The tour van driving through the neighborhood of luxury homes and palm trees slowed as it approached a black family standing outside their home.
“If you look to your left, you will see the mythical and majestic Black family out of their natural habitat and yet still thriving,” the guide said happily as the white tourists clutched their cameras. “Go ahead and wave. They’ll get back to you right away.”
This scene, taken from the opening episode of ABC’s “Black-ish,” was an introduction to the Johnsons, a multigenerational family living a different kind of American dream. Led by successful advertising executive Andre “Dre” Johnson (Anthony Anderson) and his doctor wife, Rainbow “Bo” Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross), the Johnsons tried hard to maintain their cultural identity while living and working in a largely white environment that didn’t always understand them.
Launched in 2014 to positive reviews and solid ratings, “black-ish” not only survived, but thrived over the next eight seasons. It broke down barriers while upending previous prime-time performances of families of color. With an often revealing but never harsh or preachy thrust, “black-ish” succeeded as a situation comedy about a loving family. and as a sharp look at how successful black people still have to wrestle with stereotypes and misperceptions.
The series, which also starred Laurence Fishburne as Dre’s father, Pops, is now nearing the end of the line. Its eighth and final season, which ends on Tuesday, has maintained its focus on cultural clashes, and the show’s importance in TV history is still on full display: guest stars have included the former First Lady Michelle Obama, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles and basketball superstar Magic Johnson.
The cast and creator Kenya Barris have been riding a wave of emotion since production wrapped in November. Anderson clarified that he wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye.
“It’s really sad,” Anderson, who also serves as an executive producer, said in an interview last weekend before a “blackish” fan event in Washington, D.C. “I personally think the show could have gone on and on. to tell more stories.But the network saw it differently.
He recalled the last day of filming when he and Ross were rehearsing their final scene together. “The floodgates opened for both of us,” he said. “It hit both of us in that moment, ‘This is it.’ It was really heavy and really sad.”
Ross, in a separate interview, said, “Doing the last few episodes, I shed so many tears; it was really exhausting. I feel such joy and pride. It leaves my heart full.”
Barris added: “It’s a bittersweet shrimp. This show changed all of our lives and impacted things in ways we never could have predicted. It was an incredible adventure, but every book has an end – even the greatest books in the world. I’m sad to see it go but happy to have been a part of it.”
Prior to “black-ish,” most major black household-centric network sitcoms, such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Hughleys,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” and “My Wife and Kids” , were vehicles for their stars, who were usually comedians. These shows have often shied away from addressing serious issues facing black people in the tradition of “The Cosby Show,” which featured an upper-middle-class black family but rarely showed them outside of their fashionable brownstone. “Black-ish” took those series as important influences but upped the ante on current affairs.
“Kenya and I looked at the television landscape when we were developing the show,” Anderson said, “and there was nothing that represented we. “My Wife and Kids” and “Bernie Mac” were off the air, and we were nostalgic thinking of “Cosby,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons.” We wanted to do our version of all those shows.”
The series confronted hot topics head-on with stories centering on racial and cultural divides, including the use of the N-word, the election and presidency of Donald Trump, and police brutality against black people. Family love was a constant concern.
“We created a narrative of what black culture was like that wasn’t seen,” Barris said. “I absolutely think it changed society. There weren’t a lot of shows that were talking about the things that we were talking about. Juneteenth – we didn’t make it, but we talked about it in a way that has caught the eye. The pressure of what it was like to be a black president. What it was like to be a ‘Karen’.”
“This show completely transformed the landscape of television,” Ross said. “We showed a black family like an American family that was universally identifiable to everyone. We were ready to break down barriers. It was a character-driven generational comedy but also allowed serious issues to be addressed through the prism of comedy.”
Barris said he knew the show was fulfilling its vision in the first season with the episode titled “The Nod,” which referenced gestures universally understood among black men.
“That’s when we started to find our legs with this episode,” Barris said. “That defined the DNA of the show. We were showing [life] behind the curtain, those shades that we African Americans use, just like other ethnic groups or [marginalized] groups have their nuances. It was the lasagna layer of what America is.”
The series started off on a high — it was the first major network comedy in nearly a decade to revolve solely around a black family. ABC gave the series a high-profile launch, positioning it after Emmy-winning “Modern Family.”
During its run, “black-ish” received four Emmy nominations for Comedy Series. Anderson has been nominated seven times for Comedy Actor and Ross five times for Comedy Actress.
But it wasn’t always a smooth trip. Barris was particularly anxious about “Hope,” a Season 2 episode that dealt with police brutality against black people, knowing it was entering risky territory: “I’m very nervous about this episode – the more nervous than I’ve ever been”. he told The Times in 2016. “I worry about comedy. I had to do a balancing act to show that we weren’t trivializing the issue, but we also didn’t want to politicize the show. .”
An episode titled “Please, Baby, Please” — which took aim at Trump and referenced the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally and NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality — made network executives so uncomfortable that they refused to air it. The decision led to Barris leaving ABC for a lucrative deal with Netflix. (Barris has since left the Netflix deal, and “Please, Baby, Please” was made available on Hulu following the 2020 murder of George Floyd.)
Looking back on those tough times, Barris said, “Even the times we ran into trouble were important to the show. If we weren’t getting that kind of reaction, we weren’t making the noise we were supposed to. It was important for these bodies to know that we were on the right track. You need to shake things up a bit. It’s a life lesson and a hero’s journey – you leave and then return to the place that raised you.
Although “black-ish” is ending, its “grown-ish” spin-off, which follows the Johnsons’ eldest daughter Zoey (Yara Shahidi) as she copes with college life, has wrapped its fourth season. on Freeform last month. Next season will see Zoey’s younger brother, Junior (Marcus Scribner), join the cast. (Another spin-off, “mixed,” about Bo Johnson’s teenage years, was canceled last year after running two seasons on ABC.)
Since wrapping up filming on “black-ish,” Anderson, Ross and Barris are already deep into other projects. Ross focuses on production and continues with her hair care line, Pattern. Barris is a Principal Partner of the newly launched BET Studios. Anderson, who had starred in NBC’s “Law & Order,” reflected on the recently launched reboot.
The actor, who has appeared in numerous TV shows and films, said he would put “darkness” at the top of his extensive career.
“We succeeded and exceeded all of our expectations and desires,” Anderson said. “We pushed the culture forward. And we didn’t hesitate in anything.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.