I vacillated on where I wanted to put my comment because I binged the whole series and I just have some thoughts on the themes as a whole, so I guess here is as good a place as any.
When I watched this first episode, I was wondering if Kenya Barris was a miserable, horrible person who just didn’t fully see it in himself, and whether he was framing himself as the misunderstood, put-upon hero of his story, or if this was like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” where this is a heightened version of himself, playing on his worst instincts or impulses and letting things unwind from there. The only way I could watch the series was to assume the latter, and I think that’s right because of something like how he was slow to take off his watch and phone before thinking about going to rescue his wife in the ocean in this ep, or how the hotel clerk gave him a terrible room because he hated Kenya so much, or how he was such a dick to Angela from the Office in that writer’s room meeting in th other ep (which was the funniest of those 3 examples). But it didn’t always feel clear about how I was supposed to view his character.
I found this series quite watchable, though. There were some deeply interesting concepts (like the commentaries on linking the “because of slavery” theme to the episode topic), and also many genuinely funny moments. Particularly liked in this episode how he watched blackish and murmured “such a good show” a couple of times.
But there were a couple of things that didn’t work for me, too. The framing device never really gelled for me. You really can’t imagine the parents being so candid about deeply personal things with their child in the context of a film school submission, and you can’t imagine them allowing a documentary crew such unfettered access to their lives.
If I could have taken this series back to the drawing board, I would have maybe had Rashida Jones’s character frame the story, maybe by vlogging as a side project while she tries to find herself (and maybe reviewing but not posting the most revealing footage at the end of the day). Rashida is by far the best actor on the show, but I also felt that maybe if Kenya could have stepped outside of himself a little bit, he could have seen that telling the fictionalized story of his wife is really compelling: the complications of being biracial, career woman, nearly died in childbirth: there’s a lot to unpack there, but I felt to do that, you would have to be all-in in telling this from her POV, not his.
I didn’t fully follow what the source of the marital strain was. He didn’t like that she didn’t go back to being an attorney, had become a stay-at-home mother and that she wasn’t contributing to the family income? But he also didn’t like her pursuing a new career (and resented her working vacation) because she was farming out things like cooking and taking kids to school and not being present enough for the family? So which way did he want it? If she were still a full-time corporate attorney, he never would have seen her. I guess they smoothed it over in the end. Eh.
I’d still give the show like a “B” overall. I found it very interesting, which sounds a little backhanded, but I don’t mean it that way. It made me think, and it made me laugh.