Episode 16- Hope is a very special episode of black-ish.  Sitcoms back in the 70’s and 80’s like Good Times, All in the Family, Happy Days, The Facts of Life, Different Strokes, Family Ties and many, many more would dedicate one episode per season to an issue.

These episodes dealt with social issues like teenaged suicide, drunk driving, drugs, death etc.  I remember the Bicycle Man episode of Different Strokes, which was a two parter that dealt with a predator pedophile who lured Arnold and Dudley into his bike shop.  Of course, the predator was caught before harming the kids and Mr Drummond sat down with the kids to do the moral of the episode and the teaching point of stranger danger to kids.

We are in the Golden age of TV and special episodes usually seem to be really really hokey. Why would ABC allow Kenya Barris to do a very special episode? To show America how to have a discussion about social justice and police brutality with teenagers and children.


NPR’s Michelle Martin of Weekend Edition interviewed Kenya Barris  on this subject  this past weekend:”MARTIN: It’s a pretty devastating scene with a level of authenticity and a kind of emotional intensity that I personally don’t remember seeing on network TV. Can you walk me through how it came to be?

“MARTIN: It’s a pretty devastating scene with a level of authenticity and a kind of emotional intensity that I personally don’t remember seeing on network TV. Can you walk me through how it came to be?

BARRIS: It really started pretty much like the episode did. I was watching the Ferguson indictment with my family. And my second youngest son turned around and he said – why these people so mad? And my natural inclination was to want to dive in and give him all the experiences that I’ve had growing up. And my wife and I – we talked, and we realized that it’s not actually fair because that’s not his reality, or hopefully, that’s going to be his reality. So it was, like, this balancing act that we sort of had to dive into. And we realized that a lot of families – black, white or whatever – probably are having to have that same kind of conversation, and that’s kind of what – how the episode came about for me.

MARTIN: The show has taken on a lot of issues that affect black America in particular. Did you always know that, eventually, you were going to write this kind of scene about this kind of issue, police brutality?

BARRIS: I mean, I think for us the biggest thing is we want to tell a story that’s specific to this family. But in telling stories that are specific to this family, what we’ve kind of began to see is that they speak to everyone, not just to black families, but to families in general. And I knew that I – how I wanted to tell the story was I wanted people to sort of be a fly on a wall of a conversation, you know, in that living room, sort of feeling claustrophobic, but at the same time feeling like they were a part of that conversation with the family.

MARTIN: What’s also interesting is how you balance the comedy with the soberness of the material, right. I mean, this is what you do. This is what you’re good at. But this is such a grave scene, the subject material, but it’s still really funny. I mean, at one point, Jack doesn’t know what being unarmed means. He thinks it’s literally having no arms.

BARRIS: (Laughter) Right.

MARTIN: Did it come pretty naturally to you to feel out the boundaries of what was funny in something so serious?

BARRIS: I think that was, honestly, the hardest part of the episode for me personally. It wasn’t our natural sort of comedic fare. We had much heavier and more of those moments within – throughout the episode, but we knew that we wanted to make sure that comedy – because I think comedy is an amazing filter – to really have real conversations with. We wanted to make sure that the comedy was there so that it gave people the entry point in and out of the subject.

MARTIN: Do you think this was a one-off, or is this going to be an issue that you’re going to pick up again in some way?

BARRIS: I don’t know. I mean, one of the big things with me is I don’t want to politicize the show. One of the things that we want to do, rather than sort of being a political pulpit of show, we really just want to start conversations that people have. The way the show is made is – there are so many different points of view within that household. And they – you know, they present their cases based upon what their aggregate of their experiences are. And we sort of leave the viewer with a lot of different things to think about.

To answer whether or not this is a one-off, I don’t know. The way we try to tell these stories are we talk about what this family would naturally be talking about, you know. And I think that this family has spoken about this for the moment, at least to America.”

I think it’s best for you to watch and let me know what you think of the episode.  How did the Johnson’s do?  What would you do differently?  Is this a conversation you are having with your family at home?  Did it make a difference?

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Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

11049613_10206537176921402_2619367755764345357_nJeanine T. Abraham is a professional actor, blogger, new playwright, and GirlTrek organizer living and working in Brooklyn, NYC