I just watched the season 5 premiere of Black-ish and I’m mad.
First things first: I still love the show. It’s entertaining, sharp, and funny.
But this episode was disappointing. Bow and Dre are a team like the old days, without a single callback to their marital troubles that dominated the second half of season 4. Zoey was there for five minutes without explanation, then disappeared without explanation. Why isn’t she at school, and why don’t they say goodbye to her if that’s where she’s going?
Jack and Diane get a slightly creepy subplot — their grandmother watches them walk into their shared room and shut the door, and decides that she doesn’t like them being opposite-gender roommates now that they’re getting older. Diane resists, but after Jack’s friend points out Diane’s bra in the hamper, Jack decides it’s time for them both to have some privacy. I wish the twins had made this decision on their own without Ruby’s vaguely incestuous insinuations.
And finally, Junior. He’s panicked when his family leaves him at Howard. Two days later when they arrive home after a long flight, he’s calmly eating cereal in the kitchen. He says he’s not ready for school and he’s going to take a gap year. He used the emergency credit card to buy his ticket home. Bow ineffectively wheedles and urges him to develop a plan; Dre gives him a lecture on manliness and then threatens to kick him out. When Junior calls his bluff and packs up to leave, Dre and Bow literally beg him to stay home.
SO many issues with this.
One, taking a gap year involves advance planning — you don’t show up at school, decide you can’t handle it, and leave. You’re supposed to DO something during your gap year that helps you grow as a person, not wait around and hope that you feel braver in a year.
Two, the parents aren’t parenting. Starting college is scary. Everyone feels like they are the only one flailing. Bow and Dre should be reassuring Junior that he’s having a totally normal experience and that it’s important to try before quitting. Then they should put him on a plane back to DC.
Three, the parents aren’t parenting again. Why are they begging Junior to live at home? If he’s not ready for school, fine. Let him figure out what life is like as an adult. He was about to walk out the door. Let him go.
Four, why is Junior’s decision hailed as him being a man and standing up for himself? He has no rationale. He has no plan. It’s great that he can stand up to his parents respectfully. That takes maturity. But his ability to assert himself doesn’t mean his gap year idea has any merit.
The end of the episode has Junior moving in with Jack, while Diane gets her own room. This seems like an odd choice to me too, since it’s further infantilizing Junior. He’s fallen from being a freshman at Howard to sleeping in his little sister’s old bed.
The character of Junior is tricky. At his worst, he’s weak, pathetic, and insensitive to other people’s feelings. At his best, he’s self-assured, intelligent, and confident in who he is. This episode tries to show Junior confidently making his own choices, but what I see is a scared child running back to the nest, and parents who are coddling him instead of pushing him to grow up.