Has Black-ish Become Network TV's Best Sitcom?

This week's episode of Black-ish reminded me of an idea that's been bouncing around my head for some time: Is Black-ish the best network comedy on television now? There's not really a lot of qualified competition, seeing as network comedy is pretty far down in the dumps at the moment, its glory days having faded away like the ratings for Sean Saves the World

"Hope", this week's standout episode, showed off what Black-ish does best, and I know we're talking comedy here, but what Black-ish does best isn't actual comedy (though it is a very funny show). No, Black-ish bravely goes places most shows—even dramas—won't: headfirst into sensitive topics affecting society today. This week's episode confronted police brutality and the many cases of unarmed African-Americans who've been shot and killed by police across the country. Let's see the nerds of The Big Bang Theory even get within spitting distance of that one. 

And as usual, it was handled confidently and compassionately by Black-ish's incredibly smart creator Kenya Barris, who wrote the episode. Much of its power came directly from Barris's words, as evidenced by the fact that it was almost entirely a bottle episode—an episode shot in one location—save for a few cutaways for gags. Three generations of the Johnson family gathered around the television, like many of us have done over the years, to watch another case involving police officers who allegedly shot a defenseless man being let off the hook with no charges. 

Like previous episodes of Black-ish that covered heavier matter, including a fantastic episode about the N-word and another about gun ownership, all sides of the conversation were heard. Dre (Anthony Anderson) was his usual bombastic self, the upset black man harping on the police after an endless string of similar cases, while Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) played the other side, upholding faith in America's justice system and being careful to point out that not every cop was bad. Also chiming in were Dre's parents Pops (Laurence Fishburne) and Ruby (Jenifer Lewis), older folks who had seen it all and earned their right to be stubborn and not know every detail of the current cases, and Dre's kids representing the youth of today, from Andre's (Marcus Scribner) rare awareness of each case's details to Zoey's (Yara Shahidi) seeming indifference. 

But Barris wasn't interested in making "Hope" about the outrage that's plastered across 24-hour news channels when an announcement of "no indictments" comes down, or preaching the other side that the victims deserved it, because Barris knows the situation is much more complicated than putting it in black and white terms. Instead, Barris gave each of his many characters different voices in the conversation that relates to police brutality and the flawed justice system in order to encourage viewers to think. And the episode's most emotional moment came when Zoey, who had previously been perceived as uncaring about the situation like a stereotypical TV teenage girl, confessed that she did care but didn't know how to join the discussion because she felt lost and was still working out how she felt. It was Zoey's bravest moment in the series to date, and it was her voice that spoke for most of us who have also felt confused and lost amid such a delicate subject that doesn't have a simple answer.

Instead, Barris made "Hope" about the children, focusing the final act of the episode on the correct way to approach the young twins'—Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin)—curiosity about what they werre witnessing. Barris doesn't want to tell viewers how to think about the rash of police killings—in fact, he wants you to hear and understand all sides, not just the one he thinks—but he does want to offer you advice. Hope can sometimes be all you have, and it can't be taken away from children unless we just want to give up on everything. That decision—to have Dre and Bow be careful with what they said to Jack and Diane—put a lid on a potentially volatile situation but kept the discussion open and also left "Hope" inside the orbit of its family comedy genre. And that's something that Black-ish has done very well since it debuted a season-and-a-half ago.

There are other good comedies on network television, of course. There's The Goldbergs, which airs an hour before Black-ish on ABC's incredibly sturdy Wednesday night comedy block. Putting '80s nostalgia aside in a Trapper Keeper under a pile of Ranger Ricks, The Goldbergs does family comedy very well, keeping in tradition with the classics by not going too deep. The Grinder is the funniest sitcom on the lower dial, through its use of meta humor and a knockout performance from Rob Lowe. And Mom is the multi-camera comedy with more depth than we're used to seeing from CBS laughers, confronting topics of addiction with shockingly heavy storylines bookended by laugh tracks. But Black-ish is able to go deep, be funny, and identify as a sweet family comedy. 

Is Black-ish the best network comedy? It's looking like it. 

What did you think of "Hope"? And what's your favorite network comedy?


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Mar 24, 2016
It is a good comedy, but I think that the episode everyone is so hot about is its worst. This was my review for it:

Are US While folks suckers?


With so many more white people being shot by police, it is stupid of them to not make shows about that unfairness.


OR, maybe, that is the secret for their success? not succumbing to politicians who want to raise bad feelings in them, keep them down and use them for their own benefit?
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Feb 29, 2016
I don't know if it's the best comedy on TV (network or otherwise), but it's the ONLY comedy that's in my current viewing rotation.

What is undisputed, as mentioned in the article, is that Black-ish is FAR AND AWAY the television leader when it comes to social commentary, and not just with regard to people of colour.

It's still early it its run, but to me, Black-ish (especially in light of recent events) has surpassed The Cosby Show and is the most important show for black folks, ever.
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Feb 27, 2016
Best comedy, might be overselling it. Right now I think The Grinder is possibly the funniest comedy on TV but Black-ish is one of the two most 'aware' comedies on TV with Mom (yes, Mom) giving it a run for it's money. Dealing with Police excess and still making it funny isn't easy, but substance addiction and the fall out of an overdose isn't a barrel if laughs either.
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Feb 27, 2016
Black-is is good, but i think best sitcom is handdown the goldbergs.
I like fresh of the boat as well
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Feb 27, 2016
I think that this article is well written, insightful, and contemplative. I love that black-ish is a sitcom that is able to be immensely entertaining by doing more than just filling up episodes with shallow gags. The comedy clever, the script is bold, and at the end of the day it connects with people of all backgrounds. Black-ish is doing exactly what tv is supposed to do. And i don't know if this is now taboo to say, but it reminds me of the Cosby Show in alot of ways. It blends substance with humor and family values and will likely be a show that people will remember for a long time.
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Feb 27, 2016
Love the show and loved this particular episode but was mildly disappointed by Bow's position -I just didn't buy it. Felt that was lazy writing. Wasn't she raised by hippies? Would she really just trust the system to do the right thing?
And every week those twins are super adorable !!!
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Feb 26, 2016
Its looking like it. Really enjoyed the episode. Favorite scene was Bow crying and when Dre asked her, she said she taught Zoe was shallow but now she knows Zoe has depth. Couldn't stop the tear and couldn't stop laughing at the same time. Barris did good with this episode.
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Feb 26, 2016
Since everybody was going oooh and aaah I went and looked it up and... oooh, aaah!

Will watch the series from now on...
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Feb 26, 2016
I've been hearing good things about Blackish, but I've never had time to sit down and watch it, this review is making me think about shuffling my schedule around to fit it in.
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Feb 26, 2016
loved it
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Feb 26, 2016
Honestly, while I like Blackish, I am a bigger fan of The Carmichael Show. They touched topics like gun control well before Blackish with an original slant. Worthy of consideration.
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Feb 25, 2016
I absolutely loved this episode. I think Dianne is very funny but i would give the most emotional scene to Anthony Anderson speaking about Obama's Inauguration because it was obvious those were his own tears and at that moment he transcended acting. The family dynamic in the show is very close.
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Feb 27, 2016
I cried during that scene too. I'm not black but I felt that same terror for Obama when he got out of that limo and walked, and also amazement at his confidence and his own understanding of how important it was for him not to show fear. It was a kingly move.

Great episode.
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Feb 25, 2016
it's between Fresh Off The Boat and Black-ish, but Black-ish just pulled away. Besides the fact that Black-ish tackles issues more directly, the kids on Black-ish are more fun compared to FOTB. That's what seperates the two for me.
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Feb 25, 2016
Well dang, I'm going to seek out this episode now.
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Feb 25, 2016
Yes I think it is the best TV show out there to date cuz it goes where no other show goes or dare to go plus it has smart humor very funny show and give its point across.
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Feb 25, 2016
Short answer? No. Long answer? No, because comedy is subjective, therefore there's really no such thing as "best sitcom on TV". A better title for this otherwise interesting article could have been "Why Black-ish is my favourite sitcom on TV", and that would have been fair.
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Feb 25, 2016
*cough*buzzkill*cough*
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Feb 25, 2016
Fair enough :P Okay then, subjective answer: I tried to get into Black-ish but after four episodes I had enough of "Oh look at us being SO BLACK doing BLACK THINGS, oh no my son likes this WHITE STUFF, better go make sure he's BLACK enough..." Like that's literally what went there all the time. Now I recognize that it may have changed since then and maybe one day when I'm really bored I'll give it another try, but right now, for me (!) the best sitcoms on TV are New Girl and Fresh Off the Boat, not Black-ish.
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Feb 25, 2016
Playing House.
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Feb 25, 2016
Yup
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Feb 25, 2016
I definitely like it, but Pops is probably my favorite character on there. And while I haven't seen the last bunch of episodes, I was sad that (at least) for a while on the show he was just a recurring character.
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Feb 25, 2016
Last man on earth for me.
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Feb 25, 2016
You are right HB about that show deserving praise aswell. LMOE is also great, and goes on my top 5 BEST COMEDIES!!!
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Feb 25, 2016
Any show that is willing to take on a topic like this automatically wins best of their category in my book, though I do like the Grinder.
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Feb 25, 2016
Last Man on Earth is my pick.
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Feb 25, 2016
I appreciate comedies that can address current issues and can actually do something both funny and emotional. Though as funniest network comedy, I think right now that is Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
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Feb 25, 2016
While I read the entire article it sort of became very redundant for me, Tim, when you stated: 'what Black-ish does best isn't actual comedy (though it is a very funny show)'. I don't think you can really ask if Black-ish is network television's best sitcom if you don't consider it to be the funniest.

I understand this sort of depends what your definition of a sitcom is (and humour, too, for that matter), but for me first and foremost sitcoms should be funny.
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Feb 25, 2016
Yeah, as soon as i read that line i instantly thought - not really the best COMEDY on Network TV
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Feb 25, 2016
TV.com has a... Well... Not an "issue" per se, but a habit of calling 'less-funny' comedies the 'best' comedies. I remember the hype 'You're The Worst' received. "Best comedy on TV" (or something very much along the same lines). Really though? I like the characters and the show general, but the comedy is more amusing than "laugh out loud"-funny.

It's a weird situation in which I'd say that You're The Worst is a better TV show than some comedies while simultaneously being the worse comedy.

When I want to watch a comedy, the best is the one that makes me laugh the most. But I guess it's just really subjective and not everyone sees it as such.
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Feb 25, 2016
For me, it's flawed, and brought down, by the workplace side of the show. The character of Charlie, played by Deon Cole, who is now on the stupid Angie Tribeca, is gone and replaced by Wanda Sykes, who is really adding nothing and seems just a temporary plug-in for Cole. Unfortunately, I think Cole was wasted and did not care for his character much either, but he was better than Sykes. They seem to write the workplace part of the show to be intentionally stupid rather than smart people doing stupid things, or coming up with silly advertising ideas in the process of coming up with great ideas even if still silly, or something to be more witty and clever. That is, if they ever actually show them working to begin with. Other workplace personnel also randomly change, disappear, or not included - it's fairly inconsistent. Also, every time I see his boss, I think of him from the old Herman's Head show where he played Herman's intellect. I just saw the pool party episode tonight and thought it would have been fun to have the final, end credit, viral video bit ultimately being watched by Sykes and the guys at his work, but no, it disappointed and did not. It would have helped that part of the show and tied nicely into the earlier time he spent at work discussing the fact he could not swim.

They really need to show more of Rainbow at work and perhaps the kids in school to expand the show and its characters experiences more. As it is only in its second season, I hope they do so in the future, but be smart about it.
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Feb 25, 2016
No. Just no. The Goldbergs or Fresh Off The Boat take that title.
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Feb 25, 2016
How could it be the best sitcom? It's not even remotely funny. The writing is weak. It's exactly the same set-up/punchline as any other sitcom from the last 20 years. But you know, it's a black family so all the white viewers have to pretend to love it because they don't want to come off as racist and black people love it because... I don't know... they've never had a crappy sitcom tailored to their race like white people have? I don't get it. The show just sucks. It's not funny. Mentally replace the characters with white people and ask yourself (and be HONEST) would you watch it? If so, you have crappy taste. It relies on all the typical, tired, boring sitcom tropes and cliches. Yawn. Let's all stop pretending. You can point out that the show sucks without being racist.
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Feb 27, 2016
The most racist thing I've read on this page is the stereotyping line "all the white viewers have to pretend to love it because they don't want to come off as racist".

Mentally replace the characters with white people, and OF COURSE it wouldn't work because much of the material is in the context of how our society deals with black culture and history. But the fact that it wouldn't work for another culture doesn't void its value at all. This show doesn't rely on cliches - it points them out and helps us deal with the stupidity by letting us all - black, white, and other - laugh at it instead of screaming or crying.

But the claim that I, a white viewer, watch it out of some sense of racial guilt? The only words I can think of to describe you are profanity, and they're still too clean for you.
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Feb 25, 2016
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Feb 25, 2016
Exactly. The whole discussion about the show is all about social commentary, not the actual quality of the show. Much of the writing is obviously also about social commentary, which HARDLY is a good concept to base a sitcom on. I can imagine this episode is not really very funny to watch at all, but more just filled with social commentary to make us "feel" and "think." Who the hell watches sitcoms for social commentary? Really? That is drama material.

Crabman in My Name is Earl was a much funnier and better black character than anybody/anything in this show. He (and the show) was completely apolitical and never made any social commentary about anything at all. They even had an interracial relationship in the middle of that show but did not really mention it or make a "thing" of it in any way, it just was there. Not crammed down our throats. Atleast i do not remember anything like that form that show.
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Feb 25, 2016
To each his own broskie, but you're obviously NOT the target audience, so you are only speaking for yourself and one's who think like you. AS A BLACK MAN, I can appreciate a show ( comedy or not) tackling these kind of social issues with humor and some class! It's an all around win for most open minds looking for TRUE social change..... for the better of ALL! IMHO you missed the point of the article altogether! Just my opinion though, and we're all entitled to one:-)
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Feb 25, 2016
ANGIE TRIBECA, LAST MAN ON EARTH, & ODD COUPLE are the best current comedies (but no current comedy is great). I'd say bring back I DREAM OF JEANNIE, but I doubt a current political era remake would be good or at all do it justice.
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Feb 25, 2016
Black-ish is a gem. Jack and Diane are comedy gold, and if you missed Ruby turning off the panic alarm on the new car, I pity you.
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Feb 25, 2016
Simply put, no. It doesn't beat Modern Family or Life in Pieces.
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Feb 25, 2016
If New Girl is considered a sitcom than that also. This season is killing it even without Zooey. I still want Zooey back though.
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Feb 25, 2016
This season has been great - was kinda dreading Jess' departure and Megan Fox' debut but it really has been funny - especially with Nick and Winston
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Feb 25, 2016
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Feb 25, 2016
"This week's episode confronted police brutality and the many cases of unarmed African-Americans who've been shot and killed by police across the country."

I present this counterargument: Family Matters did that first, therefore, it's the superior show.
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Feb 27, 2016
Why is the first show to tackle an issue superior? There's no logic to that statement.
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Feb 25, 2016
Yes
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Feb 25, 2016


Great article! I whole heartedly agree with everything stated above, and have known since it's inception, that black-ish was a diamond I'm the ruff, so to speak. It is one of the BEST comedies on tv right now. Next to my Broad City/ Fresh of the Boat/ & South Park. I do plan on getting caught up on it when all my other shows go on hiatus in the next week or so. Thanks for the honest, well written review Tim! CHEERS!!!:-)


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Feb 25, 2016
A diamond in the rough would be something well made but with low visibility. Black-ish has had a big budget and huge marketing and high visibility from the start.
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Feb 25, 2016
True, but on American tv. which is kinda saturated whitewashed crap for the most part, TO ME it is a diamond in the rough! Thx for the comment though:)
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