Black-ish deciding to shift things by putting “THE Word” as the first episode of its second season made a lot of sense. In theory, starting things off with a bang (no pun intended with regards to this week’s episode) would serve as a reminder of the types of things the show excels at and as a hook for getting eyes back onto the show (or onto the show for the first time). It was an episode about the n-word, and it’s not difficult to generate buzz, good or bad, about that. But it’s not like the original season premiere, this week’s “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gun,” is a dud of an episode. It’s far from it, actually. In fact, the re-ordering of these two episodes really serves as a great example of how well Black-ish functions without really being even a little bit serialized.
“Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gun” keeps this current season of Black-ish on top of the world, this time with a concept-of-the-week that’s more universal, the issue of having a household gun and self-defense when a neighborhood’s safety is in peril. It’s a very funny episode about a serious topic—with everyone’s fears (every Johnson family member has something to do in this episode) trickling down in interesting ways—and yet, despite the nature of the episode, it’s not as flashy or surreal as “THE Word.” The episode is goofier, for sure: Look at the “undercounter switchblade,” the “shower machete,” and the “blender nunchucks” (which actually end up being the most important weapon that Nicole Sullivan’s Janine didn’t have).
But it’s also more focused on getting its points across. Even with Josh begging for the conference room scene to become the standard ridiculous conversation (“Now, before I continue, does anyone want to interrupt me with personal business?”), that scene is a lot more cut and dry than the ones from “THE Word.” It’s a choice that feels necessary here, as there’s more of an underlying reason for Dre’s behavior in this episode than there was in the premiere.
Growing up, I don’t recall there ever being a conversation between my parents about possibly having a gun in the house; but I do recall television and movies absolutely loving their characters having that argument, and Black-ish is no exception. It appears as though Rainbow sort of takes a step back from being the manic yin to Dre’s yang in this episode, as she is the one member of the family who really is anti-gun, until the episode gets to her attempts to bargain with the stubborn Dre (and almost, as a result, the rest of the family). It’s actually pretty interesting (and a little scary) how into having a gun lines drawn. There’d also probably be a “hilarious” alarm system scene failure at some point (not counting Junior’s situation), but this episode is very focused on what it actually wants and needs to do.
Dre’s gun fever ultimately being the result of his upbringing in the hood is honestly such a good choice for the episode and the show. Early season one liked to remind the audience that Dre started from the bottom, unlike his sheltered kids, and while that could definitely be played for laughs, it was always a nice reminder (for a kind of overbearing character) that he worked hard to get out of there (and why he did that). Black-ish taking that upbringing seriously is a simple way to rein Dre in when he gets too out of control, though getting the gun isn’t even the most ridiculous thing he does in this episode (again, there are the weapons all around the house) and tried to do in flashbacks (“You never let me do nothin’!”). He keeps a running tally of all the times Bow has won an argument or a decision, which would easily come across on any other show as part of the undeserving husband and nagging wife trope. But it’s not, because it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Bow also creating such a list herself.
As for the subplots, it’s definitely not a shock to see Pops use Zoey to do chores, but it’s almost a pleasant surprise to see the eldest Johnson child actually do something, even if it’s as goofy as saying “karate” like “kara-tay.” It probably sounds like a broken record at this point, but, as the typical cool older sister type, Zoey really is the least clearly defined character on the show. As Pops gets his Mr. Miyagi (and come on, a little bit of Morpheus) on to turn her into Zoey-san, Zoey actually gets to be funny for the second episode in a row, on an even bigger scale.
The twins skate by a lot based on their twisted adorableness, and that remains the case here with their decision to recreate the children’s security documentary, Home Alone. Junior being so out of this world is consistently amazing to see and, as the first season showed, quite easy for the show to rely on. So seeing Zoey give into and also buy into her grandfather’s “training” regimen is immediately endearing. Plus, come “home invader” time, Zoey’s scarf action with her “mop the floor!” technique is just as funny as the rest of the nonsense her parents and siblings are up to.
Going back to Junior real quick, last week I criticized his B-plot for missing the mark, but he certainly makes a comedic mountain out a of mole hill with small his cyber terrorism plot this week. As funny as the episode is, it’s hard to beat the sight gag of Johnson family chaos juxtaposed with a quiet Junior typing on his laptop and occasionally drinking his Red Bull from a straw. It’s nothing frantic or anything that even resembles a “hacking into the mainframe”-type television aesthetic, and that’s what makes it an extremely funny moment. It honestly almost steals the episode, and it’s barely five seconds of screen time.
As Black-ish continues and remains consistently funny, one can wonder just how long the series can continue being an “issues”-focused series. Black-ish is completely different from other ABC sitcoms—even the other “diverse” series Fresh Off The Boat—because of its decision to seriously (yet hilariously) tackle issues like racism and manliness and guns, but the question becomes one of whether or not it will get old. Don’t get me wrong: A black comedy being on network television and talking about specifically black issues is a big deal. A show like Black-ish is putting humorous spins on these topics and lessons, but the question is whether or not it can just do funny by itself? Creatively, can Black-ish ever become black Modern Family? Even if it can, should it?
- Dre: “There’s nothing funny about the show Girls, Bow.” I had never felt more like Dre than in this very moment. Then he said “your perspective is dumb!” to Bow, and I had to question some things about myself as a person.
- Zoey: “No gun? I thought dad loved us.”
- “I’m about to sell one to you and you’re a—” I audibly gasped at the gun salesman almost saying something extremely offensive to Dre. Luckily, we already went through “THE Word,” so no lessson was needed on that front this week.
- Rainbow: “Rock, paper, scissors. Winner gets her way. What is that?”
Dre: “Gun. Gun beats everything.”
- The twins using Home Alone as resource is already a great choice (that poor, decapitated teddy bear), but of course the show has them do the classic hands on face reaction. It’s cute and precocious, and they’re lucky it works for them.
- Rainbow: “Dre, I hate guns more than I hate how Levis fit me.”