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#blackAF Review 2020 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Creator: Kenya Barris
Stars: Rashida Jones, Kenya Barris, Iman Benson
In Netflix’s “#blackAF,” television writer and producer Kenya Barris plays a television writer and producer named Kenya Barris. This sort of meta-sitcom is nothing new. Performers have been playing fictionalized versions of themselves for decades, but it does serve as a note of concession. The show allows Barris to comment on his life, family and career on his own terms, sending up what he chooses to send up. It feels like a kind of confessional — although it rarely rises above surface-level self-aggrandizing — and it meanders due to the absence of a clearly expressed series arc.
Framed as a documentary about the Barris family — his wife and their six children — directed by daughter Drea (Iman Benson) as required for her film school application, the resulting meta family sitcom suffers from an identity crisis. If its ultimate goal is to make audiences laugh, it doesn’t fully succeed. Except for the occasional one-liner that lands, it’s just not funny, and is often tedious to watch.
While it’s dubbed a family comedy series, and other characters get ample screen time, it’s ultimately Barris’ show. His presence and point of view dominate, which is to the series’ detriment, because he isn’t particularly well served by a script that calls for him to stay in a near-constant state of exasperation, making lengthy observations about race, gender, money, family and other topics, that are likely meant to be clever and funny, but are instead mostly exhausting.
Barris is also clearly not an actor, and while his performance is serviceable for the series’ glossy reality TV show aesthetic, it does become a distraction, especially in scenes that demand more than an impassive line delivery. It’s a mystery why he didn’t cast an actor to play the part, as he did for every other role in the series (not that all the other performances are particularly great, save for Rashida Jones as his wife, Joya). And so it feels very much like a vanity project for him.
The almost constant drumbeat of family bickering and hurling of insults, from parent to parent, parent to kids, and vice-versa, becomes increasingly grating. In its defense, via a voiceover, Drea explains: “Families need to fight. Just like countries fight to build a better world, families fight to better each other. It’s healthy. As dad always says: You only really have to start worrying when the fighting stops.”
It’s not a one-size fits all truth, but if the series does have a driving theme, that’s probably it. There is something to be said about struggle leading to growth. However, within the Barris family, confrontation appears to be habitual, or at least, Barris chose to depict it as habitual, with very few cracks of actual humanity and tenderness to counter an almost ceaseless racket.
Netflix likely gave Barris carte blanche to produce the series exactly as he wanted, and maybe deservedly so, given his resume with creating the “black-ish” franchise. But like with the character’s overindulgent spending, some restraint would’ve relieved the series of some of its superfluousness.
This is a family that lives in excess. Barris is obviously wealthy, thanks to a number of hit TV shows and movies. But the ostentatiousness on display feels tone deaf. Luxury brand names are routinely dropped, as if ads for the brands themselves — Mr Porter, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Valentino, Bergdorf, and others — that each may have as well come with a freeze-framed, overlayed price tag and link to purchase.
The final two episodes are spent with the family on vacation, occupying an entire island in Fiji, rented by Barris. Of course, their trip to the location was on a luxurious private jet.
In a voiceover, daughter Drea attributes her father’s excess to the fact that “he’s miserable and empty on the inside.” It’s not clear whether Barris is indicting himself here, sending up nouveau riche stereotypes, but given that he uses his real name in the series, and the audience doesn’t really have much else to pull from, it’s not an entirely absurd inference.
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