Retrospective: A Different World

By @TrueGodImmortal and @_Oh_Bee 

The Cosby Show was an American classic. As a TV show, it might be the most influential show of all time. Bill Cosby opened up a new world for black television programming by featuring himself as a successful doctor with a large house and an immensely successful and wonderful family. It gave Cosby the title of "America's Dad" instantly. With his title certified as America's Dad now, Cosby had an idea in mind to create a television show that could be just as groundbreaking as his Cosby Show. With previous black sitcoms showing the black struggle like "Good Times", a white savior like on "Different Strokes", or even the family on the come up in "The Jeffersons", Cosby would set out to create something special with his Black College centered sitcom "A Different World". Initially, there was a bit of a odd direction to the show, as it seemed Lisa Bonet, who played Denise, Cosby's daughter on the Cosby Show, would be the main character along with the Italian beauty Marisa Tomei as her best friend. The first season was a bit odd honestly, as it attempted to bridge a gap between the white and black college experiences to very mixed results. The show initially started out as an idea to feature a white student with Lena Horne as a teacher, but thankfully that idea was nixed and we got this instead.

To me, a small misstep of the show to me came from them firing Marisa and not letting Lisa Bonet back on the show after season 1. Bonet had got pregnant and announced to everyone that she was pregnant. While the new writer for the show, Debbie Allen,  liked the idea of a pregnant college student on the show, Cosby was not having it. I think a show with a pregnant black college student would have been great, but Cosby thought otherwise, which is not shocking. He made changes and things went in a totally different direction, but one that worked out in the end. In season 2, we saw the focus go more to of Dwayne Wayne and Whitley Gilbert, the characters played by Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy. Throw in bigger roles for Sinbad and Darryl M. Bell, as well as a focus on Cree Summer going forward and Charnele Brown also, now the show was truly set. Today, we reflect on the legacy of this legendary sitcom.

A Different World was one of the main shows I watched growing up. Not only because it stemmed from The Cosby Show, but because it gave me something to look forward to.

I wasn't necessarily a fan of the first season when I was younger. But the older I got, I learned to appreciate the foundation it laid. Audiences were able to see young adults pursuing an education. It planted a seed in most of this generation's mind to chase that same dream.

I can remember wanting to be pretty like Whitley and smart like Kim and free like Freddie and responsible like JaLeesa. I not only wanted to go to college like these people. I aimed to have the same experience at a Historically Black College or University. Because of this show's influence, for the most part, I was able to make that happen.

Not only did we see young adults prospering scholastically, but we saw them conquer race issues, health problems, love, and life in general. Dwayne interrupting Whitley's wedding is forever engraved in my mind. They became family and I was inspired by what I saw. We saw them being friends and enjoying one another. That's an extremely important factor in life.

We grew up with them. We were able to relate to them and admire them.  There will never be a show like A Different World again...and I'm okay with that.

I feel like A Different World is one of the greatest black sitcoms in history. As a youth, I would watch this show and try to keep up with it regularly. I remember sitting in the living room with my mom watching the episode that touched on the LA Riots and featured Dwayne Wayne and Whitley involved in it, after they got married. I remember thinking that it was crazy to see that played out via a television show. When I started to revisit and rewatch the show on Netflix back in March when they added it, every episode was familiar just off description. There was the episode where Taimak, better known to many as Bruce Leroy from the Last Dragon, attempted to rape Freddie I believe in his car until Dwayne came to save her. That was a truly hard hitting episode. There were so many episodes that tested the limits of television and I always respected Debbie Allen for going there, and had some respect for Cosby for allowing it.

I think the show was truly one a kind and there aren't many shows that hold up to it in terms of addressing social issues that affected minorities. While some of the perspective may have come from a slightly warped place, the issues being addressed were a welcome departure from the standard of black sitcoms at the time and a bit less stereotypical than say a "227" or "Amen". The episode where they had to discuss the "mammy image" and the toll it mentally takes on blacks was without a doubt a crazy episode, and one that I would have never expected to get addressed on a huge sitcom. In the early 90s, there was a growing consciousness amongst viewers and people in general, so when they did an episode on racism, it captivated the audience. The concept of white students writing the N-Word on Dwayne and Ron's car was definitely a hard subject to tackle and while I didn't agree with the full stance the episode took, I respect the direction and the tough execution of such an episode.

There was an episode early on in the sitcom around the 2nd season I believe, when Dwayne runs a radio station on campus and ends up getting his show taken off the air because he played a song with some vulgar lyrics. Now, this is an episode that sparked something for me, as I was displeased with the direction of the actual episode and how it all played out. I think Dwayne being forced to see he was wrong for playing a song in a world where free speech was advocated was just an indicator that Cosby was still the man behind the show and his attempt to look down at things that weren't so squeaky clean shined through a bit here, with Allen obviously assisting. The show in its early seasons seemed to teeter the line between reality and idealistic perspectives from older minds versus listening to the youth for the most part. While this episode wasn't necessarily one of my favorites, one that I did think was done properly was the domestic violence episode where Gina is abused by her boyfriend Dion and ends up having to wake up and get rid of him and press charges. It's an episode that truly needed to be discussed as domestic violence is such a huge problem, even still today.

I think another component of the show that people loved to see was the display of black love and the complexity of the relationship between Dwayne and Whitley. We saw Dwayne and Whitley both date others when it was obvious that they should just be together. No scene is more iconic in the series than when Whitley is about to get married and Dwayne shows up to get her back. It is one of the greatest scenes of the series for sure and one that shows what someone would be willing to do for love, especially for the one they want to be with for the rest of their lives.

The one episode that got everyone talking was near the end of the 4th season I believe, when Tisha Campbell was a guest star and her character revealed she had AIDS. This was in response to the growing epidemic and provided a look into how someone may contract the disease, as well as features a lesson in not treating someone different if they do contract it. It's a powerful episode and one that also expresses the grim reality for those who carry it. With episodes like this, as well as the one with 2Pac, one of my personal favorites, this show was like food for thought in many ways and bridged the gap between all audiences with a platform to discuss these heavy topics.

Will we ever see a show like this in current time? As sad as it is, a show like this would likely not captivate audiences as much due to lack of true drama and nonsense. Where the shows today have stereotypical drama and overblown stories, nothing of any social awareness is displayed in a majority of the black shows today. There is maybe one or two that make an attempt, but the execution is nowhere near what A Different World brought forth. This show is truly a classic and one of the best sitcoms. While it wasn't as monumental as The Cosby Show, on a personal level I enjoy it more than the Cosby Show for the edginess and the risks it took.

Not familiar with the show? Go to  Netflix, pull it up and watch. Enjoy. Have comments? Post them below.



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