Blackish delves into one of the most dangerous American subjects -- race -- with complete assurance.
Andre (Anthony Anderson) is a self-described former "big scary black guy" who's made it in the white world. He's a successful advertising executive who lives in the suburbs with his doctor wife (Tracee Ellis Ross) and four kids. But Andre has the nagging feeling that, in achieving the American dream, he and the family have lost their black identity. His wife serves baked chicken instead of fried, and his son plays field hockey instead of basketball. Andre's dad (Laurence Fishburne) chides him for selling out their heritage, and he starts thinking it's true. "I need my family to be black, not blackish!" Andre moans.
Blackish (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., ABC) delves into one of the most dangerous American subjects -- race -- with complete assurance. The new sitcom investigates the nature of black identity in a white-dominated culture that at once appropriates and denigrates it. The white folks at Andre's agency are quick to trade hip-hop slang and cool handshakes with him, but there's no way they'll ever see him as more than just their "urban" consultant. A colleague developing an ad campaign says to him, "We wonder how you think a black guy would say ‘good morning.'"
Don't think the satiric barbs are reserved for whites. Andre himself is often the butt of the joke, as when he leads his skeptical family through ancient African rituals. Anderson is a master of comic exasperation, blowing his top every time a white person tells him to "keep it real."
God help me, but I hope Blackish keeps it real for many seasons to come.
How to Get Away with Murder
Thursday, 9 pm (ABC)
This new series stars Viola Davis as a law professor who teaches her class "how to get away with murder" -- this is, how to get an accused client off the hook. A group of students apply her lessons all too well when they themselves become involved in a homicide.
Davis cuts a fearsome figure in the classroom, to the point where I kept my head down hoping she wouldn't call on me. Then again, her character has an emotionally vulnerable side that sets the criminal plot in motion. The series (by Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes) wallows in bad behavior: greed, lust and lies. The pilot verges on wretched excess, but with a strong cast and a snappy script, How to Get Away with Murder gets away with it.
Tuesday, 7 pm (ABC)
In a lively sitcom update of My Fair Lady, Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) is a social-media-obsessed career woman. Eliza wears up-to-the-minute slutty fashions and peppers her motormouth voiceover with hashtag-worthy phrases. Her life is a brainless blur of BFFs, GIFs and LOLs, until one day an epic fail makes her realize that being friended is not the same thing as having friends. Enter a social-media-hating coworker named Henry (John Cho), who agrees to "rebrand" Eliza as a person of substance.
Selfie understands exactly how silly we are right now as a nation of tweeting, texting narcissists. It satirizes Eliza's cellphone addiction while holding out hope that an actual human being is buried somewhere in that camera roll of selfies. If there's hope for her, maybe there's hope for all of us. #MustSeeTV
Manhattan Love Story
Tuesday, 7:30 pm (ABC)
This new sitcom's gimmick is to present the interior monologue of a man and woman who are about to meet and fall in love. The problem is, the characters are no more appealing on the inside than they are on the outside. Dana (Analeigh Tipton), a newcomer to New York City, is your basic helpless TV single woman, beset by insecurities. Peter (Jake McDorman), a cynical native, is your basic arrogant TV single man, who spends his first date with Dana staring at her breasts. After 25 mean-spirited minutes, the pilot then grabs for our heartstrings with a sentimental meetup at the Statue of Liberty.
At this point, my own interior monologue was spewing profanities.
The Mysteries of Laura
Wednesday, 7 pm (NBC)
TNT (Rizzoli & Isles) and USA (Psych) have perfected the mixture of crime drama and comedy. With The Mysteries of Laura, NBC tries its hand at this hybrid genre and fails miserably. Debra Messing is miscast as a hard-ass NYC detective who's also a hapless mom dealing with unruly twin boys. Then again, it's hard to imagine any actress putting over this lame material.
The script goes in for broad humor and cartoonish characters. If a Chinese person is referenced, you can be sure his name will be Wang Long Dong. If an uptight schoolmarm appears, she's sure to have a tight bun and puckered face. With jokes on the level of a high school skit, the series then has the nerve to ask us to care about Laura solving her mysteries.
The real mystery is how Messing will salvage her career after this embarrassment.