ABC's new comedy-meets-cultural critique, which premieres Wednesday, has lots of potential to please
Credit: Bob D'Amico/ABC

“Keeping it real,” as the premiere episode of ABC’s new sitcom black-ish, suggests, isn’t always easy.

The show stars Anthony Anderson as Dre Johnson, a husband, father of four and successful ad executive trying desperately to help his upper-middle-class family maintain its black culture – despite their overwhelmingly white surroundings.

It’s a possibly limiting premise, but thanks to humorous truths embedded in the concept – it’s largely based on Anderson’s own experience as an African-American father raising kids in a predominantly white environment – this show just might work.

In the premiere episode, Dre’s 13-year-old son Andre, Jr., played adorably by newcomer Marcus Scribner, goes out for field hockey instead of basketball, and, at the suggestion of his friends, trades his real name for what Dre feels to be a less ethnic moniker: “Andy.”

That, combined with the fact that Dre recently got promoted at work to “Senior Vice President of the Urban Division” (and not just plain old SVP), sets him off on a cultural mission to fortify his family’s “blackness,” while also searching for equality on the job.

Tracee Ellis Ross, who stars as Rainbow, Johnson’s biracial doctor wife, is naturally funny and charismatic, and bolsters the cast’s chemistry. It’s she who finally puts her foot down when Dre goes overboard, attempting to give their son an African rite-of-passage ceremony instead of the bar mitzvah he (thanks to his friends) requested.

Anderson’s performance straddles the line of funny and forced. Meanwhile Laurence Fishburne, who plays his interjecting father Pops, offers a few good zings, though the powerful actor seems at odds with the trivial role.

Scrap the oversimplifications and broad stereotypes from the first episode, and the show may have what it takes to survive. Hopefully, as when Dre finally throws his son a “Hip-Hop Bro-Mitzvah,” black-ish will end up its own unique hybrid of a crowd-pleaser.

In all, black-ish is Everybody Hates Chris meets Modern Family, but not quite as funny as either. Well, not yet, at least.

black-ish premieres Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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