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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mixed-ish is a spin-off from the Black-ish universe that looks back at Bow's unusual adolescence. Mature content is similar to Black-ish. Expect jokes about substance abuse (one character says openly "I use cocaine") and some insulting language: Two characters are frequently called "hippies," while Bow and her siblings are called "weird" for being "mixed" (race). The show's take on race is unique and sympathetic, with biracial kids adrift in a time in which fewer kids were mixed race; they're confused about what friends to make, how to dress, how to talk, etc. But the family is supportive, and there are sweet bonds between siblings and parents. One character is painted as an unapologetic racist and classist ("Yacht clubs are for people who arrived on top of ships," he says at one point); another is critical of the Johnsons' biracial marriage and champions black culture at every opportunity. Bow is a thoughtful and brave adolescent girl, a terrific role model for kids, while her parents are caring, thoughtful, and principled. Themes of integrity, empathy, and compassion are illustrated by the show's look at race and by the way characters offer one another support and understanding.
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What's the story?
From the same Kenya Barris universe as Black-ish and Grown-ish, MIXED-ISH takes us back to 1985, when the commune that young Rainbow (played by Tracee Ellis Ross as an adult, Arica Himmel as the 12-year-old version) grew up in was raided by the ATF, forcing the family to return to a more mainstream existence. Now Bow's parents, Alicia (Tika Sumpter) and Paul (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), and their two other kids, Santamonica (Mykal-Michelle Harris) and Johan (Ethan William Childress), must cope with the fallout that comes from being a biracial family in an era of stern racial divides -- and from living cheek by jowl with Paul's overgrown frat boy of a dad, Harrison (Gary Cole), and Alicia's tough-talking sister, Denise (Christina Anthony).
Is it any good?
Smart, sweet, and loaded with arch observations on race, class, and the many indignities of the 1980s, the second Black-ish spin-off widens the show's universe beautifully. Bow's unorthodox background has long been comic fodder on Black-ish, but her family never became a part of that show the way the parents of Anthony Anderson's Dre did. Mixed-ish not only puts the Johnson family front and center, it gives us fascinating observations on just what it was like to be biracial at a time when very few people were: "Basically, the beta testers for biraciality," as Himmel's young Bow beautifully articulates. "As if it wasn't hard enough being a 12-year-old kid going to school for the first time, and no one is like you -- even your parents."
Alicia and Paul are touchingly sympathetic to their children's unique growing pains, though, as well as refreshingly no-nonsense about grappling with race and class on top of their ordinary workaday struggles. When Paul whines about Alicia's new big-law work clothes, Alicia cuts through the self-pity with a devastating truth: It's all very well for her husband to affect hippie style and ideals as a white guy from a wealthy family. As a black woman, she doesn't have the same privilege. "It's different for me, and it's different for our kids," she tells him. It is, particularly with Paul's Reaganite dad on board as Alicia's boss -- and the writers give Gary Cole all the best (and most offensive) lines. What fun. Don't miss it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about spin-off TV shows like Mixed-ish and Grown-ish. Are they common? Are they popular? What examples can you name? What's the appeal of taking a familiar character and putting that character in a new setting?
Mixed-ish was co-created by Kenya Barris, a writer from Los Angeles who has a wife who's a doctor and who's named Rainbow; the two of them have three kids together. Writers are often told to write what they know. Has Barris followed this advice? Meanwhile, Tracee Ellis Ross (adult Bow) is a biracial woman who would have been about the same age as Bow on the show in 1985. She's also a producer of Mixed-ish. How might these artists' backgrounds have contributed to this series?
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