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ABC's 'Mixed-Ish' Promises To Deepen Conversations On Race and Multiculturalism


ABC is so supportive of its new spinoff of "Black-ish," called "Mixed-ish," the network got Mariah Carey to sing the sitcom's theme song.


MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) In the mix, life turns around. Round and round it goes. Oh, it's a mixed up world.

CORNISH: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says a lot of people are excited about the series, which debuts tonight, for another reason - it promises to deepen the conversation about race and multiculturalism in America.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "Mixed-ish" starts off reminding the audience of something curious about Rainbow Johnson, the matriarch on "Black-ish," played by Tracee Ellis Ross - Rainbow was raised in a cultish commune until she was 12. When her husband, Anthony Andersons's Andre Johnson, admits he's surprised they ever met, Bow drops another bombshell.


TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: (As Rainbow Johnson) We actually wouldn't have ever met if the elders hadn't gotten arrested.

ANTHONY ANDERSON: (As Andre Johnson) Hold up. Wait. What?

ELLIS ROSS: (As Rainbow Johnson) Well, they didn't get arrested. They got detained for three to five years.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) What?

ELLIS ROSS: (As Rainbow Johnson) You know what? The documentary explains it a lot better - just came out on Netflix.

DEGGANS: "Mixed-ish" is a nostalgic, cheeky look at Rainbow's origin story, showing how she grew up sheltered from racial politics in an idealistic commune with her white dad, black mother and two siblings.


ELLIS ROSS: (As Rainbow Johnson) If you would've asked me at the time, I would've told you it was perfect. But the government would've told you we were a radicalized cult in violation of over 47 ATF regulations.

DEGGANS: After police raided their commune in 1985, Rainbow and her family were forced to move into a home owned by her dad's father, a mercenary lawyer played to weaselly perfection by Gary Cole.


GARY COLE: (As Harrison Johnson III) Help me understand. Is it fun to be poor? Like, when people tell you how much something costs and you don't have the money, is it a rush?

TIKA SUMPTER: (As Alicia Johnson) You know, we chose to live off the grid.

COLE: (As Harrison Johnson III) And now you chose to live rent-free in my fully furnished rental. What a rush that must be.

DEGGANS: There are times when "Mixed-ish" can feel a little too much like a TED talk with snappy jokes and lots of '80s music. To explain the rarity of her parents' relationship back then, we get a quick primer on the Supreme Court case that struck down laws against interracial marriage. And when Rainbow and her siblings get the inevitable clueless reaction at school...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What are you weirdos mixed with?

ARICA HIMMEL: (As Rainbow Johnson) What's mixed?


DEGGANS: ...Adult Rainbow explains in a simplistic way that feels like the show is worried modern audiences won't understand. I prefer the moment when Rainbow's Aunt Dee Dee confronts her sister for sending her kids to school in overalls and Birkenstocks, pointing out that in the commune, they were essentially raised in white culture.


CHRISTINA ANTHONY: (As Denise) You know Auntie Dee Dee loves you very much, but you look like a runaway house slave.

SUMPTER: (As Alicia Johnson) No. Don't fill my babies' heads with that nonsense.

ANTHONY: (As Denise) Them being black is nonsense?

SUMPTER: (As Alicia Johnson) They're black and white. Don't try to make them choose sides.

ANTHONY: (As Denise) America already chose. All I'm saying is you guys are on a different level of whiteness.

SUMPTER: (As Alicia Johnson) And don't you think that maybe we're above race?

ANTHONY: (As Denise) See? There couldn't be a whiter thing to say.

DEGGANS: A trailer for the show released earlier this year was much faster-paced, with jokes that crackle a little more. Still, I love the premise of this misfit family trying to find where they fit in America's confusing, hypocritical racial hierarchy. And the cast, featuring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tika Sumpter as Rainbow's parents, often shines. Tracee Ellis Ross, herself a biracial child of pop music superstar Diana Ross and her ex-husband Robert Ellis Silberstein, is also an executive producer on "Mixed-ish." I'm hopeful her input will help amp up the funny while providing an incisive, authentic look at race and culture in a way few sitcoms have attempted before.

I'm Eric Deggans.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Yay, us. Yay, us.

CAREY: (Singing) Oh, they keep trying, but they can't stop us 'cause we got a love that keeps rising up. And yeah, they fight it, but we just proceed to be... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.