Again Black-ish finds itself in the ballpark of something interesting, but “Oedipal Triangle” can’t get past a generic plot, which draws comparisons to previous shows that have tackled tenuous in-law relationships and school crushes before and better. Family Ties or the oft-compared The Cosby Show could get away with basic premises like the domineering in-law comes to town, but viewers are so savvy now they can see that story arc from a mile away. As a result, Dre’s mom coming to town and stepping on Bow’s toes and Zoey giving her nerdy brother advice on picking up girls can no longer be the whole story without some sort of deviation or unexpected twist, but this episode, that’s all we get.
Dre’s mom comes to visit with promise of deliciously unhealthy home cooking and inappropriately sumptuous gifts for the kids, making everyone happy except Bow, who finds herself put last when mom’s in town. Dre’s mom Ruby (guest star Jenifer Lewis) pushes a connection to her “Zulu-Cherokee” ancestry on the kids insisting, for example, that Diane go back to her natural hair. The rub is that Bow and the kids feel, well, black-ish. Diane’s hair as a running joke lands well, in no small part due to the scene stealing Marsai Martin, but Ruby calling out Bow for seeing a therapist after having the kids (which ones or when, I don’t know) feels like a brick in the face.
Still these moments are when Black-ish really feels like it’s leveraging what makes it unique, hinting at a sort of cultural rupture between older working class black people who paved the way for their kids’ success even if that meant their kids living a life they don’t really know much about.
Unfortunately this topical rupture is only casually addressed with primary attention paid to Dre engaging in “different but the same” hijinks to keep both Bow and his mom happy. The scene where Dre brings Ruby and Bow to the same lookout and they agree about how much of a knucklehead Dre can be seems so artificial. Their behavior reflects nothing of who they are as people and feels copy and pasted from some other show, to the point where it’s hard to feel invested in the characters because the writers sure don’t.
The B plot where the popular Zoey coaches Andre Jr. into getting the hottest girl in class has little specificity to it and the moments that are clearly trying to be funny often don’t make much sense. Junior starts off rummaging through the garbage with another girl for recyclables or something, but Zoey intercepts and offers to help him get Ciara, the “hot” girl with eyes glued to her phone. Although Junior demonstrates a preference for garbage girl, we never see her again and Zoey’s guidance helps Junior get the girl, sort of. Again, Junior doesn’t really care about this popular girl and it’s hard to see why Zoey is so invested in the situation either, which again makes it difficult to care about what happens in this story.
This episode was not without its charms, for sure, like Jack saying they got rid of Bow’s kale salad thinking it was “jumbo parsley” and Dre’s weird over the covers biscuit nap with Ruby. A couple of unrelated zingers don’t in and of themselves make for good television and neither does a strong premise, if so Black-ish would be breaking Nielsen every Wednesday. The premise of Modern Family sounds like the most boring thing ever (three blended families talking to each other a lot?) but the stories are honest, fun and consistent, which are three things Black-ish needs to work on if they want to be around next season.