Black-ish Season 2 Episode 11 Review: “Plus Two Ain’t a Thing”

Black-ish

Black-ish‘s first episode of 2016 – it’s 35th overall, I might add – is a pretty effective cross-section of what works, and what doesn’t, on this show on a weekly basis. That is, “Plus Two Isn’t a Thing” is 22 minutes of frustratingly selfish people working towards a somewhat noble end, most of the larger emotional notes undercut by its characters’ elitism, or distracted by the many African-American guest stars they use to highlight ‘big’ episodes of a season. As always, “Plus Two” is certainly a half hour with its own merits, particularly in the third act. Unfortunately, it’s undeniably an episode that is hard to like.

“Plus Two” neatly delineates itself into two familiar sitcom stories, one I really enjoy (the “best friend” guest star arrives from out of town, mainly to observe the weird intricacies of a friendship) and one I really, really hate (children trying to become YouTube sensations; there’s really nothing I hate more than watching kids desperately pander in the name of chasing fame). The former, which employs Tyra Banks as Dre’s life-long best friend, is abundantly predictable, from how it causes friction between Dre and his wife (who is jealous about how well they get along), to how a woman is unable to balance a male best friend and partner at the same time. The whole crux of the story is Dre and his BFF have drifted apart, the only reason given for it being that she’s in a relationship and just can’t balance the stress of having TWO men in her life at the same time.

Okay, maybe that piece isn’t explicit in every scene, but her unavailability due to her new partner is mentioned multiple times as the reason for the loosening on their friendship; when the episode focuses more on Bow’s attempts to force herself to be best friends with her husband, it’s a lot more rewarding and humorous. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between “best friend” couples and partners with more independent social lives, and it’s one comedies don’t often explore enough – while the conflict of Dre and Bow not getting along like friends do isn’t bringing anything unique to the table regarding the arcs of its characters, how effortlessly that conflict (and its ultimate resolution) is presented is, at the very least, pleasantly handled.

And then there’s the kids; if there’s somewhere specific Black-ish has fallen short in its second season, it’s with the depiction of Junior, Zoey, Jack, and Diane, who have become insufferable. The superficiality of their characters is growing more alarming with each episode: Diane the Evil Genius, Jack the Idiot, Zoey the Older Idiot, and Junior the Biggest Idiot have replaced the layered characters we observed in Season 1, trading in useful children plot lines (like Junior’s nerdiness and inherent “coolness” of his heritage at a heavily-white school, as seen in the pilot) for ones where they sit in a small room and insult each other, all in an attempt to one-up the other on whatever task is at hand. It’s bad enough on a weekly basis, but when it’s focused on the kids making a YouTube video to become internet sensations (which they NEVER ACTUALLY DO, I might add), the story becomes especially empty (and don’t even get me started on the music video at the end, one of the more forced, lame things Black-ish has peddled this season).

It’s not that “Plus Two” is without its merits; but they are buried under the alarmingly thin characters, and surprisingly absent guest star (Banks only appears in three brief scenes), which reduces the exploration of the show’s central coupling to surface-level observations, only able to engage with Dre and Bow’s dynamic in the most traditional terms (that is, “husband and wife struggle to actually get along”), rather than offer something a little more balanced – and more importantly, a little more nuanced. And because of that, it all feels very inessential (something the closing “music video” only exacerbates), from Diane singing the same line from “Fallin'” OVER and OVER again, to the intriguing Dre/Bow conflict that adds up to nothing in the end. I was hoping Black-ish would show some renewed promise as it heads into the middle segment of its second season; unfortunately, “Plus Two” offers everything but that sense of progression and growth.

[Photo credit: Ron Batzdorff/ABC]

Black-ish Season 2 Episode 11 Review: "Plus Two Ain't a Thing"
1.5

Summary

With a terrible subplot and an underdeveloped guest star (Tyra Banks), Black-ish begins 2016 with many of the same issues that plagued it in 2015.

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