Dre's parents, the sarcastic and outspoken Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) and delightfully blunt Pops (Laurence Fishburne), became James and Florida Evans, while Dre and his wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) took on the roles of Keith and Thelma Anderson. The Johnson kids also made appearances in Dre's dream, including eldest son Junior (Marcus Scribner) as J.J.
"Blackish" creator Kenya Barris is an avowed fan of Lear, who recently participated in a brainstorming session in the "Blackish" writing room. In January of last year, Barris spoke about Lear's influence on his work at an event honoring the renowned writer-producer.
"He told honest stories and he told stories that other people wouldn't tell and he told them unapologetically, with courage, not just bravery, but with courage," Barris said during "An Evening With Norman Lear," noting that while pitching "Blackish" to networks, he'd describe his vision as "let's do Norman Lear today."
The influence is noticeable in "Blackish," which is based on Barris's real-life family. It's a half-hour comedy, but the show has successfully tackled serious subjects, ranging from the debate around using the N-word to how to talk to kids about police brutality, in a particularly memorable episode from this season.
The Johnsons live a decidedly upper-middle class life. Dre works for an advertising agency, and Rainbow is a doctor, but Dre's childhood poverty (and his fear of not being able to provide for his family) is a recurring topic of discussion on "Blackish." Layoffs at Dre's job, coupled with Rainbow's recently discovered (and unexpected) pregnancy, brought that fear to the surface in the finale.
In her profile of Barris last month, Emily Nussbaum, television critic for The New Yorker, wrote about the episode, noting that "the plot mirrored Barris's adult life, which was bookended by two unplanned pregnancies—the one that led him to marry early, and the one that had come after nearly two decades of marriage."
Dre's dream sequence took plot points directly from "Good Times" — Thelma's unplanned pregnancy, Michael's youthful activism, Keith's pro football dreams, and mined them for laughs. Jokes alluded to the Johnson family's various personalities and the fact that their alter-egos exist in a very different time (there were oblivious references to the Houston Oilers and O.J. Simpson). The Evans family poverty was also a source of humor, as it was on "Good Times," and as Dre's humble beginnings are on "Blackish."
One storyline last season saw Dre removing most the contents of the family's refrigerator out of concern that his children were becoming spoiled. "This is what my refrigerator looked like when I was growing up," Dre said while looking at a box of baking soda, a bottle of ketchup and a package of bologna. "It's not empty. There are five meals in here!"
In the finale, Dre woke from his dream to a blink-and-you-missed it moment that found Fishburne impersonating James Earl Jones as the host of another 70s television series "Black Omnibus." Ultimately, Dre's dream led to an honest conversation about his work concerns ("temporary layoffs," basically) and a heartwarming scene featuring the family going through old family photo albums.
"Goodish Times," indeed.