'Black-ish:' Reimagining Blackness on Television

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Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in 'Black-ish.' Image via

Black-ish, the new ABC sitcom created by Kenya Barris, really is one of the funniest shows on TV this season. I laughed my head off watching a marathon run of the first four episodes On Demand. Now it's set to record each week on DVR. One of the things I really appreciate about Black-ish is that it takes universal issues and works them out through a genuinely African-American lens.

For example, in the pilot episode the father, Andre “Dre” Johnson, played by Anthony Anderson, is looking forward to a much deserved promotion to Senior VP at a major marketing firm. He is surprised to find out he’s been promoted to Senior VP of the Urban Division. We can all relate to wanting the promotion, but Anderson’s challenge is one particularly familiar within the black professional class. How do you jump the dreaded, yet anticipated, pigeonholing of your value and worth to an organization as a “black” person? How do you become just Senior VP — not SVP of the “Urban” Division? How do you become human? The way Anderson works out this challenge is hilarious. I rolled with laughter even after the half-hour sitcom had reached its conclusion.

And then there’s last week’s episode when the biracial mother, Rainbow, masterfully played by Tracee Ellis Ross, loses her young son, Jack, while shopping at a department store. It turns out Jack is hiding inside a clothes rack and is eventually found by a sympathetic officer. We can all relate to this situation. Children hide in department stores. I did the exact same thing to my own mother when I was about Jack’s age. I hid between the racks at a Marshalls. But Rainbow and Dre’s conundrum rears its head when they are confronted with the question: Will they spank their son? It seems simple enough, but it’s not. This is not only a question of parenting, it is also a question of tradition and culture.

In fact, each episode presents a universal situation that pushes a particular issue of culture within the African-American community. Ultimately, the situation presses the question: “What does it means to be black?”

It's the Comedy, Stupid.

 Photo by Richard Foreman / ABC via Getty Images

A married couple on ABC's "GCB" attends a church-sponsored marriage workshop. Photo by Richard Foreman / ABC via Getty Images

Over the weekend, Newt Gingrich decided to wade into a minor cultural skirmish by claiming that the new ABC dramedy GCB is an attack on faith fueled by anti-Christian bias.

As Gingrich is, from my perspective at least, prone to flights of intellectual fancy, I was at first prone to roll my eyes and ignore his latest sojourn into the ridiculous. But upon further reflection, I thought it merited a response because his notion that a satire could be the latest cannon fodder in the alleged war on religion (which usually means “war on Christianity” to those who invoke it) speaks to a larger cultural conundrum: Christians and our sense of humor (or, rather, the lack thereof.)

Christians Can Find Humor in 'GCB'

Still from upcoming 'GCB' episode, Photo by Karen Neal/ABC via Getty Images

Still from upcoming 'GCB' episode, Photo by Karen Neal/ABC via Getty Images

It’s a television show that 1) follows “Desperate Housewives” and 2) only got “meh” ratings for its Sunday premiere, so I was slightly taken aback by the mini-firestorm over ABC’s new “GCB.”

The show, based on the book Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin and starring Annie Potts and Kristin Chenoweth, is getting heat from conservatives and Christian groups for portraying Christians in a poor light for their cattiness, opulence, and overall … well, bitchiness. (Don't worry; I'm female. I get to say that.)

New York City Councilman Peter Vallone is going so far as calling for a boycott of the show, saying,” the title of the show alone is yet another outrageous attack on the Christian faith. Charlie Sheen will be back on ‘Two and a Half Men’ before we see a similar title targeting another religion.”