By: Taren Vaughan
Finding a good black TV show is so hard to come by these days. With reality shows taking over the airwaves, quality sitcoms have gotten completely overshadowed and almost nearly extinct. “The Game”, “House Of Payne”and a few others are trying to bring life back to black sitcoms. But back in the day though, the list of creditable shows starring African Americans was virtually endless. Let’s take a look back at some of the shows that kept us all in tears:
Named after very talented and hilarious comedian Martin Lawrence, this sitcom was most definitely one that no one could forget. With a slew of characters that left you in laughing uncontrollably with their off the wall sayings and crazy antics, Martin is one of those shows that will never lose its spark. And who can forget all of the guest appearances that were made on the show. One of which was made by the late Christopher Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G.. Rapper Yo-Yo also got her shine on the show as one of Martin’s rowdy next door neighbor Sheneneh’s home girls. The cameo from Kid, from the ‘90’s Hip-Hop group Kid-N-Play, may have been one of the funniest of episodes all. “Forever Sheneneh” still makes me bust out laughing every time I see that episode. The one thing that set Martin aside from all the other shows was the massive amount of characters that he had. The “Playa from the Himalaya” (Jerome), the overly obsessive Mama Payne, the party animal co-worker of Gina’s (White Bob) and let’s not forget Ole’ Otis with his trusty nightstick and coke bottle glasses. Ah, the list can literally go on for days. With so many to choose from, it may be hard to say. After the show’s ending in 1997, there has yet to be another show of this kind that even comes close to filling Martin’s shoes. And probably never will be.
Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper
Another comedian got his opportunity to take his talents to the world of situational comedy. Mark Curry starred as an ex-NBA player turned teacher turned coach. Yeah, Mr. Cooper definitely wore a lot of hats in this show. Although Mr. Cooper was a somewhat eligible bachelor, he always had one slight problem: his roommate situation. Sharing a house with a childhood friend and her best friend can pretty much throw salt in any game that you have. Add in your best friend’s daughter, who was played by Cosby Show star Raven-Symone’, and her friend from next door, you have one full household. Apart of the ever so popular TGIF line-up, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper saw some longevity as it lasted five years, which is way longer than most shows last now. Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper served as a platform for shows like The Steve Harvey Show and One on One; shows that involved a former superstar that still holds on to his glory days.
Possibly coined as the old school version of “Girlfriends”, Living Single was by far one of the best black shows of the early ‘90’s. And it was one of the few shows that was centered on a group of sisters for that matter. Not quite like the “Golden Girls”, this show gave the urban, successful black woman something to relate to. Living Single gave viewers a glimpse at the black woman from many different angles. The smart mouthed attorney who made every place her home (Max), a street savvy, ex-ball player who runs her own successful business (Khadijah), a bubbly sweetheart who uses the phrase “Woo, woo, woo” as a sign of comfort (Synclaire) and the self proclaimed diva who swears up and down that no man with good vision would turn her down (Regine’). Now tell me you don’t have a friend that acted exactly like at least one of these four women from the show. Throw in a handyman and arrogant yet sophisticated brother with more swag than a little, and you have a perfect show on your hands.
A product of the legendary comedian/actor Bill Cosby, The Cosby Show was one for the ages. This family of seven living in Brooklyn, New York was a far cry from “Good Times”. That was one thing about this show that stuck out. It showed an African American family from a different light. The Huxtables were not poor by far. Doctors and lawyers don’t make minimum wage that’s for sure. It proved that not all black families are out here struggling trying to make ends meet. Middle/upper-class Black America got to see a true reflection of themselves when this show came out. After the show ended, multiple cast members went on to do other things. Actress Keshia Knight-Pulliam has starred in a few big screen movies. But let’s face it, to us she will always be little Rudy Huxtable. Actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner went on to later form his own show during the late ‘90’s (a list you’ll see later on) with comedian Eddie Griffin that was deemed successful. The Cosby Show was not only one of the best black shows of the early ‘90’s, it earned the title as being one of the best shows period of that era.
Based on the life of our favorite garbage collector extraordinaire, Roc had viewers across the nation laughing for years at a time. With a mischievous younger brother, hard working wife and wise cracking father, Roc was filled with many laughable moments. Although Roc did have its funny moments, Roc had its dose of drama to it as well. A memorable episode of the show touched on teen violence when one of Sheila (played by Alexis Fields) ’s friends, was gunned down right outside Roc’s front door. Being based out of Baltimore, Maryland, the show also brought to light the subjects of dealing with neighborhood drug dealers and gang problems within the community. Just like with The Cosby Show cast members, the characters from Roc took on other projects outside of the show, on the big screen, in stage plays and in other TV sitcoms.
If ever there was a black version of “CSI”, New York Undercover would have to have been it. Starring Malik Yoba from Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married” and Michael DeLorenzo , New York Undercover brought that extra realism to black television shows. Often times filled with violence, crime, murder scenes and drug busts, this show was not what you would call “kid-friendly”. But it did however bring some rawness to the world of black television. Although it didn’t have that comedy driven image behind it, the serious tone of New York Undercover made you think outside of the box. It made you want to solve the mystery yourself. Even though it wasn’t a side splitting type of show, New York Undercover was definitely a show that would grasp your attention and hold on tight to it until the end.
Before he became the father of two child sensations, Will Smith stepped away from the microphone for a minute to become the star of one of the hit TV shows of all time. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air was pure comedy in more ways than one. If it wasn’t the ditsy comments from the spoiled Hillary Banks, the wise cracks from the family butler Geoffrey or all of Jazz’s attempts to steal a certain someone’s heart, at some point or another you would find yourself having a good laugh during an airing of this show. Although the Banks family was far from struggling, they still went through some the same things that any normal family would. One thing about this show is that it held no punches when it came to situations that the family went through. Now back to the funnier moments of the show, doing “The Carlton” dance and learning the entire rap to the intro of the show had to be the highlights that everyone remembers. Even when the person who played Aunt Viv changed during the later seasons, the quality of the show itself never did.
Annoying next door neighbors was not the only thing that the Winslow Family had to deal with. Similar to “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air”, Family Matters had that comedic aspect of it yet it still touched on situations that a lot of teenage and young adults deal with on a daily basis. Referred too many as simply “Steve Urkel”, Family Matters was the kind of show that caused a lot of anticipation from younger views with every episode. Girls across the country, including myself and my friends, were glued to their television sets every time “Stephan Urkell” made an appearance on the show. Guess as young girls, we forgot that it was just Steve Urkel without his glasses on in a well tailored suit. Unlike some of the other shows listed, many cast members of Family Matters didn’t launch careers aside from their roles in the show. And some of them even had to resort to some less appealing ways to make ends meet. As for the show itself, Family Matters did provide those learning moments that all well-rounded sitcoms need. Without this show, TGIF would not have been the same.
A Different WorldThe show that officially put HBCU’s on the map, sitcom style, was A Different World. Created by Bill Cosby, this show did something that no other black show, or any show for that matter did. And that was really gave viewers a glimpse of what college life for an African American student is like. From the late night study parties, the life as a sorority girl and the trials of the hopeless romantics like show’s college sweethearts Dwayne Wayne and Whitley Gilbert. What the characters went through was very realistic but yet it was all done in a positive way. True there are plenty of shows out now that involve college-aged students. But are any of them as informative as this show was? Furthermore, are they reflecting our college kids in a positive light?
Even though these shows have run their course, the time that they spent on air making us laugh and providing us with those teachable moments was and will forever be priceless. And thank God for TV One, we are still able to catch some of these shows from time to time. Not to mention that all of them are available on DVD now. After looking at this list, the sad reality just hit me: TV just ain’t what it used to be.