ABC’s ‘Mixed-ish’ Promises To Conjure Up Some Fun ’80s Nostalgia

“Mixed-ish” made its premiere on Tuesday, Sept. 24, marking the second spinoff from ABC’s hit “Black-ish.” Freeform’s “Grown-ish,” which debuted in 2018, was the first branch out into the “-ish” universe. The series moved the characters forward, following the Johnsons’ eldest daughter Zoey (Yara Shahidi), as she went off to college. “Mixed-ish” travels back to the past in a look at the life of Rainbow Johnson, played by Tracee Ellis Ross on “Black-ish.” As the cast explained during the PaleyFest Fall TV Previews in Los Angeles, it allows them to tackle important issues while conjuring up some seriously fun ’80s nostalgia.

Trading Places

“Mixed-ish” stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Paul Johnson), Tika Sumpter (Alicia Johnson), Christina Anthony (Denise), Arica Himmel (Bow Johnson), Ethan William Childress (Johan Johnson), Mykal-Michelle Harris (Santamonica Johnson), and Gary Cole (Harrison Johnson). The cast, along with executive producers Peter Saji and Karin Gist, recently celebrated the arrival of the show with fans at the PaleyFest Fall TV Previews.

“Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris, Tracee Ellis Ross, and producer/writer Peter Saji are at the helm of “Mixed-ish,” giving the new show the same spirit as the original series. With a jump in the timeline and these new characters in play, the expansion on the universe is a welcomed treat for fans.

Back to the Future

“This is a story that I connect to in a very personal way,” Peter Saji told The Burn-In during the Sept. 14 event. “I get the pleasure of writing for a character that I’ve gotten to write for, for the past five years—Rainbow Johnson, and seeing how she became the person that we already know. Now I get a chance to work with Tracy Ellis Ross on a different level, as a collaborator. So, it’s been really exciting.”

Diving into Bow’s past opens up the door for deep discussions about racism and gender inequality; issues that are still relevant today. And, as it takes place in 1985, it leaves room for some great ’80s throwbacks. As seen in the first episode, it’s an immersive ’80s experience—everything from the wardrobe to the hair to the music to just the all-around vibe.

Getting into the whole ’80s vibe was more natural for some of the cast members than it was for others. For Harris and Childress (who play Bow’s younger siblings), it was a learning experience. “One time, I was walking around set, and I asked Tika [Sumpter],  ‘What’s that?’” Childress recalled. “She said, ‘It’s a phone.’ I’m like, how do you walk around your house with your phone then?” he said with a chuckle, pointing out that the phone had a chord.

Say Anything

Image: Brian To for the Paley Center

Veteran actor Gary Cole tells The Burn-In, having to immerse himself back into the ’80s has been an “interesting” experience. “Especially the fashion,” he joked. “In a way, [the ’80s] becomes a character itself on the show,” Cole continued. “There are a lot of historical buttons that are pushed in the stories that are being told by the writers. It’s almost the perfect ingredient to tell the unique story about this family. There are so many levels going on. You’ve got a family with a unique cultural circumstance. They were protected in the bubble of a commune and are forced into a new world, unique to themselves. And it’s told in a flashback.”

Mark-Paul Gosselaar teased that throughout the season, the show is going to get very nostalgic. “There’s an organic quality to the show; nothing feels forced. But, we are taking place in 1985,” he tells The Burn-In. “Music is a big part of the show, so I think that will drive a familiarity for certain people. Some of the clothes and some of the topics that we’re discussing on the show still feel relatable to the things that we’re dealing with today,” he added.

Of course, there is a comedic twist to it. “That’s what so special about the ‘ish’ universe, is that they’re able to teach a lesson all through comedy and make you not even aware of it,” he continued. “You’re being enlightened.”

Terms of Endearment

Image: Brian To for the Paley Center

Beau Bridges originally played Gosselaar’s character on “Black-ish.” The former “Saved by the Bell” star says he took into account Bridges’ rhythms and patterns when he was approaching the role. What he loves most about playing this character, apart from comfy clothes and long hair, is that he’s a free spirit. “My views are a little more radical for the period, but they’re much more accepted now,” Gosselaar says. “My character, Paul, is a forward thinker, so it’s pretty cool to see a guy who was considered radical then, to be the norm now. It’s just great to play the father of these beautiful kids and to have a beautiful wife, and to tell the story of how Rainbow Johnson came to be.”

“Mixed-ish” debuted on top of last Tuesday’s ratings. New episodes air every Tuesday at 9|8c on ABC.

Published on The Burn-In.