A genre of its own, Black sitcoms always provide interesting perspectives and commentaries on everyday life. Often surviving on smaller budgets and fewer resources than other TV shows, most Black sitcoms had to beat the odds in order to be seen as deserving of their audience and time slot. Moreover, in terms of Black sitcoms that actually manage to achieve widespread ratings as well as and longevity, those are few and far between. With that said, the following is a closer look at some of the top Black sitcoms of all time.
First, let us look at an honorable mention. Although this list is technically reserved for Black sitcoms involving live humans (except in the case of the 15th entry), this show certainly deserved an honorable mention. A revolutionary cartoon that satirically took on some of the most controversial topics affection the Black community, The Boondocks, created by Aaron McGruder, boldly went where many live action shows dare not.
Originally based on McGruder’s comic strip of the same name, the show was steeped in controversy in its final season due to the original creator no longer being involved in the creative process. The first three unapologetically bold seasons were enough to keep the world permanently pining for more.
Without further ado, let us look at a list of 15 Black sitcoms that had an impact on everyday television:
15. The PJs (1999-2001)
Although this show technically qualifies as a stop-motion animated series, The PJs, created by comedian, Eddie Murphy, is as realistic as an animated series could possibly be. A satirical and incredibly comical glimpse into the lives of an array of underprivileged characters from the Brewster-Douglass Housing Project in Detroit, this show was well before its time. Perhaps this is the reason that despite only lasting three seasons and being over a decade old, it remains in syndication on several channels to this very day.
14. A Different World (1987-1993)
A spin-off of The Cosby Show, A Different World initially began as a show about Cliff Huxtable’s daughter, Denise, played by Lisa Bonet. A refreshingly Black-positive show that focused on the importance of historically black colleges, and unapologetically took on an array of issues within the Black Community as well as the world at large, the difference between A Different World and its predecessor is literally like night and day. Although Bonet’s character was not a consistent staple of the show, it did remain true to its goal and ended up exploring these subjects via an array of characters over the years. Most notably, the show consisted of Whitley Gilbert, played by Jasmine Guy, Dwayne Wayne, played by Kadeem Hardison, “Freddie” Brooks, played by Cree Summers, and even Lena James, played by Jada Pinkett (no Smith at the time), to name a few. The show provided commentary on things such as interracial dating, the LA Riots, date rate, domestic violence, misogyny, colorism, corporate corruption, institutional racism, and much more. A show that remains relevant to this very day, many real life conversations and debates were birthed as a result of the fictional Hillman College.
13. Moesha (1996-2001)
Starring the award winning singer and actor, Brandy Norwood, Moesha was a breath of fresh air for the younger, urban generation. Based on an urban teenage high schooler who lives with her family in South Central Los Angeles, Moesha served as the voice of a wide variety of inner-city youths growing up in the 90s. Airing on the no longer existent channel, UPN, the show became wildly successful and was certainly the top show on the network. Delving into issues such as teenage pregnancy, marital infidelity, drug use, premarital sex, and much more, this highly comical show was great at attacking serious issues while finding the silver lining at the end. Moreover, a portrait of 90s style and fashion, the show became very well-known for its musical guests. Some of the most notable musicians to appear on the show being Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Bow Wow, Morris Day, Jamie Foxx, Jermaine Dupri, Lil’ Kim, M.C. Lyte, and many, many more. Sadly, it seems that some of the stars of the show have been ridden with tragedy and turmoil since the show’s end. Merlin Santana, Lamont Bentley, and Yvette Wilson have each passed away since filming. Moreover, Shar Jackson and Marcus T. Paulk have not had the best luck in recent years either.
12. The Steve Harvey Show (1996-2002)
A sitcom that aired on the old network, The WB, The Steve Harvey Show was based on a former 1970s funk legend, played by Steve Harvey, and his transition into a high school music teacher/ vice principal along with his long time best bud, Cedric Robinson, played by comedian Cedric the Entertainer. Along with his on and off again, in-office love interest, Regina Grier, played by Wendy Raquel Robinson, the trio served as the main administration serving a selection of often rambunctious, urban teens. Although the show focused mostly on the lives of the adult characters, the high school cast, headed by the late Merlin Santana, also got their fair share of screen time. Lasting six seasons, the show remained light-hearted but managed to cover an array of topics affecting both adults and inner-city school kids alike.
11. Everybody Hates Chris (2005-2009)
One of the best Black sitcoms in recent years, Everybody Hates Chris is a comical glimpse into the often traumatic childhood of comedian and actor, Chris Rock. A period sitcom that is based solely on the teenage experiences of Rock, the show it simultaneous genuine and outlandish in terms of plots and story lines. Riddled with inside jokes and time-specific references, much of this show’s appeal lies in its offbeat comedy. Starring Terry Crews and Tichina Arnold as his parents, Julius, and Rochelle, the show is essentially a comical commentary on the many responsibilities and unfair circumstances that helped to shape him into the man he is today. Although there is some speculation in terms of the ending of the show, Rock has said that it would have likely only lasted until Chris dropped out of school to become a comedian, which occurs at the end of season four. Completing it with yet another slightly obscure comedic reference, the show ended in almost the exact same way as the controversial ending of The Sopranos, which viewers seemed confused by in both instances.
10. Martin (1992-1997)
A sitcom that lasted on Fox for five seasons, Martin was a show loosely based on the life and career of comedian Martin Lawrence. As hilarious as it was candid, this show gave a closer look at the lives of new age urban couples who do not necessarily embrace traditions or traditional gender roles. Much of the dynamic of the show was based on Martin’s relationship with his girlfriend and eventual wife Gina, played by Tisha Campbell, the couple quickly became #relationshipgoals for Black couples across the globe. In addition to that, Lawrence also put his versatility to work and played a vast array of hilarious character including Jerome, Bob, King Beef, and his neighbor, Sheneneh. Unfortunately, all of Martin’s laughing and joking eventually went too far. Citing verbal and sexual harassment, among many other things, his co-star, Campbell, flat out refused to appear on screen with him for much of the final season. Nevertheless, they managed to keep the storyline intact and finish the 132nd episode with grace and gratitude to the fans. It also helped to pave the way for the following entry…
9. Living Single (1993-1998)
A sassy comedy that brought a “Flava” all its own, Living Single follows the lives of four Brown women living in a Brownstone in Brooklyn. It was the first show of its kind that unapologetically focused almost exclusively on the lives of women of color. Starring the highly driven, Khadijah James, played by rapper turned actress, Queen Latifah, part of what was so revolutionary about this sitcom was the fact that it showed single women who were more focused on their careers rather than chasing after relationships with men. Nevertheless, by including character Kyle Barker, played by T.C. Carson, and Overton Wakefield Jones, played by John Henton, they ensured that the show was frequently infused with testosterone. Also starring Kim Fields, as Régine, Kim Coles, as Sinclaire, and Erika Alexander as Maxine Shaw, these women had an impressive five season run and did a great job representing Black and Brown women everywhere along the way.
8. Sister, Sister (1994-1999)
A cutesy comedy starring real-life identical twin sisters, Tia and Tamara Mowry, who played the adopted twins of Ray Campbell, played by Tim Reid and Lisa Landry Sims, played by Jackée Harry, Sister, Sister was a fun sitcom that teens everywhere seemed to love. Although it certainly included heavier subject matter like most teen-centered sitcoms, this was a fairly light-hearted sitcom as compared to most. Like Moesha, this show included its fair share of music and celebrity guests, including the frequent appearance of their annoying neighbor, Roger, played by former teen heartthrob, Marques Houston. Lasting for six seasons, the show was very successful as viewers enjoyed the less stressful setting and storylines.
7. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
A show based on a troubled teen who was forced to move in with his auntie and uncle (and cousins) in Bel-Air, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marked Will Smith’s acting debut. A good-natured, light-hearted show, Smith more than proved himself as a capable actor in the six-season sitcom. Above all else, the basis of the show relied on the stark contrast between Smith’s upbringing the life in which the Banks’ have grown accustomed to. Also starring the late James Avery as Uncle Phil, among others, this show basically allowed Smith to be himself and steal the hearts of millions. Certainly no stranger to its serious moments, the most notorious episodes dealt with the subject of an absentee father, drugs, and a shooting. Nevertheless, the show maintained its comedic appeal and even created a couple of dance crazes (i.e. “The Carlton, performed by “Carlton” or Alphonso Ribeiro).
6. The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
Although the name alone has undoubtedly left a bad taste in many people’s mouths, The Cosby Show was definitely a massive and highly influential staple within black homes for quite a while. The first show of its kind, this upper-middle family consisted of a doctor (played by Bill Cosby), and lawyer (played by Phylicia Rashad) as well as their five children. A massive hit, this show was said to be the biggest show of the 80s and is credited with almost single-handedly reviving the state of sitcoms as well as NBC. Moreover, lasting an impressive eight seasons, this show remains one of the most positive Black sitcoms ever to grace the television screen.
5. Girlfriends (2000-2008)
Yet another show serving up Brown girl yumminess, Girlfriends was a CW exclusive that followed the lives of four vastly different women as they journey through love and their careers. Starring Joan Clayton, played by Traci Ellis Ross, as well as Golden Brooks, Persia White, and Jill Marie Jones, this show almost seems to pick up where Living Single left off. Focusing on new age women with modern issues, the drama on this show was not only comical but also unending. Be it career woes, relationship issues, racial issues, or anything else, there was almost always an issue brewing in this show that luckily turned out to be hilarious to watch. However, after eight seasons, yet another show was abruptly cancelled and in this case, was denied a proper finale.
4. The Game (2006-2015)
Speaking of picking up where we left off, The Game was literally a spin-off of Girlfriends. A show about Joan’s cousin, Melanie Barnett, played by Tia Mowry, and her relationship with her football player beau, Derwin Davis, played by Pooch Hall, the show gave a candid glimpse into the world of sports and especially the way in which wives and girlfriends fit into that world. Although it was a great show from the very beginning, issues with the lack of highly-rated shows on the network, coupled with the backlash from the sketchy ending of Girlfriends made viewers reluctant to watch. This led to the show being cancelled after three seasons in 2009. However, as luck would have it, the power of the internet stepped in. After being aired in syndication on BET, the fans of the show called for the show to return, which it did in 2011. Arguably never the same, the show still maintained much of the spunk and twisted humor that got fans hooked from the beginning. After a couple of character changes and an impressive six more seasons (nine seasons in total), the show ended for good in 2015…we think.
3. Black-ish (2014- Present)
Although the show has been around for only two seasons, the reception to this show thus far has been undeniable. Based on an upper-middle class African-American family in the present day, the show stars Tracee Ellis Ross as Dr. Rainbow Johnson, as well as Anthony Anderson as Andre Johnson. Incredibly novel and contemporary, the main attraction to this show is the fact that it often focuses on the struggles involved with raising a Black family in the suburbs, in a country that still has a host of racial tensions and issues. As comical as it can be controversial, the show takes on the matters of cultural assimilation, creating a sense of ethnic identity, and much more. Although the longevity of this show is unknown, it has already been renewed for its third season.
2. Family Matters (1989-1997)
A show that offered its fair share of both loving and highly annoying moments, Family Matters was a spin-off of the ABC favorite, Perfect Strangers. Based on a middle-class Black American family, the Winslows, the family was headed by a cop named Carl, played by Reginald VelJohnson. However, what makes this show so unique actually had nothing to do with the family itself. Rather, their nerdy and excessively awkward neighbor who was introduced halfway into the first season, Steve Urkel, played by Jaleel White, became the show’s main attraction. His screen time and antics elevated until he eventually became the main character. However, given that he was essentially fueled by his obsession with Carl’s daughter, Laura, played by Kellie Shanygne Williams, there was no way to ever forget about the Winslows completely. Lasting for a total of nine seasons, this show is second only to The Jeffersons in terms of the longest running Black sitcoms on television.
1. The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
A spin-off of the classic, highly controversial sitcom, All in the Family, The Jeffersons was broadcast on CBS for 11 seasons and a total of 253 episodes, making it one of the longest-running Black sitcoms in history. Based on an affluent African-American couple living in New York City, the characters George Jefferson, played by the late Sherman Hemsley and Louise “Weezy”, played by the late Isabel Sanford, became a beloved representation of Black love and longevity within the Black community, even after the show was abruptly (and arguably, improperly) cancelled in 1985. Highly politically charged at the beginning, although the show eventually mellowed out on its radicalism, it did cover heavy-hitting topics such as racism, suicide, alcoholism, interracial dating, gun control, adult illiteracy, and much more. Moreover, George and Weezy’s television legacy was kept intact with the help of other Black sitcoms such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Tyler Perry‘s House of Payne, as characters from the show also appeared on these sitcoms later in life.