‘Black-ish’ sets aside signature comedy, exploring tension between evolving main characters

Latest episode focuses on its least funny, most powerful storyline yet

Isaac Wert

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While many popular TV comedies begin to feel like self-satire after multiple seasons, relying on the same jokes and predictable plotlines for years on end, ABC’s “Black-ish” effectively subverts this curse, with its fourth season exploring the growing pains in Dre and Rainbow’s marriage, the crux of the show itself.

“Black-ish” is not the first television comedy to take this experimental route. “Girls,” “The Mindy Project” and “How I Met Your Mother” come to mind, all experimenting with the tone and structure of the show to give their stories more dimensions in their latter seasons.

While the past few episodes of “Black-ish” touched on Dre and Rainbow’s marital problems,  maintaining its typical comedic energy, last week’s episode, titled “Blue Valentine,” is the show’s boldest move yet, shooting the majority of the episode in a cool color scheme (representing the cold relationship between the leads) and featuring hardly any jokes.

The episode alternates between the past and present day, showing how Dre and Rainbow’s relationship has evolved over their twenty years of marriage through relevant flashbacks. These moments are interspersed throughout the present day storyline, which uses Dre and Rainbow’s kitchen remodel as a grand metaphor for their attempt to rekindle their love for one another.

While many argue that Black-ish should stick to its comedic guns, I really appreciate this level of experimentation. Because while many sitcoms shy away from negative storylines, Black-ish always takes topical issues head on, with great episodes about atheism, police brutality and mass incarceration. So while “Blue Valentine” is the most upsetting “Black-ish” episode to date, it’s also the show’s most compelling. I was transfixed by the incredible acting and dialogue, and really felt the depths of Dre and Rainbow’s struggle.

If you have just 22-minutes tonight, check out “Blue Valentine.” The episode is a rollercoaster of love and pain that might leave viewers as heartbroken as its main characters. For those interested in tuning in, “Black-ish” airs at 8 p.m., Tuesdays on ABC.