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O Magazine
2015-2017

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Make TV
Great Again

By Begoña Gómez Urzaiz

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Chapter 4 of the third season of Black-ish, entitled Who’s Afraid of the Big Black Man, was aired in the US last mid-October -some twenty days before the elections changed everything-, and here, on channel TNT, last week. In the three months that have passed since then, it has become completely obsolete and, like many things belonging to the pre-Trump era, seeing it now provokes a great dose of melancholy.

On it, the main character, Dre, an African American advertorial creative who, as the titles of the series implies, often feels only “blackish” because he earns far too much money and lives in far too posh a neighbourhood, wants to prove to his son that whites still fear the “Big Black Man,” but his theories are constantly refuted. In a lift, with his brother-in-law, a stoned spoken word poet, and his friend, both black, a white woman comes in. First she holds her purse. “You see? She’s scared of us,” Dre tells the other two with a look. But she is really holding it to grab her iPhone and after that she leaves a lot of bills quite visible and starts giving all her bank details on her mobile. One point for the other two who defend how much social harmony has evolved.

In fact, by the time this chapter was shot and broadcast, no one believed in Obama’s post-racial promise, denied by the raw evidence of police violence and questioned by the Black Lives Matter movement. But the premise of the series is only valid within the framework that the ex-president made possible and which now seems so far away. Indeed, the preceding episode, entitled Hope, focused on a fictional case of police brutality. The father wants his kids to watch it on TV (but won’t allow the eldest son to join the demonstrations) and the mother, played by Tracee Ellis Ross, doesn’t want them to see it, because she wants them to have a more hopeful view on society. On the best scene of the programme, Dre asks her if she wasn’t scared to death when she saw Barack and Michelle Obama coming out of the limo during the investiture, thinking that an armed racist would show up and kill them then and there, “and steal our hope as they’ve always done.”

Black-ish was one of the series that appeared around two years ago in a moment in which the television industry patted its own back because of its advances when it came to diversity -a word that, as Donald Glover points out, has become as rancid as nineties’ “tolerance”-. It appeared more or less at the same time as Fresh Off the Boat (Asian), Jane the Virgin (Latinos), with an empowered Shonda Rhimes imposing multiracial casts on her series (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder) and right before the wave of feminization of series that was made visible thanks to very different productions with women also on the script room and at the office: Orange is the New Black, The New Girl, The Mindy Project and Girls.

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elevision often reflects not what a society is like, but how it would like to be, and during the Obama years this portrait had a lot to do with the new normality of Modern Family. The Pritchett-Delgado-Dunphy are 10% more Latino and a 15% more LGTBQ than the Huxtables or the Seaberts, but share similar aspirations. On the other hand, the How I Met Your Mother cast was as white and hetero-normative as the one in Friends and a lot les cynical than Seinfeld‘s.

>Works of fiction shot with Trump already elected will be broadcast soon and it’s probable, given the current highly politicised climate, that his über-presidency will influence everything, from Game of Thrones to Dora, the Explorer. Because scriptwriters and showrunners live in the real world and have social network feeds as Trump-saturated as the rest of us and because it’s becoming more and more obvious that neutrality is complicity. For the moment, the most similar thing we have seen is a webisode announcing the fourth season of Broad City, the only series in which Hillary Clinton did a cameo. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson had written the whole fourth season under the supposition that she would become president, and the comedians had to rush to re-write it from beginning to end. It will be interesting (and not much consolation) to see how this new reality is portrayed by series such as Atlanta, Master of None or The Mindy Project –we imagine her protagonist adopting the pink hat of the Women’s March last minute because it’s hot on Instagram-.