“Welcome to the Movement” addresses Black Lives Matter and systemic racism in a surprisingly admirable way.
This recap of The Neighborhood season 3, episode 1, “Welcome to the Movement”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous season by clicking these words.
Network television is getting serious, isn’t it? Of course, it always has been, in its way; weekly shows are a good way of addressing topics of the moment, and they’re beamed into a good number of homes that might be receptive to the message. But a CBS half-hour sitcom is one of the last places you’d probably expect to find an earnest endorsement of Black Lives Matter and condemnation of racially-motivated police brutality, but here we are. Everything from Chicago P.D. to All Rise has been tackling the subject in the last couple of weeks, and The Neighborhood’s third season premiere, “Welcome to the Movement”, did a respectable job of it.
In the episode, peripheral character Trey was harassed and assaulted by the cops, and then arrested for the privilege. That this occurred in the presence of Calvin and Tina’s eldest son Malcolm brought both the Butlers and the Johnsons into the predicament, leading to frustration, emotional outbursts, failed attempts to bail Trey out, and some frank discussions about not just how to fight systemic racism but how to understand its root causes.
Of course, The Neighborhood has always been about race, but never quite in this way. How the two families deal with the situation is starkly different, by necessity. Dave and Gemma have never experienced anything like this, and while the former gets clumsily involved in the fight to free Trey, the latter is forced to explain to Grover, the show’s youngest cast member, that the police have historically treated Black people in a very different way to their white counterparts. Of the various understandable questions Grover asks in The Neighborhood season 3, episode 1, perhaps the most striking is whether he should call them if he’s ever in trouble. I liked Gemma’s insistence that he should, and her explanation of why – they’re white, so they’ll be fine.
That frank admission isn’t played for laughs. A lot of “Welcome to the Movement” isn’t. This is, again, by necessity. The rhythm and tone both have to be different to put the message across, and I respect that The Neighborhood doesn’t try to insist that the message is a straightforward one. Because of restrictions due to Covid-19, there was no way to depict scenes of protest, so they’re instead considered only in their aftermath, with the lead actors wearing the consequence of violence. It’s Malcolm, like a lot of the youth, who believes that direct rebellion is the only way to be heard; his conversation with Calvin about the potential consequences of such action is a good one.
Seeing both families sat around the dinner table breaking bread together might be a bit heavy-handed as an image, and the real footage of BLM protests that cap off the episode might be too. But sometimes there’s a lot of power in those stark presentations of reality; those reminders than often television is only a scene removed from real life after all.
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