“Becoming Bow” was very much a setup for things to come, but the setup was interesting, if perhaps not quite as sharp as one might expect given the show’s canon.
This recap of Mixed-ish Season 1, Episode 1, “Becoming Bow”, contains spoilers.
Mixed-ish (ABC) is the second spin-off of Black-ish (the first was Grown-ish on Freeform, and reading these titles aloud is convincing me I have some kind of speech impediment.) It’s an 80s-set prequel focusing on the childhood of Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross as an adult, Arica Himmel here as a kid) and her siblings, who’re forced by a Fed raid to move from an ostensibly “colorblind” hippie commune to lily-white suburbia, and by extension forced to confront their biracial identities.
There’s some novelty to that setup which keeps the premiere, “Becoming Bow”, chugging along despite the familiarity of its actual narrative framework. The utopic commune is played both for ridiculousness and laughs, but also with a mind for the genuine allure of a closed-off community in which race — however unbelievably — simply doesn’t matter. You can more or less buy into how whiplash-inducing it must be for Bow, her parents, Alicia (Tika Sumpter) and Paul (Mark-Paul Gosselaar in a radically different role from his leading man in The Passage), and her siblings, Johan (Ethan William Childress) and Santamonica (a standout Mykal-Michelle Harris), to be thrust into public life where race not only matters but matters more than anything else by quite a margin.
Some of this transition is helped along by really obvious stereotypes which can comfortably illicit chuckles but don’t really provide much insight; one gets the sense they’re leaned on either to make complex themes easier to navigate or to render identity-specific ideas more palatable for the mainstream. Paul takes his Bohemian flower-child pastiche to extremes by hiding the television, or “idiot box”, as he calls it, and insisting that the family can subsist entirely on the food he grows in the garden. The best scene in “Becoming Bow” is when Alicia has to painstakingly explain to him how he’s only able to transplant his values and way of living from the commune because no matter where he goes he’ll never be judged on the basis of his whiteness, whereas the commune was the only place where his wife and children won’t be judged on the basis of their blackness.
Further reality checks come in the form of Paul’s conservative lawyer father Harrison Johnson III (Gary Cole), who exerts power over them by allowing them to live in a house of his rent-free, and Alicia’s sister Denise (Christina Anthony), an exuberant whirlwind of stereotypes accumulated by living proudly as a black woman in a world where such things don’t go unnoticed. These two are exaggerated caricatures that’ll be more tolerable to some than others, but their function in Mixed-ish is obvious and shouldn’t be understated. The question that “Becoming Bow” raises — and the question that’ll determine whether Mixed-ish survives more than one season — is whether the show will evolve beyond this point, and become more cutting and relatable alongside simply being funny. Time will tell, but I think early signs are promising.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.