely understandable why Bow would be jealous (and why Dre would be attached at the hip to Gigi and vice versa). Tyra Banks is Tyra Banks, and while that is a bit of a punchline as this point, she nails this role in a way recent special guest stars (Michael Strahan and a barely there Amber Rose come to mind) simply haven’t. Despite how big Anthony Anderson and Tyra Banks can play things in their acting (which honestly translates to a perfect best friend casting), it’s really a quieter episode, which works overall for the main plot. And while the final Dre/Gigi scene isn’t a tear-inducing one like a few previous emotional Black-ish moments have been, here are definitely pangs when it comes to the younger versions of them leaving the spa together. It’s enough to make you forget about that awkward arm pit moment in her introduction. I’d actually like to see Tyra Banks’ Gigi on the show again, especially if it leads to interactions with Pops and Ruby or even more one-on-ones with the kids (she’s “Aunt Gigi”!).

It’s all such a smart premise that’s well-executed in every scene, which makes it a bit of a disappointment that it’s not also a funnier episode. That’s not to say that this is a dire episode on the scale of humor, but it really is an episode that relies greatly on the performances of everyone involved. Tracee Ellis Ross doesn’t have the ability to not be entertaining, and the very presence of a conference room scene in Black-ish makes an episode worthwhile. The build-up to the introduction of Gigi and the reactions to the introduction of Gigi provide solid laughs, but those obviously aren’t the whole episode. After all, once you get here—

Dre: “I cannot remember the last time I saw Gigi.”
Bow: “I remember. It was the Grammys, and I bailed you two out of Grammy jail because she went after Iggy Azalea for you.”
Dre: “We went after her. And Gigi only got there first because Iggy caught me with a lucky punch.”
Bow: “It was a series of lucky punches. Long, insanely accurate, deceptively strong, brutal punches.”
Dre: “Iggy’s day is coming.”

—the only place you can really go is down.

It also doesn’t help that the kids’ plot in this episode is more of an afterthought that drags things down than an actual plot, kind of like Zoey with the triangle. The kids’ plot is pretty much too by-the-numbers, even if it leads to the brief laughs from Zoey’s “singing” attempts and Junior’s Phil Spector aspirations. From the moment the plot begins, even before the show has characters sing Alicia Key’s “Fallin’” far more times times than anyone’s ever needed (in an attempt to compete with American Idol?), the fact that Diane is Diane completely dictates where it’s going to go. She’s already a diva outside of the kids’ idea to become international superstars, and everyone knows that. It’s surely one of the many reasons Charlie is (or was) afraid of her. So her leaving the group, coming back to the group, then leaving them again—and also leaving the plot as throwaway as possible—is the only way this plot was ever going to go. Yes, as a family sitcom, it’s clear that this is definitely the plot that the children watching will love. This would be my favorite plot if I were a kid watching this episode. As such, it’s a success. But as a whole, it’s a plot with small beats from each of the characters and actors that work, even when the plot itself isn’t much to think about after the fact. Because the plot really isn’t too much to think about, and it kind of needs to be with a more grounded A-plot. It’s all at least worth it for that triangle, but if there’s a choice between a funnier episode/stronger subplot and the triangle, it’s clear what the choice should be.

Welcome back, Black-ish!

Stray observations

  • I don’t know if this lessens the pain or not, but I spent a good part of my day binge-watching Angie Tribeca, and if Deon Cole can’t be on Black-ish, I’m very happy he’s on that show.
  • I believe this week’s episode marks the second “Gurkel” callback of the season. Never forget.
  • By the way, the lack of Pops and Ruby in this episode actually contributes a lot to the weakness of the episode’s subplot. Part of it is just them not being there to be their usual hilarious selves, but the other part is that they could easily fit in to give some more oomph to the kids’ story. They could even factor in the A-plot, so it’s very odd upon realizing they’re not going to show up in the episode at all.
  • Diane: “Man, Gigi has the life.”
    Junior: “Yeah, it’s amazing. She and dad grew up on the same block, but she’s actually successful.”
  • The return of Mindy Sterling as Pam made me far too excited. Black-ish does great with the Dre at work scenes, but it’s only fair for Bow to have the same outlet.
  • For a moment, I was afraid Bow wasn’t going to address Dre’s Canadian Tuxedo. And then she said: “You look like a farmer, attending in his daughter’s wedding, in Alberta.”
  • Before I forget, this photo apparently exists: