This prequel to the popular Black-ish looks at “fitting in” during the 1980s.
The popular ABC sitcom Black-ish has never been shy about “going there,” with many of the episodes focusing on topics that can often be uncomfortable to discuss, such as racism, sexism, or politics. However, Black-ish’s popularity doesn’t stem from the controversy of highlighting these topics, but from its ability to present these topics with a balance of nuance and humor. That is why viewers have continued to watch Andre, Rainbow, and the rest of the Johnson family since the series premiered in 2014.
In 2018, The Johnson’s eldest child, Zoey, left the nest and began her life as a young adult and a college student. This new chapter of the character’s life prompted a spin-off series called Grown-ish, which airs on the Freeform network. Now, a new spin-off series will premiere on ABC this fall which will further round out the Black-ish universe. The new series will focus on the matriarch of the family, Rainbow Johnson, and her abnormal upbringing. The series is titled Mixed-ish, to represent the uncharted waters Rainbow and her siblings must navigate being bi-racial in a world that typically doesn’t mix well.
Mixed-ish takes place in 1985 and begins with 12-year-old Rainbow Johnson (her maiden name was also Johnson) and her family living on a hippie commune. Their happy little haven is immediately turned upside down when the government raids their compound with armed agents. Rainbow’s parents, Paul and Alicia, decide to take their family from the cult to the cul-de-sac as they move into a suburban home with Rainbow’s paternal grandfather, Harrison Johnson. Paul is white and comes from a privileged background, while Alicia is black and had to work hard for everything she has. They met each other while attending UC Berkeley, where Alicia earned her law degree and Paul learned to hate capitalism and didn’t graduate. Shortly after getting married they had three children: Rainbow, Johan their curious son, and Santamonica, a little girl with a big personality. The entire family finds it difficult to transition into their new lives. Even having indoor plumbing is new to the Johnson children. But the biggest surprise comes when the children attend their first day of school, when their identities are challenged when one of their classmates asks them, “What are you weirdos mixed with?”
The Johnson children had never heard the term “mixed” used to describe themselves before, so of course they immediately bring this issue to their parents. Paul tells the children that all the other kids are idiots and that they don’t need to worry about how other people see them, to which the younger siblings, Johan and Santamonica, emphatically state that they wish to also be idiots in order to fit in. Remembering that their father affectionately nicknamed the television the “idiot box,” they decide to watch as much television as they can. The next day, Johan shows up to school sporting a track suit, bucket hat, and gold chain and declares himself to be a breakdancer, while Santamonica wears an outfit inspired by Madonna and calls herself a “material girl in a material world.” Bow has the opposite reaction to her new surroundings, and completely rejects the notion of changing her appearance. In fact, she devises a plan to run away in hopes to join a new hippie commune. Her father stops her and admits that he hasn’t been adjusting well to the changes, either — at which point Alicia arrives home wearing a suit and announces that she got a job working with Paul’s father at his law firm. Paul is not happy when he sees his vibrant, free-spirited wife dulled down by her office attire, and he joins Rainbow in her protest. Alicia reminds Paul that when they lived on the commune she didn’t have to be worry about how others viewed her appearance, but to the rest of the world she is a black woman and that she has to always appear professional in order to be treated with respect. In the end, all of the Johnsons realize that it will take some time before they adjust into their “new normal,” but some things, like being a family, will never change.
The pilot episode of Mixed-ish was devoid of any offensive words, depictions, or descriptions, with the exception of one scene where Harrison is talking to Alicia and he says, “This is why I don’t do cocaine. I do cocaine.” Provided that Harrison’s drug use does not become a reoccurring joke in the series, I would say that Mixed-ish is a show the whole family can enjoy. Much like it’s predecessor Black-ish, parents can expect this show to have some episodes that focus on controversial topics that some parents may or may not find appropriate. Overall, Mixed-ish seems bit more light-hearted and draws from a different decade, and will be able to mirror the issues we are still dealing with today through nostalgic lenses.
I look forward to watching this series find its stride, and seeing how the Johnson family grows stronger together.