Mixed-ish (“Becoming Bow”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 24, 2019 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 3.914 million viewers total, 2.6/5 in Households, 1.180 million viewers and 0.9/4 with Adults 18-49, 0.4/3 with Adults 18-34, 1.3/5 with Adults 25-54

First things first, I am not a watcher of both BLACK-ISH and GROWN-ISH, even though the social media coverage of said shows and late night appearances of its cast have tempted me on multiple occasions to begin the “-ish” franchise. I guess it might not be such a good idea to do it with the second spin-off show, because I’m getting into it not knowing anything about Tracee Ellis Ross’s character, and why she was chosen for this “flashback” single-camera family comedy or what about her life as a 12-year-old was a topic already during BLACK-ISH. This very show has been created and written with a back story that has already been established on another show, but not every viewer of MIXED-ISH will have seen BLACK-ISH before, so the usual question comes across when writing a spin-off television show off a more successful entry in Hollywood: How much should the writers rely on the previous works in the franchise and how much of it should be included in the new project? TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES can sing you an opera about how troublesome the transfer from movie franchise to a FOX television show can be, and just because ABC decided to spin-off one of their shows into another one that could essentially copy one of their other single-camera family comedies set in the 1980s narrated by one of the characters from the future, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be less troublesome.

The hipster cult life has been great for the Johnson family.

The opening scene of this episode I will give the writers, because judging by the success of BLACK-ISH, it seemed like a mistake not to include the original show’s characters to introduce the new show. But yeah, it caused a problem with me, the new viewer, who had no connections with the cast around Anthony Anderson, except for seeing Tracee Ellis Ross on a few late night shows here and there (well, just Seth Meyers and Lilly Singh). It’s probably a good thing then that MIXED-ISH is Bow’s origin story, telling the character’s history from being a child in a hipster cult to a tweenager in the suburbs, where she is facing the real world and all the side-eyes from white people who may or may not have seen a mixed-raced person before. That premise is actually intriguing to me — Bow from the future mentioned at one point that the Loving Act changed the color and look of America, and that 20 years later the white folks were dealing with the result of interracial marriage having been legalized. It’s in fact part of the real-life story I have never thought about before — America has never looked at mixed-raced people before, at least not under these normal circumstances, so how to react and where to put the origin story of that? If I were to watch another episode of MIXED-ISH (I don’t think I can continue this show without at least making my way through BLACK-ISH before), I could only hope that this world view of Bow’s family is going to continue being the narrative of the show, and that part of MIXED-ISH will be the development of Bow from being a 12-year-old suburban kid of an interracial set of parents to a grown woman with a husband and a set of kids who were made for being the fictional characters of a black ABC comedy series.

Story-wise, this episode didn’t have much to offer. A 5-headed family moves from a commune to the suburbs, the kids are integrating themselves in school, while the matriarch is getting a job (a slightly interesting aspect of this show is that the mother seems to be the breadwinner of the house). In the meantime, the kids are trying to find themselves in this new world after having been faced with the sorta-racist reality (I don’t know whether what the kid said to them in the mess hall was racist or not) of it, and Bow from the future uses the opportunity to tell us all about what she felt and thought and how she reacted to everything, and she did not even think about putting a break on her narrative and let the characters of the show talk about how they felt. Tracee Ellis Ross’s presence in this episode was very much extended, and while I appreciated that she stayed quiet after her siblings revealed their new looks for the second day of school, I must say that the voiceover narration was too much at certain points. It’s almost like the writers decided to have as much of Ross as possible in this episode (I assume she is the stand-out performance in BALCK-ISH) and not just have her be the creator and executive producer of the show. I hope future episodes will cut back on the voiceover narration, just so the actual characters have an opportunity to speak and experience character developments on their own, unhelped by the narration from one of the characters’ future version.

The Eighties are in full force with these kids.

I am however happy that the show found an opportunity to be as different from THE GOLDBERGS as possible(I haven’t been watching YOUNG SHELDON either, so I can’t compare it with the CBS show). That was already given thanks to the premise of MIXED-ISH, which plays with race relations, but while THE GOLDBERGS likes to play with pop culture and sometimes delivers sketch-like comedy, MIXED-ISH seems very grounded in its approach to do family comedy, while also taking time to go for an emotional moment between the character, especially since Bow seems to be the one who needs to find her true self in this new world. The thing is just, the approach of grounded comedy failed to get me amused, but then again I don’t even know if I’m able to understand everything that is happening on MIXED-ISH. Being a straight white male of the 1990s, there is no connection for me to the lives of black or mixed people in the 1980s — this is a culture I don’t know anything about (with THE GOLDBERGS I at least have the pop culture references), which means it’s making things a lot more difficult to experience the show with its characters. But I’m in the process of learning — I’m currently watching FAMILY MATTERS, so maybe there will be a point in my TV-watching life in which I will understand the troubles and trials and tribulations black people have gone through. MIXED-ISH won’t do that for me at this moment though.

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