Monday, February 15, 2016

Black-ish 2x14 "Sink or Swim" (It’s Because He’s Got Dense Bones) [Contributor: Jen W.]

dre swimming.gif

"Sink or Swim"
Original Airdate: February 10, 2016

Week after week, I am amazed by the ability of the Black-ish writer’s room to come up with content. As a writer, I know it’s not an easy task, and for this particular comedy, I imagine it’s even harder. That said, this episode stands as one of my favorites of the season along with “THE Word.” This week’s episode took on age old stereotypes and gender roles. Doesn’t that sound like a hilarious ride?

This is why I compliment the writers, as well as the magnificent cast of this show. Stereotypes about black people and pools shouldn’t be clever. Gender role conversations about what’s proper for boys and what’s proper for girls should be uncomfortable. Both of these topics are presented in the most hilarious manner in this episode. You laugh, you learn, and you don’t feel talked down to.

That, my dear friends, is the beauty of Black-ish.

This episode begins with Dre spying on his neighbor Janine (Nicole Sullivan), who has been throwing a pool party every weekend. Dre is convinced that his family hasn’t been invited because they are the only black family on the block, and Janene probably assumes that because they’re black, they can’t swim.

We then find out that Dre actually cannot swim. His wife and kids harangue him about this and ask him what else he can’t do. (An insert of Dre not being able to read an analog watch had me laughing, then cringing, because same.) Dre insists the point isn’t his being unable to swim, but the principle of the matter, and he intends to find out the truth.

The other matter of the episode deals with gender roles and responsibilities. Jack and Diane are both a part of the “Rovers” program. Diane complains to Ruby that Girl Rovers are “dumb.” Their activities include babysitting, manners, and eating for beauty, while the boys get astronomy, sailing, and woodcarving. (Jack wants to know what boy doesn’t want to eat for beauty.)

Bow is dealing with her own set of limitations when she’s accosted by the “Mommy Mafia” while dropping her kids off at school. She doesn’t believe that these women, who appear to do nothing but hang around the school, are good role models, and seeks to tell her two eldest children, Zoey and Junior, that they should seek work and not being a “lady of leisure.”

The intermediary scenes that happen in Dre’s office when the focus isn’t on the family are quick little scenes that often resonate for the remainder of the episode.

I like to think of the people at the conference room as Dre’s weekly Greek Chorus of really terrible advice. Dre’s boss, Mr. Stevens (Peter Mackenzie), regularly goes for the most offensive and nonsensical thing that could be said. Basically the voice of many people who don’t know better. Mr. Stevens assumes, of course, that Dre cannot swim because, “it’s science, Dre, your bones are denser, you would sink like a stone.”

Daphne (Wanda Sykes) makes a point of saying that the Johnson family lack of invitation might have nothing to do with race, and everything to do with likability: “I haven’t known you that long, and I’m struggling [to like you].”

After all of this terrible advice/unhelpful hilarity, Dre goes over to Janine and confronts her about why they haven’t been invited to her parties. Janine tells Dre it’s because she thinks that the Johnsons don’t like them. Rather than admitting that this is actually the truth, Dre lies and the Johnsons are going to the pool party.

Meanwhile, Jack and Diane have switched Rover lessons. Diane has learned how to tie a pretty fancy knot, while Jack has learned how to make a pretty fancy green bean casserole; however, they’re both terrified of their grandmother’s derision about what they should be doing, and lead her to believe that they’ve done the “appropriate” gender role job.

The Johnsons show up at Janine’s pool party, not to have fun, or be liked, but “to put to bed some very ugly stereotypes.” Dre instructs his family to not have any watermelon, and if they get hungry, have someone point them in the direction of the hummus (I fully admit, I laugh-cried at this point as someone who is also scared to eat watermelon in mixed company).

Bow contends with her contrived nemesis, Blair (Brittany Daniel), when she sees how much attention Blair pays to her husband at the party — feeding him shrimp, being overly adoring. She instructs Zoey and Junior to not look to this as a good example, but her kids, the almost always right MVPs of each episode, point out that Blair looks happy while Bow does not. Bow tells them “ladies of leisure are not happy and fulfilled,” and says she’s happy, deep down — like “go to bed happy.” Zoey points out that Blair looks happy in the moment, and also awake.

Dre’s lie about being able to swim comes back to bite him in the butt when a group of people at the other end of the pool lost their volleyball. They ask Dre to return it, and while he attempts to do so, he causes a scene and almost drowns.

Bow gets a little tipsy and ends up having a confrontation with Blair about her “lady of leisure” lifestyle to find out that Blair is actually a neurosurgeon who just chooses to set her priorities in a different place than Bow.

Diane, proving once again she’s the best, dives into the pool to save her dad with a life-saving technique she learned from the boy Rovers. Diane and Jack admit to their parents, and Ruby (whose mother’s intuition let her know that Dre was drowning, and causing her to run across the street into the party) that they prefer learning the non-stereotypical gender roles. Ruby calls on black Jesus for help, as she learns that Jack and Diane have switched Rovers: “Boys cooking! Girls saving lives! It’s all gone higgildy-piggildy!”

This episode provides a really good balance for all the elements that you’d never think would work in a comedy, but they do. In excess.

Also, you should definitely watch the remix of Dre drowning.

Hilarious moments:
  • Dre shouting “save me, black Jesus!” as Diane is saving him from the pool
  • The remix of “save me, black Jesus” that goes viral
  • The incomparable Jenifer Lewis’ entire performance. 
  • The uttering of the phrase “higgildy-piggildy” — I don’t even know how to spell it, but it’s hilarious
  • “Our 300 year-long unpaid internship”
  • Referencing Dorothy Dandridge as the Beyonce of her day
  • “I hope when you’re drowning, someone throws you a principle.” — Diane, the sass master
  • Zoey using GoFundMe for a Chanel backpack. True entrepreneurial spirit.


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