Hit Or Miss: ABC's 'Mixed-ish'

First there was Black-ish, then Grown-ish, and now ‘Mixed-ish’. On September 24th, ABC is set to premiere their 2nd Black-ish spinoff which will feature an entirely new cast. The new show is set in the 1980’s. It will focus on Rainbow Johnson played byTracy Ellis Ross and her family as they transition from living in a commune, ultimately moving into a suburban neighborhood. The family consists of a young Rainbow Johnson (Arica Himmel), younger brother Johan played by Ethan William Childress, younger sister Santamonica played by Mykal-Michelle Harris, mother Alicia played by Tika Sumpter, and father Paul played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, although it is Anders Holm played by Workaholics that appears in the trailer. Much like Black-ish and Grown-ish, the show will explore issues surrounding black identity. The primary difference is that this show will discuss the nuanced and often confusing nature of mixed identity.

The trailer runs at lengthy 3 minutes and 28 seconds. The beginning of the trailer reintroduces the character of Rainbow Johnson, providing general information about her in the present day through her voiceover. We then end up on the couch with the rest of the family as Rainbow begins to tell the curious story of her upbringing. It is clear from her family’s expressions that they have not yet heard this story. Flashback to 1985, Rainbow and her family are living peacefully in a commune. Although Rainbow speaks fondly of this place, she then tells of the contrary feelings of the ATF, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the US government. Suddenly, the commune is raided by armed government agents. 

Then begins a brief montage of big events of the 80’s that the family has missed completely due to their previously isolated lives. These events include Reagan’s 2nd inauguration, HIV/Aids epidemic, global famine, and the crack epidemic. With the help of Paul’s wealthy father, the family is given a new suburban home. This new environment is completely strange to Rainbow and her siblings. By having the family come from a commune that exists outside the “real” world, the show effectively creates characters that function as blank slates. It’s hard to say how much time the first episode will spend at the commune, but the trailer uses it more as a footnote to frame the rest of the story which begins in suburbia. 

When the kids first arrive at the school, the show quickly reveals its main theme. As the siblings walk into a busy cafeteria and are confronted by a kid who asks, “What are you weirdos mixed with?” Rainbow responds, “What’s mixed?”. The entire cafeteria erupts into laughter. The cafeteria crowd mostly consists of white and black kids to make the three siblings stand out as the only mixed kids at their school. This scene is the most concrete example of the kids not knowing about the concept of race.

The following scene shows the kids complaining about the school experience and they express just how badly they want to fit in despite their parent’s warning about conformity. The voiceover of older Rainbow expresses how mixed kids in the 80’s did not have as many celebrities or public figures to look up to, making a joke that they only had the family band, Debarge, as role models. There is a hint of irony in this moment because the show unknowingly points to its own irrelevance. If mixed kids in the 80’s did not have role models and now they do, does that mean the issue is solved? Of course not, but it’s an odd point for the show to make. Issues involving mixed identity are certainly relevant today and it won’t be more insightful to explore it in a previous decade. Not soon after this realization, the kids are shown with new clothing reflecting the 80’s aesthetics. This includes all the fun 80’s pastiche like angular hairstyles and colorful outfits. Another interesting detail is that it seems like the younger siblings are more willing to conform than Rainbow. 

Overall the new show offers a chance to explore the 80’s with a fun new cast while maintaining the insightfulness of its predecessors. The focus on mixed-race identity is an interesting take and there are a lot of things that could be talked about. Now here’s the problem. Could the thematic possibilities of this show be achieved within the world of Black-ish without the need for creating an entirely new series? It is possible and while the new series may be enjoyable, it’s difficult to imagine its inception as anything more than a financial opportunity. This is not to say that the issues explored in the show are not important or even deserving of its series. There does not seem to be enough material for the show to fill an entire season and cover new ground that Black-ish has not already covered.

The point is that this new show does not need to be the one to explore these themes. Mixed-ish runs on the exact same formula as Black-ish, expect it does not benefit from being set in the present day. Black-ish, being set in the present day, can understand modern issues that affect African-Americans as issues that are influenced by the past. In this way, Mixed-ish would work perfectly as a set of 3 to 4 episodes within a season of Black-ish. For this reason, Mixed-ish has earned a “miss”. This conclusion has nothing to do with the show’s capacity to be fun or enjoyable. It has more to do with allocation of funds and the possibility for new types of shows. 

When Black-ish came onto the scene, it felt fresh and proved that a show could have mainstream appeal while engaging with modern cultural issues. While the thematic premise of Mixed-ish may seem compelling, it is unclear why there needs to be another spin-off, particularly one that takes place nearly 40 years ago.