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'Black-ish' review: Fiercely funny, potentially compelling

ABC's new family comedy

ABC's new family comedy "black-ish" takes a fun yet bold look at one man's determination to establish a sense of cultural identity for his family. It stars Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and special guest star Laurence Fishburne. Credit: ABC / Adam Taylor

THE SHOW "black-ish"

WHEN|WHERE Wednesday night at 9:30 on ABC/7

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Andre "Dre" (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) Johnson are parents who want the best for their four kids and ... all of a sudden, that's within reach. Dre has been handed a senior vice president job at his ad agency, to run its "urban" division. It's a big score for him, in part because he now becomes the only top exec of color at the firm. The downside: He suspects he's been put in charge of the urban initiative because he's black, as his father, "Pops" (Laurence Fishburne) reminds him. Rainbow, an anesthesiologist, doesn't see what's bothering him. Besides, with the salary boost, their dreams -- like climbing the Himalayas -- are now within reach.

Rainbow thinks society should be "colorless." Dre doesn't disagree but is concerned nonetheless when his son, Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner), asks for a bar mitzvah.

MY SAY "The Cosby Show" turned 30 this past Saturday, and Wednesday night, a new black family sitcom generation arrives. Not that "black-ish" and "Cosby" have much in common beyond the superficial. What separates them might be what's most interesting.

"Cosby" was essentially colorblind -- a powerful manifesto on racial equality that mined humor in the universal (kids, school, marriage). "Black-ish" is so mindful of color that it's even in the title. Everything here is about race: every line, joke, riff, aside, sigh, grimace and outburst.

Yes, "black-ish" can be fiercely funny, sharply observed, and unfailingly good-humored about the racial divide. But just beyond that glossy surface is a serious and even compelling undercurrent. It's a show about shifting cultural identities in a mass-market world that has appropriated that identity ... to sell stuff.

The whole notion of Dre, as the ad man in charge of mining that culture, is double-edged, and he knows it. On one hand, he and his wife should now be able to climb the Himalayas, thanks to the nice bump in salary. On the other, he's almost completely forgotten who he is or where he came from.

Pops is there to remind him, and little wonder those reminders tend to be mordant, amusing and just a little bit melancholy.

BOTTOM LINE Funny/serious newcomer about black identity, and seismic cultural shifts affecting it. (And for that reason, a potentially compelling show, too.)

GRADE B+

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For 'black-ish' star, it's a conversation she's having again

Tracee Ellis Ross, star of 'black-ish," has dealt with racial issues in real life as well: She is the daughter of legendary vocalist Diana Ross and music business manager Robert Ellis Silberstein, who is white. She says early on she began to identify as being black (and is best known for her eight years as a star of "Girlfriends," a comedy-drama with a black cast and perspective).

Why? "Mostly because I couldn't identify as a white woman," she replies, laughing. "But while I'm very comfortable identifying as a black woman, I've really had no interest in identifying as anything. On my college application, I checked 'black' and 'white.'" She laughs again.

"I haven't had to answer any of these questions for so many years. Then, all of a sudden, in the context of this series, because we say my character is a 'mixed' woman and apparently this is a 'black show,' it's a conversation I'm having again." Not that she's complaining. She loves the show's message, which extends beyond laughs. "I think what we're really influenced by is class, culture and the tradition each of us comes from, as opposed to race," she says. "We're in a new dialogue around these things, and I think this show represents it."

- The Associated Press

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