While black-ish returns officially later this month, viewers can see a two-part special episode, partially animated, this Sunday on ABC. The back-to-back episodes are titled Election Special Pt. 1 and Election Special Pt. 2.
black-ish was created by Kenya Barris. The series stars Anthony Anderson (Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson) and Tracee Ellis Ross (Rainbow Johnson). The stories revolve around the multi-generational Johnson family, examining both personal and professional dynamics.
Sunday’s election-themed episodes deal with Dre and Rainbow’s son Junior (Marcus Scribner) being excited about voting in this year’s election only to be dismayed upon discovering that he’s been dropped from the voter list. In the second episode, Leslie Stevens (Peter Mackenzie) makes a play for a Congressional seat.
“It was a happy accident,” Kenya Barris, executive producer, recently told reporters. He says the series was trying to find a way to still have a presence in an election year, but finding a way to get back into production in a COVID-19 world created some challenges.
When the series was picked up, all involved were behind the political-themed episodes. Ross brought up the idea of doing some animation so that people could record their roles from the safety of solo recording booths.
“The animation idea actually came out of my desire to stay safe from COVID,” Ross said. “In my conversation with Karey Burke [President, Entertainment, ABC], I was, like, ‘What are some of the ways that we can get back to work quickly?’ And I thought, we do such wonderful animation on our show already. Would there be a way for us to do an episode that was animated? Because I was not ready and terrified to go back to work and be on a set. And then it kind of moved right into what we as a show always do so beautifully with the animation.”
Barris adds that these special episodes only came together thanks to the efforts of numerous people. He says he consulted with his mentor, Norman Lear (All in the Family, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time), and he notes the show’s cast coming together was key in making it all work. “This is a group of people who had been working together, and everyone is putting egos aside,” he notes. “It was like, ‘What’s the best way to get this done?’ And I’m really, really, really proud of what it came out to be.”
While castmember Laurence Fishburne (Pops) is, perhaps, largely know for his dramatic roles in such films as The Color Purple and Mystic River, Ross says that he can do it all when it comes to acting — including live-action comedy and animated comedy.
“You are one of those people who seamlessly transitions into all areas of acting,” Ross notes. “Even through voiceover, we get the magnitude of who you are. And I think the truth is you just tell the truth, and it just works no matter what you’re doing. You lean in.”
Additionally, Fishburne heaps praise on the episodes’ director, Matthew Cherry, an Oscar winner for directing the Best Animated Short Film Hair Love. Working with Cherry, Fishburne says, “is like working with Iron Man and we’re all the Avengers. He’s Captain America in the animated world. So, the special is going to blow people’s minds, largely because of his direction.” black-ish’s election episodes air this Sunday, October 5 at 8 p.m. The series returns for Season 6 on Wednesday, October 21 at 9:30 p.m. ET.