If You Love Rainbow Johnson on 'black-ish,' You'll Love Her Family's Journey on 'mixed-ish,' Says Tika Sumpter and Mark-Paul Gosselaar

For the last five years, fans have watched Tracee Ellis Ross' black-ish character Rainbow Johnson compare and explain her upbringing to her husband and children on the ABC sitcom. Though Rainbow is a black woman—a fun, goofy and highly successful one at that—Rainbow's tales about growing up have always been starkly different compared to her husband Dre, played by Anthony Anderson, and their four children, starting with the fact that Bow—as she's called on the show—grew up in a biracial household with a white father and black mother.

On the ABC spinoff series, mixed-ish, which premieres on Tuesday, viewers will get to see for themselves just how different Bow's childhood was during the 1980s. The show stars Arica Himmel as a young Bow and follows the preteen and her family as they adjust to "normal" life in society after their former hippie commune is raided.

Like all the shows within creator and writer Kenya Barris' ish-world, mixed-ish intersects timely societal and cultural topics pertaining to race and identity with comedy.

"I'm still absolutely amazed ABC is actually allowing us to hit some of the things that we are, because in the room while we're reading scripts, it physically, emotionally makes you uncomfortable," Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who plays Bow's father Paul on the show, told Newsweek during a joint interview with his TV wife Tika Sumpter, who plays Bow's mother Alicia.

Tika Sumpter and Mark-Paul Gosselaar Talk New ABC Series 'mixed-ish'
Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tika Sumpter appear in "mixed-ish." The ABC series premieres on September 24, 2019. ABC/Eric McCandless

Noting the series is as funny as it is intelligent, Gosselaar said mixed-ish, more importantly, was an opportunity to use comedy as means to educate people on the realities of otherness and self-identifying.

"Just like black-ish, we're gonna take very relevant issues that still pertain to today—pay disparity, affirmative action and so on—stuff that we're dealing with now, and some of the repercussions from [things that occurred in] the 80s," Sumpter added.

Despite the sensitivity surrounding the topics, the castmates were certain viewers would be entertained. "You will see the origin of Rainbow Johnson, which is such a beloved character. Tracee Ellis Ross is magnificent as her, and she will narrate throughout the entirety of our series and continue to add her insight. So if you're a fan of black-ish, it's just an easy transition for you to watch our show," Gosselaar said.

Sumpter chimed in: "They're gonna love our family. They're gonna fall in love with these characters."

See Newsweek's interview with Gosselaar and Sumpter below. Mixed-ish premieres on ABC on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, with the Season 6 premiere of black-ish immediately following at 9:30 p.m. ET.

This interview was condensed and edited for purposes of length.

Were you fans of black-ish before joining mixed-ish?

Tika Sumpter: I was a fan of black-ish. I was a fan of them taking these current issues and making them funny, and it's for everybody. At first you're like, "Black-ish, wait. What are you saying?" Then you got what they were doing and settled into who [the characters] are.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: I'm new to the ish world. My first experience was reading the amazing script written by Peter Saji and Kenya Barris, then delightfully going down the black-ish rabbit hole. It's one of those shows [that made me wonder], "Why haven't I been watching this show?"

Did your own interracial experiences help you bring depth to your TV family?

TS: I have my fiancé [actor Nicholas James], and the crazy thing is when we connected it wasn't like, "Oh I'm gonna be in an interracial relationship!" It was like, "Oh I think you're hot. You think I'm hot. You think I'm smart, and cool? Let's hang out." That's what it was, and after you end up saying "OK, we're gonna be together," then that's when stuff starts happening. First of all, you're learning each other's culture, you're learning each other's cultural differences, and then you have a kid who is this child of two different races. Having to meld that together and figure out things—there are so many different ranges of cultural differences that you have to work with. I have a child who is biracial and it's amazing and also crazy and scary at the same time.

MPG: You probably don't have to think about it, until you have to think about it.

TS: It's after the fact when the world smacks you in the face is when you're made to think about it. You wanna protect your child and you don't want people to judge her for the things that they think she is. So you're just like, "How do I protect as much as possible?" What the show has done for me is teach me how to talk to her and build confidence within her, [so she can] go out into the world and be whoever she chooses to be. I would say it's helped me already.

MPG: Being someone who is mixed, I never had to think about it until it was brought up, because of the way I looked. I was arguably America's favorite white boy at one point, and it's like, "Wait, that guy is mixed?" It's one of those things that because of the way I looked I didn't have to deal with it. It's a conversation I have had and I do have with my kids because they are—as well—mixed.

How to Watch 'mixed-ish' Premiere Via Live Stream
(L-R) Arica Himmel and Mykal-Michelle Harris appear in the series premiere of "mixed-ish." The new ABC show airs on September 24, 2019. ABC/Richard Cartwright

How was it embodying a family of hippies adjusting to regular society?

MPG: I think the commune is a metaphor of being a fish out of water and how you transplant someone into the '80s without having experienced the '80s in any capacity. Paul and Alicia met each other at Berkeley Law. They got married and were sort of forced into the commune. They ran away because a lot of their friends and family didn't accept their relationship—because [interracial marriages weren't] acceptable until the [Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision] in 1967 [which prohibited laws banning interracial marriage] and then it wasn't even accepted, and in certain parts of the country it's still not accepted. So the commune is a character piece as it forced us as a family to kind of appear in 1985, not having lived in society for that long and now having to deal with it.

TS: I researched Wild Wild Country on Netflix. I'm kidding, I watched it because I wanted to.

MPG: In the pilot, Tracee Ellis Ross explains to her family where she came from and her view of it, and she says, "Well, you can watch it on Netflix." It's a direct nod to Wild Wild Country.

How was your experience working with the kids?

TS: Exhausting! No, I'm kidding!

MPG: She's not lying. I have four kids at home and then I come to set and I'm like, "Oh, I get a break." Then there's three more. No, they're amazing. They really are. Arica Himmel—talk about channeling someone. Even Tracee Ellis Ross said, "She's more me than I'm me." Mykal-Michelle Harris, who plays Santamonica, is as sassy as her character. Ethan William Childress, who plays Johan, is just a ball of energy.

TS: He's very curious just like his character. They're all well cast.

In what ways are you hoping the show will impact viewers?

MPG: I think the show is more than just about being biracial and mixed. Tika has said this before, it's about otherness and just being other, trying to find your identity in a sea of other. Where do you fit in? That's why our show is relatable—you don't have to be black, white or mixed, everyone has some sort of feeling about fitting in, their identity and feeling other.

TS: And identity is kind of fluid sometimes. There's spectrums of blackness. What is blackness to you? What is it to this person? Is it the way you talk that makes you less black? So we delve into all these things that are like, "What is black and what does that mean within families?" It's about being mixed and biracial, but it's also about identity.

MPG: We talk about being mixed and the kids going through this identity discovery where they have a white father and a black mother. Then they go to school and what side do they choose? They have to choose a side. Is it white or black?

TS: Or do they have to choose a side?

MPG: Those are the conversations that we're bringing up on this show.

TS: What is society forcing you to be? Where do you fit?

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