Created by: Kenya Barris, Tracee Ellis Ross, Peter Saji
Starring: Arica Himmel, Tika Sumpter, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Christina Anthony, Ethan William Childress, Mykal-Michelle Harris, Gary Cole, Christina Anthony
I’ve been looking forward to mixed-ish for a while. Once I heard the show was in production, I felt like finally, we’d have a show that would focus on Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) instead of Dre’s (Anthony Anderson) manchild problems. In fact, Dre is one of the reasons I quit watching black-ish; his energy, which consists of just complaining, belittling and demeaning because of his own insecurities, became too obnoxious to me. It was annoying to watch him make fun of Junior (Marcus Scribner) for no reason, but it was even more frustrating to see him not realize what a great catch he has in Bow. As I tweeted, Bow could do much, much better than Dre, and from the amount of retweets and likes I got, many people agree.
Because black-ish focuses so much on Dre, we never got much insight into Bow’s inner world. She was just used as the straight woman for Dre’s ridiculousness. However, Bow often alluded to her unique upbringing, such as growing up in a commune, much less growing up as the child of a White man and a Black woman. Enter mixed-ish, which finally gives Bow the focus she’s so deserved.
Ellis Ross narrates the show, which takes us back to Bow’s childhood in 1984, after the leader of the commune she and her family lived in was arrested and they were forced back into mainstream society. Because she and her siblings Johan (Childress) and Santamonica (Harris) grew up without the burden of being biracial thanks to the multicultural togetherness of the commune, mainstream society proved to be a hurdle that was hard to tackle. Even her parents, Alicia (Sumpter) and Paul (Gosselaar), have a difficult time readjusting to the lives they left, which includes readjusting to the fact that there still weren’t many interracial couples in America, and even less biracial children. The pilot episode shows us how Bow’s family try to find themselves in modern society, which includes Bow and her siblings struggles to discover their place in a country that still believes in the binary when it comes to race.
Overall, I loved how this episode gave us a quick introduction to Bow’s family. This includes her Reagan-supporting lawyer grandfather Harrison (Gary Cole), a man probably too old to call him a “yuppie,” but is definitely someone living that fast-pace, materialistic life. It also includes her aunt Denise (Anthony), Alicia’s around-the-way sister who tries to teach her favorite nieces and nephews about their Black culture, but probably in a way that could do more harm than good. We see that even though these two people come from different walks of life with different racial and cultural experiences, they still want the best for Bow, Santamonica and Johan.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any discord at home when it comes to race. Despite Paul and Alicia’s love for each other, they still have to teach each other about the privileges and disadvantages each have when it comes to functioning in America. Such is the case in this episode. Paul is so focused on trying to keep the commune lifestyle going in their new home that he doesn’t realize that Alicia, a Black woman, has to live in reality and get a job. When she takes on a job with Harrison, Paul is angry at first, believing that she’s caving into the capitalistic lifestyle they tried to dissuade their children from. It’s only when she reminds him that he has a luxury as a White man to live however he wants and not be seen differently by the outside world that he remembers that she, as a Black woman, still has a steep hill to climb when it comes to being accepted by others.
Alicia’s journey from the commune to the real world is similar to Bow’s in a way; both don’t know who they are and have to search in the dark for their identities. Bow’s challenge, of course, has the added pressure of trying to figure out who you are when the world is also trying to figure out what race to categorize you as. Her siblings caved in and started watching television (what their father coined “the idiot box”) and tried to develop some identities for themselves; Johan took on the costume of a beat-boxer, which allowed him to align himself with some of the Black boys at school, and Santamonica dressed like a mini Madonna, which gave her the ability to sit with some of the White girls.
This is, for better or worse, a strategy that many biracial people have dealt with in some shape or form. Bow, meanwhile, represents the biracial person who doesn’t want to negate one side of their race in order to fit in. As we’ll see over the course of the season, her challenge will be to stand up for herself when others try to pin her down or stereotype her a certain way.
Despite some heavy talk about tough topics, mixed-ish is still a show that’s all about love, and it’s apparent through every scene. That’s what also makes this show more superior than black-ish; it’s hard for me to find the love in the Johnson family because Dre is such a bully (and Zoey is his annoying double). Maybe it’s because Bow’s parents are hippies, but you can tell that love is at the center of everything in Bow’s family, and that the ability to talk out issues is something the family takes very seriously.
It also helps that some of the cast members can bring their own experiences of biracial identity to the show. Ellis Ross is an executive producer, and as a biracial Black woman herself, she has a host of experiences she can bring to the writers’ room. Gosselaar also has personal experience to draw from, since he biracial himself as a man who is half Indonesian, half Dutch. The issues that are dealt with in the show feel like they hit home because they actually do, and that also helps the show feel heartfelt, genuine and sincere.
Overall, I’d highly recommend mixed-ish as a weekly show to watch with your family, especially if you are a family with biracial children. It will not only help them to see kids who reflect their experiences, but it’ll also help parents as well, who might feel like their relationships aren’t always represented on television. Mixed-ish is, for me, a certified hit.