We were not happy when ABC announced that human garbage pail Chris Brown would have a cameo on Black-ish, but I had held out hope that showrunner Kenya Barris had a sly reason for casting him. Maybe there would be something meta in the episode that would justify the decision. Maybe Brown had inexplicably agreed to be a punching bag for the show, a tool for talking about domestic violence, or why celebrities unfairly get a pass for committing heinous crimes against women.
There was none of that. Brown did not play himself. He did play a celebrity rapper by the name of Richard Youngsta, but there was no reason another celebrity rapper — or any other Black actor — couldn’t have played the role. Youngsta played the star of an ad campaign for Uvo champagne, and while the episode did have some insightful things to say about how black artists are held to a higher standard than white artist (Tyler Perry and Adam Sandler comparisons were made), Chris Brown did not play a part in that conversation other than playing a black stereotype in Dre’s champagne commercial.
(From my perspective, the B-plot was much better: It dealt with the need of parents of this generation to individually cater meals to their children instead of forcing them all to eat the same meal. As someone who frustratingly makes two or sometimes three meals every night, I could relate. And if one non-parent in the comments suggests that the only solution is to make one meal and if they don’t eat it, tough, I will ban the ever-living shit out of you.)
So why have Chris Brown on the show? Maybe it was a ratings-grab? Viewership for the series has sagged (as has the ratings for its lead-in, Modern Family, although The Goldbergs is trending upwards this season, and it has also become my current favorite of ABC’s Wednesday night crop). If that was the case, it backfired, as overnight ratings for the show actually dropped a tick this week, although the recent return of Empire probably didn’t help (Empire’s ratings, meanwhile, have plummeted).
I think — or I hope, at least — that Barris was simply cornered into inviting Brown onto the show. Anthony Anderson explained to ABC how it all came about:
“Kenya was out one day having dinner and Chris was at the same restaurant and knew who Kenya was,” said Anderson. “He walked over and said, ‘Hey man, I love your show. I just wanted to let you know that I want to be on it. Can we make that happen?’”
“And the next thing I know, this episode was written and they were like, ‘Yo man … we got Chris Brown to do it!’” And I was like, ‘That’s great.’”
Well, no. That’s not great at all, Anthony.
But maybe Barris is a non-confrontational person and he was cornered in the restaurant and felt like he couldn’t say no. It’s a weak explanation, because Barris could have just said, “Sure, we’ll look into it,” and never follow up on it, but it’s all I got at the moment. Black-ish is such a vital sitcom for its ability to offer White people a window into the Black experience that I want there to be a proper justification behind the the show’s decision to cast a “cunting fuck puppet” in a role that could have been filled by anyone who hasn’t repeatedly beat the shit out of women. The episode itself did not offer one. It’s hugely disappointing and we all expect more from the series.