In a post-election world, some people may look to their favorite television comedies for perspective on America's new political reality
'Blackish' creator Kenya Barris talks about his show's plans in the post-election world
It’s long been said that to escape reality, people often turn to fiction.
But in a post-election world – one that in a little over a week has seen protests, hate crimes and complex emotions – some people may look to their favorite television comedies for perspective on America’s new political reality.
Following a path paved by Norman Lear’s “All in the Family,” television sitcoms have historically addressed a range of social issues. And in the last few years, there’s been a rise in the number of comedies with more to offer than just laughs.
Netflix’s “Master of None” took on Hollywood’s diversity problem. FX’s “You’re the Worst” and the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” recently featured storylines aimed at destigmatizing abortion. “Lady Dynamite” was praised for its handling of mental illness. ABC’s “blackish” and NBC’s “The Carmichael Show” used a deft hand in exploring racial justice.
In a TV landscape with more than 500 shows, most are unlikely to explore Trump-inspired political themes, simply because it wouldn’t be a good fit. But a few comedies will undoubtedly portray life in America with a President Trump.
Kenya Barris, creator of “black-ish,” told CNN he’s still working through his own feelings and emotions about the election results. He was a supporter of Hillary Clinton.
But writing scripts that address the aftermath of the election has been “cathartic,” he said.
Prior to the episode he’s working on now, which will reference the election results, Barris was never inclined to use the show to directly respond to an event.
“This will probably be the first time that something has affected us to the point where I want to actually topically write about it,” he said of the election episode.
It is set to be a multi-generational story, according to Barris.
Pops (Lawrence Fishburne) will have a certain outlook “because he’s been through the Civil Rights Movement,” Barris said. Conversely, the Johnson children – much like Barris’ own – have grown up “with a black family in the White House.”
“This is the first time for them that the rubber is hitting the road for them,” Barris said. “And I told my wife, the way you shine a diamond is you have to scratch it … I think my children are getting their first taste of that.”
Barris had no specific tease for Dre’s (Anthony Anderson) reaction, but the Johnson patriarch was seen a few episodes back making a tribute video to the Obama family, set to Boys II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye To Yesterday.” (That is probably the only hint anyone needs.)
Barris sees a “silver lining” in his disappointment.
“One of our writers, Emily, said she feels that there’s a lot of people who are feeling a sense of loss in this race for the first time, and because of that, I think there’s an opportunity for us to come together,” he said. “Let’s reach across the aisle and say, ’50 million people felt this way, another way.’ Let’s stop calling them crazy, let’s stop calling them wrong, let’s stop saying they got deceived and conned. Let’s come together on our side and reach across to their side and say, ‘What are you feeling? How can we meet in the middle? How can we do what’s best for this country as a whole?’”
Constance Wu, star of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” thinks the post-election landscape will also shine a new light on existing TV shows.
“I think my show is quite relevant because it takes place in the ’90s and that was a time before an outsider could find a group of similarly minded people because there was no internet,” she told CNN recently at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards. “I think right now when our country feels very divided, it’s that same struggle. It’s trying to understand the people around you in order to be more loving and inclusive.”
“Fresh Off the Boat” is also a story about how “immigrants make our country better,” she said.
“The people who were born here, their acceptance of those immigrants and the curiosity to know their stories, makes them better people, too, because they get to understand stories outside of their sphere of existence, which is a type of education,” she said. “And education never hurt anyone.”
Barris sees family comedies particularly well positioned to have a conversation after the election because, he said, “you can’t not talk about anything in a family.”
“It’s sort of less contrived and an organic place to have those conversations than, say, a ‘Friends’ or a ‘Seinfeld,’” he said. “Those shows, in their truest forms, when they’re at their best, really are about nothing. They’re about people having fun and living their lives. But, I think, a family show is about people in a family dealing with life.”
Above all, the show must go on. Even if, as Barris said, the environment in which it exists has inherently transformed.
“I think the world has changed from Tuesday to Wednesday, so I think that has to be reflective in everything we do,” he said. “I think the show is still going to be funny and our show, but I think the world has changed.”