Throughout its past season, “Black-ish” has established itself as a show that isn’t afraid to address some of the more difficult questions about race. While its Halloween episode isn’t as sharp or pointed in its social commentary as the season premiere (which tackled the use of the n-word), it does use the holiday to discuss heavier family relationships.
The episode’s two primary sources of conflict arise when Dre’s (Anthony Anderson, “Guys with Kids”) cousin June Bug (Michael Strahan, “Brothers”), who used to beat him up as a kid, visits at the same time as the kids’ cousins, who steal their candy on a yearly basis.
It’s in the discussion of the relationship between the cousins and their Johnson counterparts where this episode falters. While the questions it brings up involving the class differences between Dre’s family (who “got out of the hood”) and their poorer cousins are worthwhile — and it should get credit for discussing them — the show’s answers felt rushed and underdeveloped. June Bug’s reasoning behind his actions (protecting Dre’s future) only comes out in a discussion between Dre and his mother. What could actually be a powerful moment gets lost in a 30-second scene where the only meaningful aspect is a smile from Strahan. Maybe the writers were worried about Strahan’s acting ability, but they should have done more to help build the sequence’s significance.
On a positive note, the comedy does get mileage from Halloween. Having the Johnson family dress up as the Obamas (complete with a Secret Service agent and the dog Bo) led to hilarious moments involving Junior (newcomer Marcus Scribner) “protecting” Dre, and Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross, “Girlfriends”) questioning which Michelle Obama outfit to wear. (Plus, it let Anderson break out his Obama impersonation.) Ultimately, this is what grounded an episode that tried to make a larger point, but didn’t quite give it the necessary time.