Black-ish Series Premiere Review: Not the New Cosby Show—and That's More Than Okay-ish

Black-ish S01E01: "Pilot"

It's easy to look at a primetime comedy that centers on a black family, slap an "It's the new Cosby Show!" tag on it, and congratulate yourself on another "accurate" new-show show diagnosis based on television history and a quick glance at a trailer or a pilot. Don't make that mistake with Black-ish, ABC's new Anthony Anderson-starring sitcom about race and culture in America, which has more in common with The Jeffersons than it does with The Cosby Show.

Whereas The Cosby Show didn't actually spend much time on the topic of race—the '80s hit revolved around an African-American family, but wasn't really about African-American culture—Black-ish tackles race head-on. The series gleefully sprays African-American culture (and plain old white culture) all over the place, with the goal of understanding how black culture and white culture mix as some people strive to break down the walls between them while others try to ensure the walls remain solid. 

On paper, the premise might sound alienating to some people—say, people like me, who isn't black, has never been black, and will never be black, or people who make up most of the audience for Modern Family (which leads into Black-ish). But in the capable hands of executive producers Larry Wilmore (The Daily Show) and Kenya Barris (The Game), Black-ish presents the topic as more of an open conversation that's welcoming to all.


How'd they do it? By setting the show in a world that doesn't really see color and telling its story through the eyes of someone who does. Anderson's Andre "Dre" Johnson has spent his whole life climbing the societal ladder; he's moved on from his low-income upbringing, and now he lives in a rich neighborhood and has a walk-in closet. But he still wants his family to appreciate the culture he grew up with. Alas, his attempts to teach his kids about their roots are inevitably in vain, as the upper-class suburb he lives in and the opportunities it affords makes it difficult to keep his family grounded. So he tries even harder, in over-the-top sitcom ways. 

It works, I think. Black-ish's debut was mostly funny, insightful, and intelligent, and one of the better comedy pilots of the fall season. Anderson is perfect as Dre, a man who struggles to separate his priorities from his pride, defiant in the face of a reality he created. His obsession with being successful conflicts with his desire to stay true to his roots. And the resulting hypocrisy with regard to breaking racial barriers—which was on full display when he got upset over his promotion to SVP of a new "Urban Division," despite pushing his kids to be more black—is what really makes Black-ish more than one long "black people walk like this, white people walk like this" joke. 


There's no doubt that Anderson was born for this role. But it's the family surrounding him that elevates the show into something that fits perfectly into ABC's Wednesday-night lineup alongside the snow-white The MiddleThe Goldbergs, and Modern Family. Tracee Ellis Ross is fantastic as Dre's biracial wife Rainbow (zing joke, right there), the literal middle ground between cultures and a strong and supportive foil to Dre's overparenting. And have we entered the era of Laurence Fishburne as the wise-cracking sitcom grandfather? I guess we have; he fills the role quite well. But I'm giving all the awards to Marcus Scribner as Dre's eldest son Andre, who is so convincingly awkward and culturally blended that I can't tell whether he's actually acting. He's my breakout kid actor of the season. 

But for as overtly focused on race and culture as Black-ish is, the show's writers know that those "issues" aren't enough to keep viewers feeling connected. And by the end of the pilot, Andre's pigheadedness about "keeping it real" was exposed as a father's attempt to do what he thinks is right. It was the stuff of a relatable family comedy, which Black-ish needs to be if it wants to survive. As long as it tells relatable stories along with its angle of what it's like to be black in America today, it's got a good chance at a long life—and so far, I have no reason to believe it won't. 

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Mar 05, 2015
FUNNY show. Too bad they make it so racist. I thought for a while it was just me but each time I watch it, it's MORE racist than the last. Why?
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Sep 27, 2014
When I saw the African right of passage scene, I had seen enough and figured I had Black'ish all figured out. But then the wife's speech putting Anderson in his place, pointing out his ridiculous behaviour and telling him to get his sh*t together saved this series enough for me to give it a real shot to see what it can do.

I despise racial stereotypes. Be they positive or negative, they do nobody any favours and the first half of the pilot carried a few too many for me to call it funny. And growing up biracial, the "technically not really black" comment to Rainbow was almost enough for me to slam on the brakes right then and there.

If Black'ish wants to be a social commentary while being funny, I hope it can move past what equate to racial dick and fart jokes...because there's a TON of material available. I'm a HUGE fan of Larry Wilmore and think he's got the chops to put out a fantastic product that does just that.
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Sep 26, 2014
I saw that ABC advertised Black-ish last night as "The #1 New Hit Comedy" or something like. It did get good ratings, and I think it could be a hit, but I had to laugh: It's the only new comedy so far. (Marketers know no shame. :-)
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Sep 26, 2014
The characters and the actors were good, but it made me smile more that it made me laugh. I am not convinced yet I am going to follow it.

Also, if I can imagine them going on for 13 or maybe 22 episodes with the father wanting his family to be black-er, I don't see how the show could go for multiple seasons without repeating itself. The title actually puts too many limits to the storytelling, à la Cougar Town.
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Sep 26, 2014
I love this!!!
Anyone else seeing the votes for this show?
Must be some white-ish voters :D :D :D
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Sep 26, 2014
Hmm, sounds like I probably shouldn't have put this in my deadpool....
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Sep 26, 2014
I liked it.
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Sep 25, 2014
if I even mentioned half the stereotypes in this show, I would be run out of town as a racist. But a black guy says it, that's ok cause he's keepin' it real.
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Sep 25, 2014
The pilot was okay and it presented likable characters and some fun story to tell. However I still don't know how to keep this show funny with the 'black jokes gimmick' I am curious to see what I think after seeing 4 episodes. For now it's so far so good-ish.
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Sep 25, 2014
I'm just content that there is no laugh track and it reminded me of Trophy Wife a little bit. (i miss that show) Sadly, i don't have much faith in comedies/sitcoms anymore and will probably watch this when there's nothing else too watch. Don't get me wrong, it's a good set up, almost like they're channeling a bit of a Grown Ups vibe. I just can't say i'm happy with any comedy on television right now, which makes me pretty sad.
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Sep 25, 2014
It was all right. If I were to put it up against Trophy Wife, the show that this replaces I would keep Trophy Wife and change up a few things because when the whole of the cast was together it was pretty good.

The episode itself especially the middle portion where everyone was talking about "keeping it real" reminded me way too much of Chappelle's great sketch by the same name. Then I remembered how great the Chappelle show was, then I started to wonder if they just created a pilot based on that sketch, they I wondered why it wasn't as funny. Then I wondered why Laurence Fishburne was in this. Then the whole episode kind of fell apart after that.

Perhaps the second episode will be stronger. But if they keep hitting us over the head with the same jokes then I don't see it doing well. But oddly I do see ABC keeping it around.
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Sep 25, 2014
I really liked it. The characters are all pretty enjoyable, and I especially like Rainbow. I like it better than Modern Family. Will be keeping up with this one.
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Sep 25, 2014
You are awesome, Tim, for pointing out the connection to The Jeffersons with this show, I never would have seen it but you are right on point there. George Jefferson struggled to keep it real in the face of his upscale success while living the high life too. Of course, George Jefferson was a product more of his time, and more of a boor and more grating and aggressive overall than Dre on Black-ish, but The Jeffersons wasn't a family comedy either.

As for Black-ish, I quite liked this show and I hope the series will be even better than the pilot. Some of Anthony Anderson's lines and inflections sounded like they were coming straight from Larry Wilmore, and he's so damned funny I couldn't fault Anderson for borrowing that deeply from his producer on those reads.

Damn, you are on it, I didn't catch the "Rainbow" name gag at all, I just thought it was a weird piece of character design. They went deep on the biracial shots on her though, that was a little surprising considering she didn't up and leave him for them.
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Sep 25, 2014
It was funny-ISH. Will probably give it one or two more viewings to show me it can be funny-ER.
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Sep 25, 2014
it actually reminds me of everybody hates chris, in terms of the comedy and the story telling. i liked the pilot and i'll definitely watch more of this.

-it's not racist
-you don't have to be black to watch it
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Sep 25, 2014
It was OK. Not brilliant, and not something that I'd normally watch so I have it a try based on positive reviews. Will give it a few more episodes for sure - the only comedy series that I liked from last year was Brooklyn Nine-Nine so It'd be great to have another new one this year. (Aside from Black-ish by the way, does anyone have any suggestions for new good comedy shows this fall?)
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Sep 25, 2014
Anthony Anderson is black?
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Sep 25, 2014
I didn't find the Pilot all that great. It was basically about a guy who wanted his family to be as stereotypically black as possible, while insinuating that every white person who even as much as makes a basketball reference around him is racist.

I'm hoping they can put a stop to this "us vs. them" theme eventually and turn it into a loveable family sitcom instead, because it definitely has great potential as one.
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Sep 25, 2014
So I totally made a mistake putting this in my Dead Pool then?
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Staff
Sep 25, 2014
Hard to tell just yet, but it did hang onto a large amount of the Modern Family audience last night.
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Oct 02, 2014
Not surprising. To me it had a very Modern Family vibe to it.
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Sep 25, 2014
There were some funny one liners and the topic of race was handled well in some instances, like the father wanting his son to understand his roots. But this show essentially made all the white people racist and act like idiots. I get that this was a pilot and hopefully it gets better. I will give it one more episode to show me that this show is more than a black guy vs white society.
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Sep 25, 2014
The boss wasn't an idiot, and Dre had his honorary black person co-worker who wasn't an idiot.
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Sep 25, 2014
i bet if their was a show called white-ish we would be called racist but this is ok pffft didnt watch it and wont.
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Dec 25, 2014
y'all got Modern Family. and a bunch of other white -ass shows. mainstream tv is mostly white. and we're so used to it being white we don't even notice it.
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Staff
Sep 25, 2014
A+++
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Sep 25, 2014
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Sep 25, 2014
A "White-ish" wouldn't get made because it doesn't even make sense. There's no fear of assimilation or losing cultural identity, the central theme of "Black-ish".

You need a minority ethnicity existing in a majority culture. When there is, it does work, and has been made. Sort of like "Welcome to Sweden", a white American facing culture shock in an even whiter country. Or maybe "Northern Exposure", a white doctor moving to a small, very remote Alaskan town. Etc.
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Sep 25, 2014
Well, maybe. But I don't think you should just turn away from the topic because they usually have interesting things to say and brings up many different points of views. They are never just trying to bash a certain group of people. I know shows/movies that have these kind of titles are turnoffs to certain people, but its usually just trying to start a discussion.
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Sep 25, 2014
im just giving my opinion ,im not trying to start any drama if ppl like the show watch it but im not
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Sep 25, 2014
Bullshit, you are trying to start drama with that question, it's race-baiting. But the worse offense is that its conceit is also false.
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Sep 30, 2014
well u failed at both
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Sep 28, 2014
I didn't insult your mom, I insulted you.
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Sep 26, 2014
lol wow here come the mom insults, how pathetic you are lmaooo
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Sep 26, 2014
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Sep 26, 2014
u mad huh?
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Sep 25, 2014
I really enjoyed this show and I totally get it! It is very refreshing to see race from this perspective. The exchange between the husband and wife about his promotion was excellent as well as the real reason "Andy" wants to play field hockey. Enjoyable show, I'll keep watching.
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Sep 25, 2014
Too bad neither Anthony Anderson or the lady from MadTV are funny.
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Sep 25, 2014
Which lady from MadTV?
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Sep 25, 2014
Huh, your comment made me go to IMDB. I was thinking the wife was on MadTV but I have never seen any of the other things she has been in so I have no idea why I feel like I know her face.... weird.
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Sep 25, 2014
GIRLFRIENDS, SHE'S DIANA ROSS' DAUGHTER.
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Sep 25, 2014
lol when he was simbaing his kid. in the african rights of passage
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Sep 25, 2014
I really liked it. The "us vs. them" part and the family meeting at the dinner table were hilarious!!! The pilot did a very good job of towing both sides of the line without going too much overboard. I loved Dre's reaction to "Urban division", and Tracee Ellis Ross was great as his wife.

And who knew Fishburne could be funny? Cause up until now, I definitely didn't LOL!! He put in a few good jokes.

Love the kids, especially the oldest son, Junior. Part of me wishes I was invited to that Bro-mitzvah party at the end!
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Sep 25, 2014
I loved the kid going through the fridge for grape soda and finding it.
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Sep 25, 2014
Omg I loved this. Laughing all the way through. And how fricken adorable were the twins?
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Sep 25, 2014
I was turned off by the title but after reading the comments here maybe I will give it a try.
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Sep 25, 2014
Nicely stated, Tim. B'ish (how do we abbreviate one-word titles?) has the potential to pull it all together: casting, writing, acting. I agree Anderson is smoking it as the lead and his family are doing well, too. The writers are walking a difficult line (this ain't Netflix) and it's working.
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Sep 25, 2014
It was better than i thought it was going to be.
Best line for me..When Anthony Anderson is having his family meeting his wife (getting annoyed) barks "Lets take a Black Break!" I'm in for few more episodes. This kind of show could have something to say about race(in a family friendly way) but will the network be all in, If ratings aren't great from the start.
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Sep 25, 2014
Huey and Riley, we need you now more than ever.
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Sep 25, 2014
Just ask WWBJD
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Sep 25, 2014
Completely stereotypical I must say I think it is to blunt and alienates white people also it made me cringe so I do not think white people will enjoy it the writers could have done way better so unremarkable
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Sep 25, 2014
I didn't find that many stereotypes that were played as stereotypes. And as a white person of jewish descent (not named Shmueli), I enjoyed it and will watch more.
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Sep 25, 2014
the stereotypical black mannerisms the ''black jokes''
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Sep 25, 2014
Yeah, but that was the point of Andre's behavior, he was freaking out and acting foolish, that was a story intent.
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Sep 26, 2014
@ToddMurray, I'll start a fund for those tragic middle-class white people who have been hurt by stereotypes. The first donation will be this world's-smallest-violin right here. ;-)
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Sep 26, 2014
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Sep 25, 2014
I felt it stereotyped white people who don't know how to act around black people. :D What's up Dr. Dre! Keep it real, yo! {awkward dancing w/ finger guns and a wink}
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Sep 25, 2014
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Sep 25, 2014
I'm white and I loved it. Thanks for being yet another white person who speaks on behalf of all white people and makes them look bad.
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Sep 25, 2014
why are you assuming I am white?
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Sep 25, 2014
ugh its comments like yours that alienates. Please don't speak on behalf of anybody ever again.
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Sep 25, 2014
I am black just an objective analysis of the show
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Sep 25, 2014
That's nice of you to speak for all white people
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Sep 25, 2014
again you are assuming I am white I am black and I objectively judged the show as my primary comments indicated we will see when it is cancelled lol
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Sep 25, 2014
It kept me laughing so I will be coming back. I loved the family dynamics, Grandpa fishburn was great and the eldest son too. the entire cast works well so I say there is potentiel
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Sep 25, 2014
I didnt really like it, I LOVE the cast and the atmosphere of the show but they kept beating me over the head with black jokes. It sorta made me uncomfortable and im black. I feel like they should be more subtle with it.
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Sep 25, 2014
I'm not surprised. I wonder how beloved the Jeffersons were to blacks? But bear with me, this may have a halo effect like Modern Family does for the gay lifestyle. I don't mean it can miraculously change anyone's mind, but look, the douche white guy at the office might just make someone think to themselves, "wait, do I do that sh*t to black coworkers?" It embarrassed me to sometimes, and I'm not black, so maybe we can get over that (the embarrassment, not that i'm not... well you knew that, right :-) . Fishburn did good as the sitcom gramps, by the way!
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Sep 25, 2014
It definitely felt contained and pilot-ish, but it kept me laughing and actually felt like it wasn't completely a white production of a black world. I'd like to see this continue to keep it real (even if keeping it honest is better).
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Sep 25, 2014
Yeah, keep it real!
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Sep 25, 2014
Love Larry Wilmore and Anderson in all the roles he has played! Hope it sticks, but The league is the class in the comedy genre!!!!!
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Sep 25, 2014
Fun first episode. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the season.
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Sep 25, 2014
I found the first episode to be meh, but I'll give it another go. Being black myself, I found myself rolling my eyes at his anger over his son wanting to play field hockey and his children not referring to the only other black girl in their class as well, the only other black girl in their class. You can embrace your culture without having to play basketball, drink grape soda, eat regular fried chicken, and other stereotypes. I'm glad the wife basically told him what I was thinking at the end of the episode. It's fine to be proud of your culture but you can definitely do things outside of stereotypes and still be black. Hopefully the future episodes will be better! I'll give it the 4 episode test.
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Sep 25, 2014
I enjoyed the pilot, but you are right that there definitely were some broad moments, and you highlighted a few of the quite well.
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Sep 25, 2014
Yes, maybe the wife's role will shine and the balance will make up for the problems. In any case, I'm happy the concept made it to TV, that's actually a positive sign.
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Sep 25, 2014
My thoughts exactly
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Sep 25, 2014
Yeah, who finds field hockey fun or exciting! Play hockeY! Why is that never on tv????
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Sep 29, 2014
Right? I mean, I think Will Arnette's character played a bit in the show Up All Night (that was the one with Christina Applegate, right?); however, I wish there was more.

There's actually a show on Hulu called Junior League. It focuses on a team in Russia's youth league. It's pretty bad (very soapy), and the video of them playing hockey is laughable. However, it's the only show I know of that has such a big focus on the sport.

There are twenty episodes online right now, out of the show's 40-episode first season. You should check it out. Warning: the subtitles are meh, and the show has like only 4 tracks of music that it goes to in certain situations (I'm not exaggerating this).
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Sep 30, 2014
yeah Will Arnett is our only hope! D Boreanz SAYS he's a hockey guy, Philly and all but thats as far as it goes! Its a great, untapped field for tv! But then, they make a joke out of baseball and youth leagues. No one in the real world does stuff like they depict! I coached them all, why cant they get stuff right!
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Sep 30, 2014
Oops! I forgot about Bones.

There was an episode where Booth and Wendell (one of the interns) were playing in a men's league, and Wendell got injured (which led to some plot-related stuff, so I won't spoil anything for people who don't watch the show).

Anyway, it was just video of guys on the ice for a couple of minutes. I don't know if either actor was actually out there, but at least they showed some hockey.

Now I'm off to go ice my back, because I just got back from a game myself. Lost an edge on a quick turn near the boards and took a nasty spill into them. Still, love hockey and wish there was more of it in tv shows.
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