Since the fall of 2014, audiences have been enjoying the progressive ABC Network sitcom Black-ish, which is entering its sixth season next week. The series has also been spinoff into two additional shows: basic cable channel Freeform’s Grown-ish (in 2018) and ABC’s newest addition to the “ish” universe: the prequel Mixed-ish, which focuses on the youth of matriarch Rainbow Johnson, played by Tracee Ellis Ross (Girlfriends) as the Narrator and Arica Himmel (Before You Know It) as a teenager.
This past Saturday, ABC presented the pilot episode of Mixed-ish, followed by a discussion panel with the show’s cast and creative team at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills as part of the institution’s PaleyFest Fall TV Preview series.
Moderator Kelley L. Carter of ESPN’s The Undefeated welcomed to the stage Mixed-ish cast members Gary Cole (Office Space) who plays Harrison Johnson, Christina Anthony (Key and Peele) as Aunt Denise, Mykal-Michelle Harris (Big Little Lies) as Santamonica Johnson, Ethan William Childress (reprising his role from Black-ish) as Johan Johnson, Arica Himmel (God Friended Me) as Rainbow Johnson, Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Saved by the Bell) as Paul Johnson, and Tika Sumpter (Ride Along) as Alicia Johnson, alongside executive producers Peter Saji (Black-ish) and Karen Gist (House of Lies).
But why a second spinoff of Black-ish? Gist had her answer for why she got on board: “As soon as I saw the pilot, I knew it was something really special and had the ability to tackle issues and be part of the conversation, so I wanted to be a part of that.” Saji agreed: “I have a very personal connection to this, being biracial, and so when I had the opportunity to work with [franchise creator Kenya Barris] and Tracee, I absolutely leapt at it.” Sumpter explained further: “Obviously in the ‘ish’ world, everything they do is relevant wrapped in funny. Once I read the script, I was like ‘Oh my God, please happen.’” “[It was a] great script,” added Cole. “But more than that, probably one of the most unique scripts I’ve seen in years. There’s a lot of stuff going on.”
Saji went on to explain the genesis of Mixed-ish as a spinoff: “It’s based around Rainbow Johnson, a character we already know and love. Black-ish is always a place where Kenya Barris has always encouraged us to tell honest and fair stories. And so the opportunity to do that in a more specific circumstance was really exciting. And then these people got involved,” he gestured to the other panelists surrounding him. “They make my life so much easier. I can write an okay joke and then they make me look good.”
“Ultimately, this is a show about otherness and feeling different,” Saji elaborated. “Everyone is drawing from those feelings of not quite fitting in, and being twelve years old and navigating all that weirdness. So hopefully everyone will be able to relate to it on that level, and our writers are able to draw from that personally, as well.” Gist build upon that by saying, “We are approaching a lot of issues through the lens of this twelve-year-old girl. It’s set in 1985, but ironically a lot of those same conversations are happening now. So we will tackle as many issues as we can, try not to be preachy about it, but try to make them come through our characters’ experiences and have honest conversations about them.”
Gosselar had another unique take on the subject matter: “It’s interesting; I’m of mixed race, and [with] the scripts that we get every week, I feel like I’m going back home. For myself, I’m being educated and I’m taking this to my family, because the things that we’re tackling through comedy on our show are things that I wasn’t aware of because of the way I looked. My mother was Asian, my father was European, and I didn’t have to deal with a lot of the things we’re going through in the show. The highlight [of being on Mixed-ish] is the lessons that I’m learning. The ‘ish’ world does such a great job of teaching you these things, but piling the comedy on so you don’t even know that you’re being taught.”
“I think any time we talk about identity and otherness, we get to really tackle some of the things that we haven’t really done on TV, and say some of the things we need to say,” pitched in Sumpter. The younger actors, in particular, seemed thrilled with the idea of banding together to deliver these messages as a fictional unit. To that point, Childress summed it up perfectly: “We’re no longer a family-ish. We’re family.”
Mixed-ish premieres Tuesday, September 24 on ABC.