If there's one show ready to tackle the insane, unpredictable events that have shaped 2020, it's Black-ish. While its seventh season technically started with an election-themed animated special directed by Hair Love Oscar winner Matthew Cherry, the first live-action episodes kick off with Wednesday's premiere and promise to unpack the coronavirus pandemic and the movement for Black lives. "We're a show that takes place in the same reality that we all live in," showrunner Courtney Lilly tells EW. "There would be no version of us not being able to address what's going on."
Any viewer who's seen even one scene featuring the Johnson family matriarch likely knows that Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a doctor, so one of the ways the series will deal with COVID-19, as exemplified in the premiere, "Hero Pizza," is showing how she and other essential workers are "seeing a different reality than the rest of us are seeing," says Lilly. At its core, Black-ish still a family show, though, with people sheltering in place together, so they don't have to worry about getting into mask debates. "We're not trying to change the look of the show too much, but we know we wouldn't be doing what we do if we didn't at least address it, honestly."
Part of that means giving a real-time update to Laurence Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis' characters Pops and Ruby getting remarried, plans that were already set in motion in the sixth season finale. "It will be a COVID wedding dealing with those kinds of realities," Lilly says. While they have a shooting, some infidelity, and a burned-down boat haunting their past, the showrunner promises the couple (who are maybe getting a spin-off) are built to last: "I'm not interested in, for the sake of drama, going like, 'They're on the rocks.' No, we've done it. They've reached the finish line. It's a challenge on us as writers to make sure that we didn't take out all the things that are interesting about their relationship."
As for the Johnson children, while the twins are in Zoom school, Devante is still a toddler, and Grown-ish lead Zoey (Yara Shahidi) is only available "for pieces here and there through the season," according to Lilly, Junior becomes a more central part of the show. As teased in the season 6 finale, Junior (Marcus Scribner) has a new girlfriend named Olivia (played by Katlyn Nichol), who'll be getting a crash course on spending time with the Johnsons.
“Similar to the way the Cosby Show had Sandra and Elvin, with Elvin as an outsider who is able to kind of like hold the mirror up to the family, and show them what they take for granted," says Lilly, "we wanted to inject this series with somebody and not just to create new story lines, preserve things, and do all that kind of stuff, but really examine what it's like for this family when there's a new person in it."
Season 7 of Black-ish premieres Oct. 21 at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.