*There was something special about TV in the 90s. Thanks to the popularity of The Cosby Show in the 80s, America got comfortable with the idea of seeing Black folks on the regular every week on their TV.
Black folks got to be in TV shows that were based around them living in contemporary settings, a sea-change from the slavery stereotype, even if that meant showing an unrealistic cookie-cutter representation drenched in respectability politics.
However, that led to more interesting representations of black folks on TV in the 90s; singles living it up, adventurous sassy siblings, city boy moving in with his rich uncle’s family, a couple that’s down with it raising kids.
Black folks weren’t just making funny black shows; they were making funny shows, period. That’s no surprise – humor is rooted in our ability to survive. Our comedies even kept it real with very special episodes on real issues faced by black folks. The shows may have been from the 90s but they’re fresh and hip even today.
Add these 4 shows to your watch queue and revisit that magical time.
1. Living Single
If you were told to name the original sitcom about singles living in New York, you best not answer “Friends”. “Living Single,” which started a year before “Friends”, was a Fox sitcom about four women and two men going through love and life in Brooklyn.
Queen Latifah, in one of her earliest roles, starred as Khadijah James, editor and publisher of an urban magazine called Flavor who lived life loud with her cousin Synclaire, friend-from-college Maxine and friend-from-childhood Regine. Adding to the mix are boys next door Kyle and Obie. Catching-up on the show is really simple; the entire series is streaming on Hulu. It can be a good palette cleanser after an episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Catch-up now so you can compare it with the reboot Queen Latifah has been working on.
The most successful among Fox’s sitcoms in the 90s was Martin, about a boisterous radio jockey working for station WZUP, who learns life lessons the hard way. On his side is his girlfriend Gina who is the brains in the relationship, offering him counsel and a sparring partner. Rounding out the colorful cast are their friends Tommy, Cole and Pam.
The simple setup is elevated by eccentric and memorable characters like Hustle Man, Bruh-Man, Ms. Geri and radio engineer Shawn. At the peak of its popularity, it gave NBC’s Seinfeld a tough time in ratings. If you know about the Sheneneh jokes but don’t know where they come from, you need to watch this ASAP.
UPN was a lost network till it found Moesha. Starring RnB queen Brandy, the show centered around the titular teen navigating through life with her car salesman dad, her younger brother Myles and her step mom Dee who also happens to be her school’s vice principal. Moesha represented a headstrong young Black woman living a middle-class life in South Central L.A.
Because Brandy was a huge deal at the time, the show is chock full of cameos from athletes and rappers like Kobe Bryant and DMX. The show was also notable for going off in a serious tangent discussing issues like drug use, teen pregnancy, grieving the death of a spouse and infidelity. Watch this show for some snappy dialogue with bits of touching drama. As a bonus, you’ll get to catch young Usher and Ray J in one of their early showbiz gigs.
4. Sister, Sister
A sitcom spin on The Parent Trap formula, the show was the launch-pad for the Tia and Tamera Mowry, giving the Olson twins a run for their money. Finding each other later in life, the twins (using their real first names) got into shenanigans and complications that come with having two different set of parents raising each child.
Plenty of laughs are to be had with Lisa Sims, Tia’s fashion designer mother and Ray, Tamera’s limo service owner dad. You’ll be in stitches each time the annoying boy next door Roger hits on the girls. It’s a light-hearted throwback to the 90s that has plenty of GIF-able moments. A revival of the show is in the works, so catch-up on the classic now.