Roush Review: ABC's 'black-ish' Spinoff 'mixed-ish' & 'Emergence'
Unlike in recent seasons, this fall is light on remakes and reboots (although some new shows feel like retreads), but in an industry where success begets excess, there's always room for a spinoff.
Enter ABC's mixed-ish, the second offshoot of the network's popular and envelope-pushing black-ish. (The other, grown-ish, airs on cable's Freeform.) This likable but unnecessary prequel is a breezy exercise in subversive nostalgia that takes us back to the mid-1980s, answering Dre's (Anthony Anderson) question to wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross): "How did you ever survive your childhood?"
We know Bow was raised by a mixed-race hippie couple — Tika Sumpter and Mark-Paul Gosselaar play her parents, Alicia and Paul (younger versions of the black-ish characters played by Anna Deavere Smith and Beau Bridges) — and we now get to experience first-hand her family's abrupt and jolting transition from commune life to the conformity of the suburbs. Paul is a free-thinking idealist, a dropout from college and society (let's face it, a cliché), while Alicia is enough of a realist to have finished her law degree, preparing to enter the workplace. Neither, though, has readied 12-year-old Rainbow (an assured Arica Himmel) or her younger sibs for what faces them at school, where mixed-race kids are an anomaly.
"Imagine being the new kid when no one in the world is like you, not even your parents," laments Bow, who's even more rattled when little Johan (Ethan William Childress) and Santamonica (a very funny Mykal-Michelle Harris) adapt too quickly to cultural stereotypes from the boob tube. "Am I the only one not trying to be someone else?"
As a comedy, mixed-ish delivers mixed results with its dated hippie humor and heavy-handed theme. But things pick up whenever the great Gary Cole, as Paul's corporate boor of a father (into whose rental house they move), shows up to mock them and shock them into taking some responsibility. "Is it fun to be poor?" he goads them good-naturedly. And when Alicia shows up to work at his firm in colorful tie-dye, he quips, "I wouldn't go into your sweat lodge and put on deodorant… It's terrifying that you're the sensible one."
While it may not be easy for Bow's family to fit in, mixed-ish will likely be a smooth addition to ABC's Tuesday comedy lineup. I can't help wishing, though, that the network was less reliant on milking its aging hits than sticking with a show as fresh and funny as last season's The Kids Are Alright (a cancellation I still can't process).
mixed-ish, Series Premiere, Tuesday, September 24, 9/8c, ABC
Alien-ated: All the genre trappings emerge quickly: a fiery plane crash and cover-up, sinister government-type agents who aren't what they appear to be, a mysterious and solemn little girl with no memory and strange telekinetic powers. But what distinguishes ABC's Emergence from other murky supernatural puzzle shows is its heart and soul: Allison Tolman (Fargo) as Jo Evans, a maternal Long Island police chief who takes the enigmatic "Piper" (Alexa Swinton) under her wing while she tries to figure out what's going on, where the girl came from and how to keep her own family out of danger.
There's a natural warmth and wit to any character Tolman plays (I'm still mourning ABC's short-lived Downward Dog), and these attributes are essential for drawing us into yet another conspiracy series. It's no surprise that Piper clings to Jo like a lifeline, even before they play a game involving Skittles candy that brings back fond memories of E.T. and Reese's Pieces. Piper could do worse than become a part of Jo's family, which includes a doting dad (Clancy Brown) with heart problems, a precocious daughter (Ashley Aufderheide) and an estranged husband (Donald Faison) who clearly still has the feels for Jo. As who wouldn't?
The pilot episode effectively sets up the mystery, while piling on new twists, building to suspenseful set pieces and more revelations about Piper’s otherness. Even so, I can see why NBC, which developed the series, passed on it. (ABC Studios produces the show, which is how it ended up on ABC.) We've seen its like so many times before, often on this very network, and with one very big exception (Lost), we tend to risk being left hanging before the story is adequately resolved. Maybe Emergence will be the exception. For Tolman's sake, I hope so.
Emergence, Series Premiere, Tuesday, September 24, 10/9c, ABC