Two years ago ABC kicked up some controversy when it decided, pretty much at the last minute, to not air an episode of Black-ish about the polarized political situation in America. “Please, Baby, Please” was originally scheduled to air in March 2018, but was pulled a few days beforehand over concerns that it would anger conservatives and Trump supporters. This was one of the reasons Black-ish creator Kenya Barris left ABC for a deal at Netflix later that year. The episode, which was widely reported to focus on the controversy over Colin Kaepernick and other athletes kneeling during the national anthem, was shelved indefinitely, and to this day represents the mainstream media’s cowardice and failure to address the issues undermining our country.
It took over two years, but “Please, Baby, Please” finally came out earlier this week, sneaking quietly onto Hulu on Monday. Watching it only makes ABC look even more cowardly than they already did. Yes, it’s explicitly critical of Trump, police brutality, the rise of the far right, and inaction over climate change, and uses copious amounts of news footage and stock film to make sure nobody can mistake who and what it’s talking about; and yes, Trump supporters and the grievance mongers in the right-wing mediasphere would have feasted on this episode when it aired. None of it is factually incorrect, though, and the episode’s fears and concerns reflect those of a large percentage of Americans. Many people would’ve felt seen and supported by the episode, while those who were offended or acted outraged by it are exactly the kind of people who should be mocked and insulted out of the public spotlight. Nobody should worry if racists are upset when their racism is pointed out to them, which is essentially what this episode does.
Calling out racists isn’t the point of “Please, Baby, Please,” though. Its goal is to explore the fear, stress, and pain that today’s political climate inflicts upon us—how the daily burden of living in this fractured, hateful society weighs on us all, especially those who aren’t white. Likewise, analyzing the episode’s political commentary isn’t the point of this piece. This isn’t a review or an editorial. It’s a news post focusing on one of the most curious and least significant non-news stories of the year.
Somehow this episode of Black-ish includes a clip of comedian Conner O’Malley as an example of an angry Trump supporter.
If you don’t know the name, you might recognize his face. O’Malley has appeared in TV shows like Joe Pera Talks with You, I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, and Detroiters, as well as movies like Hulu’s Palm Springs. He’s known for his brutally effective satires of toxic masculinity and consumer culture on YouTube, and was a legit star on Vine back when that platform existed. He’s also married to Aidy Bryant, which has nothing to do with this, but is just an interesting little fact that I feel more people should know.
Back in 2016 O’Malley got a lot of attention for a series of videos he made at Trump rallies and the Republican National Convention. Paste’s Shane Ryan interviewed O’Malley about them at the time. O’Malley played a character named Mark Seevers, a no-name “citizen journalist” and “failson” prototype who found a fulcrum for his inchoate rage and sadness in the form of Donald Trump. It’s still probably the most piercing, insightful, and hilarious parody of Trump culture, four years later. It also somehow wound up in a very serious context in this very serious episode of Black-ish.
Here’s what happens. Anthony Anderson’s character is trying to get his baby back to sleep during a storm; worried about the rise of Trump and the political divisions it’s exacerbated, Anderson explains our current political situation to the baby in the style of a bedtime story. As he’s talking a montage of anti-Trump protesters gives way to file footage of Trump supporters, and the very first one we see is Conner O’Malley screaming “TRUMP!” directly into the camera.
If you don’t know who O’Malley is, this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment obviously won’t register as anything other than a sincere Trump supporter bellowing out his president’s name in rage. If you are familiar with him, though, and those Mark Seevers videos he made years ago, it’ll completely take you out of the moment. It’s such an unexpected, inexplicable sight that I wasn’t able to focus on anything that came afterward. I had to stop watching the episode altogether and wait a while before restarting it. It’s like if you were watching a serious documentary about the Trump era and somehow it presented a clip of Alec Baldwin playing Trump on SNL as if it was actual footage of the president.
Did the producers of Black-ish know they were using a clip of a comedian playing a character when they put this episode together? I’d assume not. Perhaps they sorted through some ABC news footage of a Trump rally that O’Malley was at, and felt he was a perfect example of the kind of person Anthony Anderson’s character would need to warn his baby about.
This shouldn’t distract from “Please, Baby, Please,” which is an occasionally powerful, slightly heavy-handed half-hour of television. One small, unintentionally distracting clip is thoroughly insignificant in the overall scale of this well-intentioned episode. It’s just so weird, so unexpected, and yes, so thoroughly disruptive that it has to be mentioned.
I guess take this as a warning. If you plan on watching that censored, “controversial” episode of Black-ish, and have any idea who Conner O’Malley is, you’re going to see him pop up about seven minutes in, ostensibly as an example of a legitimate loud, angry Trump supporter. You will probably have to pause the episode at that point and take a little walk. Don’t let it derail you entirely, though; you should stick with it and watch the whole episode, if you want to. Hopefully you’re prepared now and can handle this whole thing without issue. Good luck!