There may be hope for Black-Ish yet. Don't get me wrong, this is still a comedy that's not especially funny, but "The Talk" was a step in the right direction. While the first episode was burdened with beating us over the head with the series' central premise of Andre's gentrification paranoia, the second didn't much touch on anything racial, instead focusing on the relationships between the parents and their children. This was a mixed bag, on account of most of the child actors being terrible (though the eldest daughter is growing on me), but it gave Tracee Ellis Ross a lot more to do than she had last week, and it let Anthony Anderson play more than one note.
In the primary story, Anderson tries to prove his parenting bonafides by having "the talk" with his son. This isn't a terribly new arc for the modern sitcom viewer, but they manage to take it in some amusing directions, and Anderson's sheer willingness to look ridiculous elevates some otherwise middling material. Sadly, the terrible child actor playing the son manages to torpedo most of the better jokes. Still, Anderson is great and keeps the proceedings watchable.
Meanwhile, Ross' Rainbow, also trying to validate herself as a parent, tries to get her oldest daughter Zoey to open up to her. This follows pretty much the exact same beats as the Anderson story, though Zoey is much better than her male counterpart. Unfortunately, the jokes built into this story aren't as strong as their distaff competitors, so having a competent(-ish) child actor instead of an abominable one only helps so much.
In the third story, the other two children waste everybody's time and butcher already-mediocre jokes.
But atrocious child actors or no, this was an improvement. While many of the jokes either get slaughtered by the manifold incompetence of children, or just aren't that strong to begin with, there's a lot more of them than there were in the pilot, and enough of them at least partially land that watching this episode felt a lot less like work. The show remains excessively narrated, but backed off the gimmick slightly (and let Ross try it out for herself to pretty good effect), seemingly targeting a "beginning, act break, ending," structure for the narration similar to that on Scrubs. Not a bad show to emulate (and this is the second straight show that's trying after the atrocious Manhattan Love Story) but the critical distinction here is that Scrubs' narration was often very, very funny. Black-Ish's narration is pretty much just narration.
There is one part of Black-Ish, however, that is very, very funny: Laurence Fishburne. He appears in only three scenes of "The Talk", but they're the three best scenes in the episode. He gets the best line in both the primary stories (the Morgan Freeman bit especially deserves mention), and manages to add some surprising emotional heft to what's otherwise a pretty farcical episode with only two words. He's excellent in this role, and the writers seem more naturally able to take advantage of his gifts than anyone else's. Sadly for Black-Ish and its fans, Fishburne's splitting his time this season between this show and last year's reigning Best Show on Television™ Hannibal, so his presence on Black-Ish is limited. At least, I assume that's the reason he only has two minutes of screen time in each of the first two episodes, because the alternative is assuming that the writers are morons, and I'm already committed to watching enough shows *cough*ManhattanLoverStory*cough* where the writers are morons.
Still, better safe than sorry, so just in case it is a case of an oblivious writing staff ignoring their best character: #FreeFishburne. Do your thing, Twitter.