Just when we thought the era of randomly catching syndicated re-runs of our favorite classic Black series such as Girlfriends, Moesha, and The Game on cable was sleeping and steadily on its way out, Netflix has announced a spectacular update for proponents of this golden era in Black television.
In what feels like impeccable timing, @StrongBlackLead has released on their Twitter account that between August 1 and October 15, the following textbook Black sitcoms will be added to their catalog: Moesha (Aug. 1), The Game: Seasons 1-3 (Aug. 15), Sister, Sister (Sept.1), Girlfriends (Sept. 11), The Parkers (Oct. 1), Half & Half (Oct. 15), One on One (Oct. 15). Between the late 90s and the early-mid 00s, these are shows that have defined their respective decades and have only bolstered in shimmer and cultural merit since they’ve been off the air. Each sitcom in this line-up can be considered major pillars in Black representation as they have all played an instrumental role in providing humane, realistic depictions of Black life and experience on a mainstream scale during the mid-late 90s to the mid-late 00s. For Black Millennials and Generation Z, this line-up seems like a much-needed breath of nostalgia. This actually might be a delightful relic of simpler times. For those who have never watched these programs, this collective of releases will usher in a brand new wave of fans who were probably just being born or simply not privy of their existence when they first hit the cable box. While this reboot is exciting and can be considered a major win for Netflix and fans all across the world, the elephant in the room is that most of these shows haven’t been syndicated nor available on streaming platforms for years. While this isn’t the worst thing in the world, it holds utility to have a brief, yet solid refresher on the major components of what makes each of these shows remarkable in their own right. And for those of you who may not be familiar, this will be a brief synopsis to gain pick up on some key insights before you dive in. Below will expound on some fundamental info to jog your memory or get you caught up to speed with such an epic time in Black television.
Creator/s: Ralph Farquhar, Sara V. Finney, Vida Spears
Amount of Seasons: Six (1996-2001)
Main Characters: Moesha Mitchell (Brandy Norwood), Hakeem (Lamont Bentley), Frank Mitchell (William Allen Young), Dee Mitchell (Sheryl Lee Ralph), Myles Mitchell (Marcus T. Paulk) Kimberly Ann Parker (Countess Vaughn), Quinton Brooks (Fredro Starr), Niecy Jackson (Shar Jackson), Dorian Long (Ray J)
Recap: Set in the real, predominantly Black neighborhood of Leimert Park, Los Angeles during the mid-late 90s, Moesha observes the life of Moesha Mitchell and her middle-class family and friends, primarily through the scope of Moesha’s perspective as she evolves into an adult. Her father Frank, is a widower and car salesman who winds up getting married to Dee, Moesha’s stepmom. Begrudgingly, Moesha accepts her newfound reality but has difficulty coming to terms with it. Her closest friends are Hakeem, Kim, and Niecy. Throughout the series, she often finds herself puzzled by dilemmas that tend to arise growing up as a Black woman in America. A great deal of the show revolves around Moesha and her experience coming-of-age as she blossoms from a young, naïve teenage girl to a mature, well-informed young adult. As for the tone of this show, it can be classified as a hybrid of comedy mixed with sprinkles of mild to intense drama. Now and then, this series embraces an earnest and educational mood as the showrunners underscore teen-oriented social issues such as infidelity, the death of a parent, racial discrimination, drug use, and teenage pregnancy. For a show revolved around the life of a teenager, its subject matter is very mature at times. However, that was the beauty of this show: its candor. It wasn’t reluctant about “going there” and strived to ensure its viewers learned new virtues out of it. Also, this recap would be distasteful without highlighting the stylish “lewks” featured on this show. Everyone was drenched in 90s streetwear chic or “drip” as we say today. Without having to invest much judgment, the looks on this show were colorful, on-point, aptly emblematic of the times and many of these fashion trends have regained prominence since its original airing, which speaks tremendous volumes. Its representation of Black family life was down-to-earth, shrewd, and above all else, realistic. Similar to shows like the Fresh Prince and The Proud Family, Moesha’s depiction of family life wasn’t always perfect but it always remained positive, which was the most crucial facet. Despite being completely fictional, the writers of Moesha always kept it real and it’ll be exciting from some to rehash these moments while others will be introduced to such a gem for the first time.
The Game (Aug.15)
Creator/s: Mara Brock Akil
Amount of Seasons: Nine (2006-2015)
Main Characters: Melanie Barnett (Tia Mowry-Hardrict), Derwin Davis (Pooch Hall), Tasha Mack (Wendy Raquel Robinson), Kelly Pitts (Brittany Daniel), Malik Wright (Hosea Sanchez), Jason Pitts (Coby Bell), Chardonnay Pitts (Brandy Norwood), Keira Michelle Whitaker (Lauren London), Bryce Westbrook (Jay Ellis)
Recap: In what has been hailed as the spin-off series to Girlfriends, The Game continues its predecessor’s trend of delivering grown, sexy, and racy comedic-dramatic content while spearheading a new juncture among the umbrella of Black sitcoms. Born out of the tentative idea of a show premised around a young woman who has decided to place her life plans on hold to honor the rising superstardom of her athlete boyfriend, the mere concept of this show is refreshing and one that had yet to be tackled under the realm of Black television, let alone, cable television. The Game primarily focuses on the life of Melanie Barnett, a first-year medical student who was accepted to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore but subsequently chose to decline her admission and attend a lesser-known medical school to move to San Diego, California to support her boyfriend Derwin Davis. Coming straight out of the NFL draft, Davis is a rookie for a fictional NFL football team called the San Diego Sabers. While getting acclimated with her newfound reality, she meets Tasha Mack, the mother of starting Quarterback Malik Wright and Kelly Pitts, the wife of Sabers’ captain Jason Pitts. As they all meet, Melanie is cautioned to beware of “golddiggers” who may try to derail her relationship with her rising star partner. Prior to its recent coinage, if the term “messy af” were applied to any Black sitcom, it would have to be this one right here. There’s a solid blend of comedy and scandal that blend so well on this series and the cast is comprised of an all-star unit of sitcom veterans and then promising new aged actors. This recipe proved to be quite a success as the show was able to run for nine complete seasons. Overall, it’s a pretty solid show with lots of awe-inspiring twists and turns that keep you wanting more for most of its seasons. For what it lacks in far-off nostalgia, it makes up for in very entertaining television.
Sister Sister (Sept.1)
Creator/s: Kim Bass, Gary Gilbert, Fred Shafferman
Amount of Seasons: Six (1994-1999)
Main Characters: Tia Andrea Landry (Tia Mowry), Tamera Ann Campbell (Tamera Mowry), Lisa Landy Sims (Jackée Harry), Raymond “Ray” Campbell (Tim Reid), Roger Evans (Marques Houston)
Recap: Out of all the Black sitcoms to grace this list, Sister Sister is, by far, the most classic out of the bunch. Existing in the 90s for the totality of its run, this show is immersed in a nostalgic glare. I mean how can you even reminisce about 90s sitcoms without glossing over the phrase “Go Home, Roger” at least once. It doesn’t get much more classic than that. Set in unknown suburbia, the show’s premise follows the unlikely reunion of identical twins who were separated at birth due to adoption, Tia Landry and Tamera Campbell. After spending 14 years of their lives apart with their respective adoptive parents (Ray is Tamera’s dad and Lisa is Tia’s mom), they end up running into each other randomly in a mall. From then on, the parents decide that it would be advantageous for the girls to live together, so they all decide to live together in Ray’s home for six years. This sitcom can be considered a comedy with snippets of cautionary tales that tend to arise. In retrospect, this show was immensely creative in terms of its concept and the girls’ tendency to “break the fourth wall” by directly speaking to the audience. Also, the number of cameos on this show are endless. Kobe Bryant, Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Mary Kate & Ashley. The list goes on. Moreover, this show was very one-in-a generation and probably will never be done in the same manner that Tia and Tamera were able to execute on it. Sister Sister has cemented itself as a major staple in the sphere of Black 90s sitcoms and it had a solid run. It’ll be great for the teens of today to have access to it after years of being off syndication.
Creator/s: Mara Brock Akil
Amount of Seasons: Eight (2000-2008)
Main Characters: Joan Clayton, Esq. (Tracee Ellis Ross), Maya Wilkes (Golden Brooks), Lynn Searcy (Persia White), Antoinette “Toni” Childs-Garrett (Jill Marie Jones), William Dent, Esq. (Reggie Hayes), Monica Brooks-Dent (Keesha Sharp), Darnell Leroy Wilkes (Khalil Kain)
Recap: For those who have been fortunate enough to be savvy to this hit series, “My girllllllfrienddddddddd” is a chorus that has been stored in your subconscious mind since its inception. Created by the now-legendary screenwriter and television producer Mara Brock Akil, this series observes the friendship and respective life experiences of four Black women: Joan, Maya, Toni, and Lynn. Originally from Fresno, California, Joan is an attorney and largely considered to be the levelheaded, prudent member of the group. Maya, who starts as Joan’s assistant but then becomes a housewife and author, is from Compton, California, and the sassiest of the group. Toni is the self-righteous member of the group, who works as a real estate agent. Out of the group, she self-proclaims the role of being the most attractive. Last but not least is Lynn. Out of the group, she is by far the most bohemian and free-spirited of the tribe. She went to College with Joan and Toni but doesn’t have a primary career. If it isn’t crystal clear yet, these four women make up the classic ensemble that is “girlfriends.” Among all of its many attributes to be appreciated, it is most notable for how ahead of its time it was as a show. It was a show premised on the lives of four distinct, liberated, independent Black women and their interpersonal development throughout eight seasons. Aside from “Living Single,” there haven’t been any other Black sitcoms to emerge with this idea at all, let alone, execute it with as much tact and accuracy as Girlfriends. This show was groundbreaking and in the year 2020, its legacy precedes itself. Because it’s such a cult classic, it’ll be enticing to see how it has aged after being off-air for over a decade now.
The Parkers (Oct.1)
Creator/s: Ralph Farquhar, Sara V. Finney, Vida Spears
Amount of Seasons: Five (1999-2004)
Main Characters: Kimberly “Kim” Parker (Countess Vaughn), Nicole Ann “Nikki” Parker (Mo’Nique), Stevie Van Lowe (Jenna Von Oÿ), Andell Wilkerson (Yvette Wilson), Thaddeus “T” Radcliffe (Ken Lawson), Professor Stanley Oglevee (Dorien Wilson)
Recap: Launched as the spin-off series from the 90s mega-popular series Moesha, The Parkers focuses on the life of Moesha’s eccentric, yet lovable best friend Kim Parker and her mother Nikki Parker. When Nikki was young, she had aspirations of attending college. Moreover, when Kim was born, those plans were thwarted, having to be placed on hold. 18 years later, Kim decides to attend Santa Monica College for undergrad. In lieu of sending Kim on her merry way, Nikki decides to join her to pursue the education she missed out on. Nikki is amicable, outspoken, and very true to herself. Throughout the series, she maintains a fervent admiration for Professor Stanley Oglevee, who tends to blatantly deny her frequent advances (this is a running motif through the series). Among other things, Nikki’s antics pertaining to her obsession with Professor Oglevee is absurd but hilarious and one of the most memorable parts of the show. Similar to other series on this list, the idea of this show was brand new, creative, and super distinct. Even in the year 2020, there hasn’t been a show like it since its original airing. For popular comedian Mo’Nique, this series was the launching pad that shot her career into superstardom. All in all, The Parkers is another cult classic in the sphere of Black sitcoms, and thanks to Netflix, its legacy will persist and reach a much wider audience.
Half & Half (Oct.15)
Creator/s: Jeffrey Klarik
Amount of Seasons: Four (2002-2006)
Main Characters: Monique “Mona” Rose Thorne (Rachel True), Deidre “Dee Dee” Thorne, Esq. (Essence Atkins), Phyllis Thorne (Telma Hopkins), Deidre “Big Dee Dee” LaFontaine Thomas (Valarie Pettiford), Spencer Williams (Chico Benymon), Adam Benet (Alec Mapa)
Recap: Out of this collective slate, this series was the shortest-lived but its plot was worthwhile and arguably, deserved a longer run. Based on the lives of two half-sisters who grew up separate from their shared parent, this show observes their long due reunion and their journey to develop a stronger rapport after many years. Mona, who is the elder of the two, is the level headed of the two. “Dee Dee” is a lawyer, who can be perceived as the more upscale, fashionable and spoiled of the two sisters. This may be due in part to the fact that she is the younger sister. From childhood, their relationship has suffered from a long-standing chasm. However, in this series, their relationship transforms from earnest adversaries to loyal sisters with a true bond. At this particular juncture, I doubt that this show will return for a potential spin-off but its release on Netflix will yield exposure that this show never really received but truly deserved.
One On One (Oct.15)
Creator/s: Eunetta T. Boone
Amount of Seasons: Five (2001-2006)
Main Characters: Flexter “Flex” Washington (Flex Alexander), Breanna Latrice Barnes (Kyla Pratt), Arnaz Leroy Ballard (Robert Ri’chard), Cloteal “Spirit” Freedom Jones (Sicily), Duane Odell Knox (Kelly Perine)
Recap: Based on the lives of Flex Washington (Flex Alexander) and his teenage daughter Breanna Barnes (Kyla Pratt), this show explores Barnes’ coming-of-age journey and her experience getting acclimated to living with her father in Baltimore, Maryland after her mom decides to take a job in Nova Scotia to further her career. Throughout this show, Breanna is confronted by a wide range of hardships that accompany growing up as a young woman which consists of dating, getting along with her father, and making the most of her time in school and self-discovery. Although spurts of drama were present from time to time, this sitcom prioritizes comedy, first and foremost. Also, the tone of this series harbors a very feel-good vibe to it. Its spirit continues to live. In hindsight, this was one of the premier Black sitcoms on cable television at the time. Until this day, it still feels like this series hasn’t fully received the flowers it deserves. With its reemergence, its greatness is bound to resonate.
After years of being off-air, the importance and cultural pertinence of these shows have become evident. For an entire generation of television watchers, these archetypes and images were a pivotal vessel towards understanding the complex realities of contemporary Black life in America. The depth and quality of Black representation were beyond stellar across this fleet of Black sitcoms. Across the board, the different depictions of Blackness throughout these shows (in all its nuance and complexity) are immersed in absolute care and executed with magnificent tact. With the assistance of Netflix and #strongblacklead, millions of avid fans will be able to rehash some of their fondest moments of Black television, as well as, across the overarching canon of American television. For those who have never watched these shows, it’ll be a breath of much-needed fresh air. Nonetheless, this reboot of Black sitcoms is a massive win for not only Netflix but for the culture at large. #happywatching