'black-ish' Suffers a Big Midlife Crisis When Dre's 40th Birthday Looms
I know it's barely possible that this Dre's birthday episode of black-ish was written in response to Empire becoming the "cool, black" show halfway through the show's season, but the episode pretty much only works if you view it like that, at least to me. Dre's confusion and deep, deep insecurities when dealing with his assistant, Curtis, felt less like panic at the younger generation (Curtis isn't particularly a stereotypical millennial, and never does anything like use weird apps or whatever else is normally done in shows like this) and more about how the type of black guy that white people used to find incredibly cool can abruptly change, say, halfway through your 24 episode Season 1 order. Jermaine Dupri exemplifies that with his lines/resume recitations — remember when this guy wasn't just a punchline?
That's the only angle here that even approaches a new and interesting idea. Change this to Modern Family's cast, and it's totally lifeless. Forty is not and has never been old enough to make fun of someone for being old, especially when the generation behind Dre, 20-30 somethings, will probably juuuust be able to afford investing in houses and families by their early 40s. At least black-ish makes the effort of dialing up the circumstances — Dre's not suffering gray hairs or crow's feet, we're talking about teeth falling out and a newfound limp from blowing out a knee.
And the conflict is more about Dre being forced to accept boring mature things, like hanging out with the family at a jammy-jam, over chasing coolness. There's an element of not caring about things that you need to have when looking for coolness, while when you have a high-paying job and four kids, you need to care about some stuff.
But otherwise it's underwhelming. Kids look for a meaningful gift for their dad... snore. There's hours of sitcom episodes with this premise. Jennifer Lewis is quickly making the memories of Laurence Fishburne fade, because she manages to electrify her minor appearances and turn them into incredible moments. There's no way her style of walking out of a room is written in that script. She's quickly becoming the MVP of the show, and it's totally worth it to tune into an episode in the hopes of seeing her.