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Kenya Barris’s Netflix debut, ‘#blackAF,’ is an arch and self-aware binge-watch

“Should you binge it” is our new recurring feature to help you survive the quarantine and peak TV. First up: The latest project from the creator of the ‘black-ish’ universe.

Kenya Barris’s Netflix debut, ‘#blackAF,’ is an arch and self-aware binge-watch
[Photo: Gabriel Delerme/Netflix]

Now that we’re all at home all the time, indefinitely, our TV viewing choices feel more important than ever. If this show is going to distract me from the apocalypse, it better not take five episodes to get going!

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With that in mind, Fast Company is breaking down some of the new series rolling out each week on Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu—at least until everything in the can already is all used up—and helping you decide whether it’s worth your time, with a quick-and-dirty guide.

This week’s show: Netflix’s #blackAF.

The pitch: Kenya Barris’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. The prolific creator behind black-ish and its two spinoffs, grown-ish and mixed-ish, recently migrated from ABC to Netflix, with this series being his first big show under his new deal. (He did produce the excellent sketch-comedy series Astronomy Club.) #blackAF finds the veteran comedy writer stepping in front of the camera to portray an only slightly exaggerated version of himself: an exceedingly wealthy Hollywood mogul questioning his allegiance to his roots. Most of what we see on the show is supposed to be part of Barris’s daughter Drea’s (Iman Benson) high-budget school project about her father. If the show lives on beyond its first season, however, it’s easy to imagine this aspect of the premise being discarded entirely.

Who’s in it: Beyond the creator/star, there’s the inimitable Rashida Jones playing Barris’s wife, Joya (not to be confused with Barris’s real wife, Rainbow Barris, the inspiration for Tracee Ellis Ross’s character on black-ish); comedian Gil Ozeri as Barris’s hapless assistant, Danny; and random cameos from a grab bag of Hollywood power players such as Scooter Braun and Steven Levitan (Modern Family).

[Photo: courtesy of Netflix]
Vibe check: Arch and self-aware. “He’s pretty much a racial profiteer,” Drea says, to describe her “one-trick pony” father’s career in television. At the same time, #blackAF retains the occasional moments of historical education that are part of the secret sauce in Barris’s back catalog.

For fans of: The black-ish trio, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, The Boondocks, The Carmichael Show.

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The verdict: For a rookie performer, Kenya Barris is surprisingly comfortable in front of the camera, and seeing his personality exude from the man himself, rather than invented characters, is a refreshing change from his previous shows. It’s a funny, consistent series with minimal continuity and a lot to say about the complicated racial dynamics of wealthy black entertainers and creatives.

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