Rainbow Johnson's new dad is a sitcom icon. As reported by Variety, Mark-Paul Gosselaar has joined ABC's black-ish spinoff, mixed-ish, as Bow's dad, Paul Johnson. Gosselaar is taking over the role from the previously cast Anders Holm, who exited the series after the pilot. And while it's been a while since he's had to flex his comedic chops, the actor knows his way around a TV comedy thanks to his days playing Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell.
Mixed-ish is the second black-ish spinoff (Freeform's grown-ish was the first), and it's set to focus on Bow's life as part of a mixed-race family in the '80s. Gosselaar joins the previously cast Tika Sumpter as Bow's mom Alicia Johnson, Arica Himmel as Bow, Christina Anthony as Denise, Mykal-Michelle Harris as Santamonica Johnson, and Ethan Childress as Johan Johnson. As fans of black-ish will know, Bow had an unconventional childhood. She and her siblings spent their formative years living in a commune with their parents — until it turned out that the commune was more of a cult in the eyes of the ATF.
As the family transitions into life in the suburbs, the kids will have to navigate their racial identity for the first time. In the comedy's first trailer, the kids find themselves uncertain of where they fit in when they realize their school seems to divide itself by race.
The series marks Gosselaar's return to network comedy after two high profile, but quickly canceled, dramas. In the past two years, the actor starred in The Passage and Pitch for Fox. Both series were well-received critically, but they failed to attract a large audience. Recently, there was talk of a potential revival of the baseball drama Pitch, but that seems unlikely now that Gosselaar and the show's lead, Kylie Bunbury, have been cast in new projects. (Bunbury just joined the cast of USA's Brave New World.)
While it would have been nice to see Pitch, a series about the first female player in the MLB, continue, mixed-ish has the potential to be a great fit for Gosselaar. If the spinoff matches the tone of the original, then viewers can expect the series to blend humor, drama, and social issues together to create a half-hour meditation on race and the American family. Having The Passage star join the cast as a hippie sitcom dad learning how to guide his kids through the harsh realities of the real world feels like a stroke of genius.
Paul Johnson is about as far away from Zack Morris as Gosselaar can get, but the role still allows him to play in the comedy genre. For a certain generation, Zack is a cultural touchstone, and Gosselaar the very definition of a teen heartthrob. However, his post-Saved by the Bell career has shown that he has serious acting chops, and that he's always up for a challenge. Mixed-ish feels like his chance to create a whole new sitcom legacy for himself, and maybe even break the one-and-done curse that has been plaguing his career lately at the same time.