All The Colors of Ms. Rainbow
Black-ish's leading lady is awesome because she seems like a real person.
I mean it as a compliment when I say that Black-ish is a show I can watch lying down. With tense cable dramas or even agonizing comedies like The Comeback, I tend to sit bolt upright in front of my screen, hollering things at people. (I also do this when stupid people make stupid mistakes on The Amazing Race.)
I enjoy this, of course, or I wouldn't tune in. But every now and then, it's nice to enjoy a sitcom that I know is simply going to make me laugh without also expecting me to be capital-I invested. I can stretch out on the couch, tuck that pillow just right under my head, and let the jokes wash over me like a wave pool.
That doesn't mean, though, that I'm looking for any old escapist baloney. Crappy shows get me worked up in a totally different way. What I'm after, really, is a smart, zippy program that I can trust to keep me engaged while ALSO making me happy. And along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Black-ish is serving me all those ingredients.
And Rainbow "Bow" Johnson is the head chef. The matriarch of Black-ish's central family, she is both insanely delightful and delightfully insane.
On one hand, Bow is the kind of cool-ass lady who will come home from her job as an ER doctor and still find time to host a family karaoke night. She has a similar spark when she stands up for her family -- which she does a lot -- making people believe her when she threatens to kick somebody's butt for dissing her husband, Dre.
But on the other hand, for all her confidence and cool, Bow can be incredibly insecure, especially when it comes to her family's status in their mostly white neighborhood. This leads to all sorts of hijinks, like temporarily driving a sports car to impress a neighbor who thinks she's poor.
It's that balance that makes Bow so great: as comically heightened as she is, she still has a whole spectrum of human emotions and responses. I buy her confident moments because she freaks out sometimes, and vice versa. Her nuances also let her comment on issues of race and class in one episode, everyday domestic dramas in another, and the pressures of being a working mom in the next. Like a real woman, she thinks about and reacts to a lot of things, which means her storylines aren't sitcom-repetitive.
None of this would work without Tracee Ellis Ross, who's giving a sensational performance. In that karaoke scene, for instance, she lets you know that Bow is LIVING for her song. She's got this guileless enthusiasm that I find incredibly charming, but she can also communicate Bow's legitimate frustration when Dre lets her make a fool of herself at an art show. More than anything, she makes Bow seem intensely dedicated to whatever she's feeling right now: joy, anger, flirtatiousness, whatever. She's committing to it one hundred percent, and sometimes in costume.
Man! Writing about Bow has made me like her even more. And that's another key element of a "watch it lying down" show. I want to imagine myself hanging with the characters and having fun. And as someone who will destroy some karaoke, I'm pretty sure that Rainbow and I would hit it off.