No one needed the Chris Brown episode of 'Black-ish'
Opinion: Mic invites contributors and staff members to offer commentary and context about news and timely issues.
"I have the power to know what my people want but the responsibility to give them what they need."
No one needed this episode of Black-ish. Well, maybe at its core, in the outline stage of the episode. But the finished product of episode 19, titled "Richard Youngsta," is so all over the place, and unfortunately, too unfunny to even stumble its way to having its messages actually land. Sadly, that's not even the first of so many quotes from this episode that ultimately end up either falling flat or are just plain hypocritical because of the Chris Brown-sized and shaped elephant in the room.
"The really important things is ... I really know black people and I know what they want. And that's a real superpower."
That's how episode 19 begins, and honestly, from the first moment, everything just felt ... off. So when it comes to the inclusion of Chris Brown as rapper Rich Youngsta — who, on top of all of this, hasn't gained acting ability in the 10 years since The O.C. season four — it's all just a mess.
The people behind-the-scenes of Black-ish and at ABC couldn't possibly be unaware of Chris Brown and the dark cloud he casts. In fact, that obvious awareness — and how it ends up being depicted in episode 19 — makes it worse. You see, it should be noted that, after Dre and Charlie make such a big deal out of Rich Youngsta, the character only exists in the Stevens & Lido scenes or in the commercial videos. Brown is very specifically separated from a large bit of the cast, only working with anyone other than Anthony Anderson and Deon Cole for barely a minute of screen time. That right there's already a problem. We're supposed to believe no one in Dre's family would want to meet such a big deal celebrity? Especially after how much the kids love the commercial? The kids' entire plot this week is kicked off by how "me, me, me" they are, so this makes zero sense. And it's just par for the course with this episode.
Despite the casting of Chris Brown, the central conflict of the episode is never really about Rich Youngsta (more on that later). Instead it's about how Dre's Uvo champagne commercial is basically the Tyler Perry's Madea of commercials. The original commercial with the — "Put some Uvo on it" — slogan is bad, supposedly comically so. But the laughs never actually come during the video of Rich Youngsta shucking and jiving as he puts champagne on pancakes and down his pants. And then there's the moment where he pours champagne on his "loud-mouth black woman" and turns her into a "doting white woman." That last one is the icing on this stale cake, and yet, it's only Rainbow and Ruby who call it out. Because everyone loves Dre's commercial — his magnum opus, in his eyes — except for the two adult black women.
"You know, they say you ain't really made it until you got haters."
This episode of Black-ish has Chris Brown utter that line and yet no one follows it up with something like, "Though if you're calling your family 'haters,' you might be the problem." Instead, the episode intentionally has a real life singer with quite a few real life haters say that line. It never does anything to point out the character's actual ignorance or try to defend the casting choice.
Television writing is a group effort, so Peter Saji (who also wrote this season's "Who's Afraid of the Big Black Man?" among other episodes) definitely doesn't deserve to be piled-on for doing his job and possibly even making the best of the given parameters. But that doesn't mean Black-ish as a whole shouldn't be held accountable for such a miscalculation and misfire of an episode. When people say Black-ish should know better (which is generally the consensus of this episode), they're saying this because it's clear Black-ish absolutely knows better. Its entire existence thrives on a self-awareness. So if you've watched Black-ish from the beginning and have ever discussed what it's been doing on a weekly basis, then you know the presence of Chris Brown seemingly goes against everything it's ever been about — especially the presence of him without making an actual point on the matter. You can't say no one involved in this thought there would be a different reaction. You just can't.
The fact that Rich Youngsta's very existence isn't the subject of any debate in this episode makes for a missed opportunity in general, and honestly, it's an absolute cop-out. If you're going to cast Chris Brown, warts and all, then go for it, warts and all. In this episode, Dre sees the bad influence of his Uvo commercial campaign, but somehow, none of that actually transfers over to seeing the bad influence of this rapper we know nothing about other than his love of money. Really? He sees his young son mimic this and is not worried about what else he might mimic? Hmm.
This leads to the presumed confirmation that Chris Brown doesn't have enough of a sense of humor to allow himself to be portrayed in a negative light. Because really, there's nothing to joke about when it comes to portraying Chris Brown in a negative light, now is there? The episode introduces Rich Youngsta at first as a legit rapper who white people at Stevens & Lido don't know ... and that's it. That and the fact he loves money (and thinks champagne goes on bagels) is Rich Youngsta in a nutshell. That's not a character, that's just a paycheck for Chris Brown on a now skippable episode of Black-ish. Because there's no reason for Chris Brown to have been cast other than to get the show attention, and it's not even a good first impression of the show. If only the attention could have been on a better episode.
"Look: I just want the freedom as an artist to tell the stories that I need to tell."
From a moral standpoint, if this were actually a better episode of Black-ish, the hypocrisy of having Chris Brown as a guest star would still be there, but it would be more of a blemish on an otherwise good episode than just an exercise in wondering what anyone was thinking at any given point in time. But this isn't a good episode, even in the B-plot where Rainbow is trying to prove to Ruby she's not a bad parent for allowing her kids to constantly order separate takeout instead of eating what she cooks. Except, Ruby is actually right this episode, even though she's still overwhelmingly rude and likely to kill Junior with his allergies. That's how dire this episode is: Ruby is 100% right for once.
Even the Black-ish season premiere at Disney, while functioning as an ad for the amusement park, at least felt like it still took place in the established world of the series. The fact that it was blatant product placement wasn't going to stop the writers from making it work for the show. This episode has the show stop being itself ... to placate Chris Brown? For the first time ever, Dre forgets he's a black man in America (and all that entails) ... to acquire haters? And in the conclusion of the episode, Dre's "classy" version of the commercial is also universally loved (this time by Bow as well), so the presumed conflict of the episode is nonexistent; apparently Dre could've done a decent commercial in the first place, no pushback.
Can't wait until next season when the show has an episode debating Chris Brown and then the entire Black-ish universe crumbles upon itself.