Will ‘Black-ish’ turn topical storylines into an Emmy breakthrough?

Black-ish ABC Emmy Awards Hope Anthony Anderson Tracee Ellis Ross

With the end of “Nurse Jackie” and “Parks and Recreation” plus no eligible episodes of “Louie” and “Episodes,” there is some room available in the top comedy categories for the upcoming Emmy nominations.

Among the strongest contenders for increased recognition is ABC’s “Black-ish,” which is just wrapping up its sophomore season. In just the course of a year, it has gone from, “Isn’t that the show that comes after ‘Modern Family?'” to the subject of serious think pieces both in newspapers and in the trades. This newfound attention is due to series creator Kenya Barris who, while not ignoring the familiar storylines common in family-based sitcoms, has tackled socially-relevant subjects particularly affecting African-American families.

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Barris has written two episodes this season that have been the focus of much attention. The first was the second season premiere episode, “The Word,” that illustrates the differences in reactions to the “N-word” between the older and younger generations of African-Americans. The showrunner walks a fine line in the script, never losing the insult and pain caused by using the word while still keeping the episode funny.

He faced an even trickier challenge in the recent episode “Hope,” in which the entire Johnson family gathers around the television to watch the angry aftermath of a white police officer not even being indicted for police brutality against an African-American teen. Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross), the family’s mom, wants to protect her children from seeing a world that does not give them any reason to hope. Dad Dre (Anthony Anderson) argues that the kids need to see the world as it is, and in a powerful monologue cites the moment during the Barack Obama inauguration when the new President left his limo to walk the parade route with Michelle. It reminds of the fear that all black people had that the hope that Obama had promised would be taken away by an assassin. It’s the kind of moment that evoked the 1970s socially-relevant sitcoms made by Norman Lear (“All in the Family,” “Maude,” Good Times”). At that moment, “Black-ish” mattered.

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Now let’s look at its Emmy nomination chances:

COMEDY SERIES — On the bubble, currently ranking 7th in the Gold Derby predictions center so just making the cut in this recently expanded category. With 2015 nominees “Louie” and “Parks and Recreation” out of the picture, there is room for new blood in this top race. However, there are are several other new (and veteran) series anxious to claim one of those two slots. ABC is going to need a way to keep the heat under “Black-ish” in order to make it happen.

COMEDY ACTOR — Likely. Anderson managed to snag a Best Actor nomination last year and, with two of those nominees not eligible this year, chances are good that he will repeat, particularly when voters see that monologue in “Hope.” He is comfortably in 3rd place in the Gold Derby predictions center.

COMEDY ACTRESS — On the bubble, as Ross is currently ranked 7th in the Gold Derby predictions center. Fully half of last year’s six-nominee roster aren’t coming back, however, so Ross has a shot. She has risen to the strong material she’s been given throughout the year.

COMEDY WRITING — Possible. To keep things simple for voters, Barris should only submit one script for consideration (my guess is that he would choose “Hope”), but “Black-ish” didn’t get a writing nomination last year. It remains to be seen whether the think pieces published throughout the year will be enough to put the series on writers’ radar. The academy has expanded this category to six nominees from five, so there will be some extra wiggle room.

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What will be nominated at the Emmys for Best Comedy Series? Will the sophomore season of “Black-ish” put it in this race? Make your Emmy predictions using the menu below. 

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Photo Credit: ABC

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