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Black-ish Boss Is Making a Family Comedy First, an Issues-Driven Show Maybe 43rd

Creator Kenya Barris talks about what to expect in Season 3

Liam Mathews

Black-ishkicks off its third season Wednesday, Sept. 21 with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series under its belt (Black-ish and its lead-in, Modern Family, were the only network shows nominated for the Emmys' top awards). Both shows will start their seasons with a vacation episode -- the Modern Family crew is in New York, while the Johnsons are going to Disneyworld in an episode that creator Kenya Barris describes as "a doozy."

After that, though, it's back to reality. Black-ish mirrors Barris' own life, and Andre (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) have their fifth kid on the way, sort of like how Barris' wife Rainbow recently gave birth to their sixth. Barris says that plots on Black-ish evolve organically out of the kids growing up and other such things culled from family life, so there's never any need to force anything to happen.

That extends to the selection of hot-button issues to talk about on the show as well. Barris says that plots and topics emerge naturally out of conversations among the cast and crew about things that are going on in their own lives.

"We don't like to say 'these are the topics.' It's really what feels organic with the writers and what the family would naturally be going through," Barris says.

Barris is hesitant to disclose any topics Black-ish will address in Season 3, because he doesn't want Black-ish to be pegged as a ripped-from-the-headlines show -- "I'm a little bit wary of people saying 'this is the one where,'" he says.

This is a somewhat perplexing position for Barris to take as Black-ish achieves must-watch status when it addresses social issues, and downplaying that aspect is a counterintuitive promotional strategy. Last season's "Hope" is the best episode of the series so far, and that episode is a conversation about police brutality against black people and the justice system's failure to do anything about it. Barris seems to be worried that "Hope" and episodes like it will overshadow the funny family comedy that the show is first and foremost. The show has topic-driven episodes seen through a specifically African-American perspective, but that's just one part of what the show does.

Kenya Barris

Kenya Barris

Rick Rowell, ABC

Barris made headlines at the TCAs this summer when he bristled at a reporter's question about Black-ish's "diversity."

"I was like, 'Really, we're gonna have this be the conversation? We're not gonna talk about the show, we're not gonna talk about the actors, we're not gonna talk about the writing, we're not gonna talk about the directing, we're going to repeat a conversation that we have every year that you don't have with other shows,'" he says of his reaction that day. "At a certain point, it clouds the narrative."

A narrative he would prefer -- and one that isn't inaccurate -- is that Black-ish is a family sitcom that's intelligently written, well-acted and skillfully directed that's relatable across racial and demographic lines and sometimes addresses social issues in a Norman Lear-esque fashion.

"I am proud to be part of a show that has actors and writers of color and female writers, but at the same time, I don't want that to be all that we're about," he says.

Black-ish Season 3 will continue to prove that point.

Black-ish premieres Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.