Sneak Peek: black-ish Goes Back to the 1920s in Lavish Season Finale

Black-ish Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross
Michael Ansell/ABC
Black-ish Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross

When it came to capping off Season 1 of ABC’s breakout comedy black-ish, there was one clear objective in mind: “We knew we wanted to go big for the finale,” says executive producer Anthony Anderson, who plays Dre, the lively Johnson clan’s patriarch. “There was a conscious effort to make it epic!”

The result? “Pops’ Pops’ Pops,” a lavish episode that traces the family’s roots back to the Harlem Renaissance, complete with period costumes–each modern-day member of the household has a 1920s-era counterpart–and guest appearances by Mary J. Blige and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Oh, yeah, and there’s one heckuva dance battle, too. “I actually did the Worm for it,” says Anderson of busting out his signature move. “No stunt double!” Now that’s going big.

Costume designer Stacy Beverly had just 10 days to pull together a vintage wardrobe for the cast and dozens of extras. Anderson’s suit (above) was custom-made, while Tracee Ellis Ross (Bow)–whose alter ego, Bea, was a showgirl–wore a reproduction of a beaded art deco gown. “We were trying to channel Josephine Baker,” says Beverly. “The moment Tracee put on that dress, we knew it was the one.”

The role of ruthless gangster Elroy Savoy was tailor-made for Combs (center, with costars Miles Brown and Marsai Martin, who play twins Jack and Diane). “Diddy’s whole thing was he didn’t want to play himself,” Anderson says, “so we made him play a caricature of himself!”

According to the Johnsons’ origin story, their ancestors invented jazz, unions, break dancing, and–thanks to plucky coat-check girl Zora (Yara Shahidi, above, aka teenybopper Zoey)–the text message. “The embellishments just keep getting bigger,” says Anderson. “But the ending will leave you thinking, ‘Anything is possible!'”

black-ish, Wednesday, May 20, 9:30/8:30c, ABC