Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Black-ish: "The Prank King"

Premiered October 29, 2014.

"What I love most about Halloween is a Johnson family tradition I like to call 'pranking the living crap out of each other.'"
-Dre Johnson

It's Halloween and the Johnson family is preparing for Halloween.  Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) is excited because everyone in his family engages in a glorious festival of outrageous pranks during the spooky season.  Dre prides himself on being the king of pranks his family and is delighted that his oldest child Zoey (Yara Shahidi) is an "evil genius" in this regard, particularly where her younger brother Andre Jr (Marcus Scribner) is concerned.

Dre admires his Halloween handiwork
Zoey surprises her father when she says she's outgrown pranking and won't participate in the Halloween shenanigans, calling it "kind of lame."  Her mother Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) understands that Zoey is a teenager, but Dre is heartbroken.  He hates the idea that his little girl is growing up.

But Dre is undaunted.  He remembers that one of Zoey's favorite activities is watching bad stuff happen her little brother.  Dre decides to enlist the twins, Jack and Diane's (Miles Brown and Marsai Martin) help in pranking Junior in order to remind Zoey of the joys of seasonal pranks.   His stunt fails as  Zoey finds the prank  to be "kind of mean" and tells Dre to "grow up."
Making matters worse, Junior also says he's done with pranks.

With the pranking tradition seemingly dead, the Dre and Bow dedicate their energies to the family Halloween costume.  They plan to dress up as the 70s-era Jackson Five!
Junior and Zoey flatly refuse to participate.  Bow and Dre are let down over this and feel like their family is falling apart.

Meanwhile, outrageous pranks at Dre's office cause his clueless boss, Mr. Stevens (Peter Mackenzie) to put a stop to the office hilarity after Charlie (Deon Cole) accidentally/on purpose punches dopey co-worker Josh (Jeff Meacham) in the face.

With pranking now out of the question at work,  the Johnsons attempt to regroup as best they can. Since they are down to only four family costume participants, they decide to dress as the Beatles.

Unfortunately,  Diane and Jack say they're not interested in candy, since they just learned about diabetes in school!

This is too much for Dre.  He decides that Halloween is now cancelled, and demonstrates this by attacking his elaborate yard display.  He pouts, saying he has no children, since they're all determined to be grown-ups now!  

Will the Johnson family manage to have a happy Halloween after all this?  Or is the holiday ruined?

RigbyMel says:

This is a very enjoyable holiday episode of a fun series.  It taps into various family dynamics like sibling rivalry and parents' mixed feelings at seeing their children grow up.

Dre vs. Halloween lawn decor.
Halloween is a holiday usually associated with children that has been appropriated by adults who want to hang on to their own childhoods in recent years.  This episode humorously illustrates this -- Dre (and Bow, to a lesser extent) seem to be way more invested in the holiday than their kids.   The "adults" at Dre's office engage in stupid pranks that involve the injury of co-workers.

BUT "The Prank King" also taps into the understandable fear that people with whom we are close might not appreciate or understand us.   As there should be in a Halloween episode, there is a bit of a plot twist that helps mitigate those fears.

The comedic timing of all the actors is impressive -- particularly when Anthony Anderson as Dre gets more of a scare than he bargained for and begins crawling around his living room army style!

Child actors on TV sitcoms are frequently obnoxious, but the Johnson kids all come off as both genuine AND funny in their quirkiness.  The young actors playing them do a great job in this (and pretty much every other episode) of  Black*ish.

This episode is well worth seeking out and is available on Amazon streaming and on DVD.

RigbyMel's rating:

4 jack o'lanterns

The polyester glory of the "Jackson 5 plus Janet"
J.A. Morris says:

Black-ish is one of my favorite current series and "The Prank King" is one of its strongest episodes. While watching, I thought of my own decision to stop Trick or Treating at age 12.  The first year without treats was a tough one, but it was part of growing up.  My parents accepted this decision with more grace than Dre shows here.

Dre disguised as a chair.
This episode also deals with the dynamics of the parents' relationship.  As prank king, Dre has driven Bow to her limits and she's looking for a way to usurp his title.  We get a scene where Bow tells the kids she really needs "a win" against Dre because sometimes he's hard to deal with.  However, it's obvious that Bow loves him very much.

The actors are all excellent in "The Prank King."

Anderson gives his all here, especially during the scene where Dre freaks out and attacks his Halloween display.  Tracee Ellis Ross shows she's more than a match for Anderson when it comes to comic timing.  

Dre cancels Halloween by "executing" a ghost with a nail gun!
I appreciated Marcus Scribner's performance as Junior.  Scribner plays straight man to the rest of the Johnson family and is often the victim of pranks.  But he's a good sport and still delivers some very funny lines.

Deon Cole and Trent Meacham, are also very funny as Dre's co-workers Charlie and Josh.  And all the actors do a good job making funny "scared" faces throughout this episode.

Dre as "mid-70s Tito."

"The Prank King" is a great Halloween episode.  I wouldn't go so far as to rate it a "classic," but it's one I plan to watch during many Octobers yet to come.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 jack o'lanterns!

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