“Mixed-ish” is Funny and More Poignant than Its Parent “Black-ish”

ABC’s new sitcom “mixed-ish” is the second spinoff series from their hit comedy “black-ish“. When “black-ish” premiered a few seasons ago, I didn’t think I would like it. Even though I’m a bleeding heart liberal, I’m still an old white guy and I didn’t think I could relate to a show about the struggle of a black family to not lose their African-American identity as the parents both became successful in a white dominated world. But in the end I’ve really enjoyed it because my ultimate test of whether or not I watch a sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?” and this one delivers on a regular basis. It does get a bit preachy at times and I didn’t particularly enjoy last season’s plot line about the marriage difficulties of Andre and Rainbow Johnson. But I’ve stuck with the show through five seasons and plan to continue to watch. I did not watch the spinoff series about their daughter going off to college “grown-ish” because I thought I already had my fill of the Johnson family on the original series. The college adventures of their daughter just didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t bother to watch any of it. When I heard they were doing another spinoff I doubted that I would have much interest in it.

“Mixed-ish” takes us back to 1985 when Rainbow Johnson was 12 years old. By the way I never realized that Johnson was not only her married name it was her maiden name as well. When the government raided the hippie commune where she grew up, her parents moved the family to the suburbs and tried to rejoin normal society. She and her younger brother and sister were totally unprepared for dealing with the challenges of being biracial. Her white father and African-American mother had isolated them from any issues of race while growing up in the commune. Their first day at school found them being forced to choose between identifying as white or black or being left out altogether.

I still cannot identify with what it means to be black or biracial but the story of this family struggling to adapt to this huge culture shift of moving from a commune to the suburbs is entertaining, compelling, and educational. As I have said above and many times before, the ultimate test of a sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?” and like its predecessor, this one did.

Rainbow’s mother Alicia was trained as a lawyer but ran away from the law to join the commune with her hippie husband Paul to raise their family there in peace and harmony. When the commune was shut down the family moves in to a furnished rented house provided by Paul’s father. In order to make ends meet, she trades in her usual tie-dyed clothing for a corporate pantsuit and goes to work as legal counsel for her father-in-law’s business.

Alicia is played by Tika Sumpter whose early career included 239 episodes of soap opera “One Life to Live” and 11 episodes of “Gossip Girl“. Rainbow’s dad Paul is played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar who has had a variety of TV roles but is probably most remembered for “Saved by the Bell” and “NYPD Blue“. Tika’s performance bears little or no resemblance to the older version of Alicia who is played by Anna Deavere Smith in her 9 appearances on “black-ish”. However Gosselaar’s performance is most definitely reminiscent of Beau Bridges version of the character Paul in his three guests starring appearances on the original show.

Gary Cole does a wonderful job creating a new character of Paul’s father Harrison. Young 12-year-old rainbow Johnson is played by Arica Himmel has appeared on stage in off Broadway performances in a few guest performances on other recent TV series. She plays her part quite credibly and you really develop a sympathy for the difficult position she has put in with the culture shock and identity issues she is facing. Newcomers Ethan William Childress and Mykal-Michelle Harris are suitably cute and funny as Rainbow’s younger brother and sister. Alicia sister Denise known to the kids as Aunt Dee-Dee is also a very funny quirky character played by Chicago Second City alum Christina Anthony. She attempts to help the children get in touch with their African-American side.

The characters are suitably quirky. The writing is every bit as good as its parent program and the storylines of these biracial kids trying to make it in the world is actually more compelling than the storylines of “black-ish”.

Despite my already overcrowded TV schedule, I’m going to add this one to the mix and give it a rating of “I’m Watching“. If you like the first show at all I think this one will appeal to you. It risks becoming preachy like the original but if that doesn’t turn you off maybe you should check it out.

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