It’s one of the best times of the year: Halloween on television! Yeah, yeah, there are the silly family high jinks of Thanksgiving episodes and the warm and fuzzy togetherness of Christmas specials but, overall, Halloween episodes tend to be my favorite. It’s a holiday that celebrates the weird and the eerie, when characters have the opportunity to express another side of themselves by dressing up, and when even the sitcoms that usually remain grounded in reality get the excuse to experiment more with the fantasy world. In short, Halloween is fun and when a show embraces this, the fun becomes almost tangible. Black-ish is entering the world of holiday episodes early — just six episodes into its first season — but because it has already proven to be such a strong and confident sitcom, it pulls this off with mostly positive results.
If “Crime and Punishment” put the spotlight on how well the Johnson children (and actors) work together then “The Prank King” spotlights how well the entire family functions together as a unit. They have the comfort and ease of a sitcom family that has been on for multiple seasons, hitting all the correct beats and playing off each other in a way where simplistic interactions further deepen the character development.
Unsurprisingly, Andre approaches Halloween with the same unabashed enthusiasm as he approaches everything: crazy lawn decorations, planned out theme costumes for the family, and a love (and knack) for pranks. That the Johnsons enjoy pranking each other is one of those small things that reflect the family dynamic and how they both enjoy having fun but also love each other to know the limits and how not to go too far. It’s a tradition that Rainbow and the kids adhere to because their father clearly likes it and because, c’mon, it’s always hilarious to prank a sibling!
Andre and Rainbow’s relationship is quickly becoming one of my favorite marriages on television. I keep coming back to the word “ease” but that’s what it feels like. They are always at ease with each other; there is an effortlessness to their marriage. They are well aware of each others quirks and habits — so much so that Andre has no trouble pranking Rainbow; he puts super glue on a magazine he knows she’ll pick up to hit a fake spider with (her “I have surgery tomorrow!” reaction is adorable) — which means they work well as a team (vs. the children) and that it’s thoroughly amusing to watch them go toe-to-toe with one another. There’s that great prank the parents pull on their children in the beginning of the episode when Andre pretends to drop a (fake) baby in front of them. It’s a great gag but it’s made even better by Andre and Rainbow’s collusion and reaction: the way he gleefully kicks away the doll and Rainbow’s little celebration dance.
Underneath all of the silliness in the episode — the twins hilariously “prank” their parents by pissing in their bed — “The Prank King” aims higher by having Halloween and the pranks plot work double-duty as a rumination on a father dealing with his children (and especially his oldest daughter) growing up faster than he’d like. The children are no longer interested in pranking nor are they interested in dressing up together to create a theme costume (The Jackson 5! SO wonderful!) which leads Andre to have a typical breakdown in which he destroys the decorations on his lawn and declares that Halloween is officially over.
But, as it turns out, nothing is what it seems. Rainbow and the children have been planning this whole thing where they pretend to be “over” Halloween so their father will let his guard down and they can prank him while he’s home alone, believing the rest of his family is at the movies. Andre’s too clever for them, though, — this is actually reminiscent of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Halloween episode with the twists and turns though, in my opinion, this works better and is less predictable — and he’s been one step ahead of them the whole time, thanks to the cameras installed in the house. He staged his outrage and turns the prank around on them (only to have it again turned around when the break-in he planned becomes a real break-in).
It’s a very cutesy ending that is victorious for Andre and yes, everyone comes together to enjoy the holiday and calm Andre’s fears about losing his children to adulthood. It’s still going to happen and he’s going to have to brace himself but for now, he’s content with where the Johnson family is at. “The Prank King” isn’t the top episode of Black-ish yet and deals less with the original premise and cultural issues than previous episodes do but it’s still a solid offering from the promising series. The episode fits neatly into the category of family sitcoms while still maintaining its unique point of view and without compromising its identity — an admirable feat.
- Weird: I didn’t notice Laurence Fishburne’s absence until way after the episode ended.
- There were glimpses of Andre at the office again which, while not as strong as the office scenes in the pilot, were pretty great especially while poking fun at his white coworker who always asks if Andre knows Jay Z and marvels at the idea that Andre can be a “bro” who enjoys pranks.
- I’m currently writing this in a car on the way to Florida and all of my notes are inaccessible so forgive me if this is a little hazy and rushed! And definitely remind me of your favorite lines — there were so many that I had written down.