The timing for Tuesday night’s episode of Black-ish could not be more shrewd: Arriving after both President Obama’s final speech to the nation and President-Elect Trump’s first press conference, the episode, titled “Lemons” deals frankly with the new political reality.
Set eight weeks after the election results, “Lemons,” written by show creator Kenya Barris, finds the Johnson finally still shell-shocked that Hillary Clinton was defeated by Donald Trump. In the world the Johnson family inhabits, it was a given that the Democrat would defeat what they consider the Republican-affiliated, crass maverick. The family has a case of ongoing ennui, unable to summon its usual cheerfulness or even its usual comforting pleasure in capitalist consumption, an element Barris has always made one of the subtle comic critiques within the series.
The aftereffects of the Trump victory play out in various ways. There’s outrage, as some white students at the Johnson children’s school ridicule and insult the ethnicity of a teacher. There’s political awakening, as Junior becomes somewhat radicalized by the deeper subtext of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, schooled by Pops. (Laurence Fishburne brings a lot of authority to this task.)
At Dre’s job, the white employees display varying degrees of guiltiness or denial — except for Lucy, who says she voted for Trump. Making Lucy (Catherine Reitman) — who up till now has been the show’s running-joke punching bag for her lack of individuality — the Trump voter may seem like too easy a joke for this smart show, but Lucy articulates an argument for Trump, and she can now be seen in a new light: as one of those “forgotten Americans” Trump was supposed to have represented, in the campaign at least.
The episode makes its strongest argument in its discussion about why Hillary lost. Dre’s boss, played by Wanda Sykes, pins the blame on “white women,” who, it is argued, didn’t turn out for Clinton the way black people turned out to vote for Obama.
Once again, Black-ish is remarkably direct for a network sitcom, with Dre admitting he’s “terrified about what Trump’s about to do” while also having some of the main characters urge each other to not dismiss the opposing side as all “nuts or racists” and to “have conversations.”
If “Lemons” doesn’t reach that great synthesis of anger and humor that Barris achieved in Black-ish’s second-season premiere, “The Word,” about the use of the N word, or last February’s “Hope,” about the Johnsons’ reaction to the police shooting of an unarmed black person, it’s certainly not for a lack of passion or careful thinking. It may be that, as timely as “Lemons” is, we’re all still in the process of seeing how the result of the election is going to play out: We can’t yet see whether we’re going to be able to continue to find humor in the future, or anger, or despair. As a report from the front lines of suburbia, this episode of Black-ish is what it has to be: anguished and ambivalent.
Black-ish airs Wednesday nights at 9:30 p.m. on ABC. Watch clips and full episodes of black-ish at Yahoo View.