TV Review: “Mixed-ish”

The popular and critically acclaimed ABC Network sitcom Black-ish has lasted for more than a hundred episodes across five seasons, with no signs of stopping. Since its premiere in 2014, the show has also been spun off into two additional series: Grown-ish on the Disney-owned basic cable channel Freeform (which follows the Johnson family’s eldest daughter Zoey as she goes off to college) and now ABC’s Mixed-ish, a prequel that fills in the childhood years of matriarch Rainbow Johnson.

Mixed-ish debuts tonight on ABC, but I attended a screening of the first episode (and Q&A panel with the show’s cast and creators) a couple weeks ago at PaleyFest in Beverly Hills. Having never seen Black-ish or Grown-ish before that day, I felt this was an interesting experiment to discover whether this new series can stand on its own, without too much prior knowledge of its predecessors. On that front, I’m pleased to report that Mixed-ish mostly succeeds.

Starring Arica Himmel (Before You Know It) as young Rainbow– AKA “Bow”– Mixed-ish follows the previous generation’s Johnson family as they move to the suburbs after departing a cult-like hippie commune in 1985. Bow and her siblings Jonah (Ethan William Childress of The United States of Tomorrow) and Santamonica (Mykal-Michelle Harris of The Karma Club) must learn how to assimilate into “normal” 1980s society as the products of a biracial married couple in the form of their African-American mother Alicia (Tika Sumpter of Southside with You) and causasian father Paul (Franklin & Bash’s Mark-Paul Gosselaar).

Along for the ride are Christina Anthony (Key and Peele) as the fun-loving Aunt Denise and Gary Cole (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) as the straight-laced grandfather Harrison. Plus, Tracee Ellis Ross reprises her role as the adult Rainbow from Black-ish, who also serves as the series’ narrator. In fact, the pilot begins with the current-day Johnson clan reminiscing about the past– not to mention the seminal 1984 breakdance movie Breakin’— which spurs Rainbow into telling her story.

Mostly, Mixed-ish deals with the trials and tribulations of the Johnsons as they attempt to fit in to a world that is as bizarre and unfamiliar to them and they are to it. We follow the kids at school as they are dumped into an environment where they feel forced to identify with one group or another (in the pilot, Jonah leans into his black heritage by going full Run-DMC while Santamonica embraces her whiter side, adopting a Madonna-inspired look, all to Rainbow’s frustration) while the parents must work their way back into modern society despite being used to the comforts and good vibes of the commune. Alicia strives especially hard by taking a job at Harrison’s law firm.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned here, and (according to the Q&A I saw) the topics addressed on Mixed-ish are intended to reflect issues minorities and other marginalized groups are facing in today’s culture. And of course, it’s all presented with a quirky, tongue-in-cheek tone consistent with the brief moments I’ve seen of the other shows set in the “ish” universe. The jokes are mostly funny and the cast is charming enough that Mixed-ish coasts by on charisma alone, while feeding audiences the sugar-coated pill that is a lesson in American tolerance and togetherness in the face of social strife. It works for the same reasons I’m guessing its forebearers have: it’s relatable, it’s entertaining, and the characters are memorable enough to keep viewers coming back for more.

Mixed-ish airs Tuesday evenings on ABC.

Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.