True's Top Five: Black Sitcoms of All-Time

By True (@TrueGodImmortal)

They say that television no longer impacts our society and culture. I'm not so sure that's true, but the argument can be made. However, over the years, black sitcoms have etched a place in our lexicons, our minds, our hearts, and even everyday life to an extent.

From the debut of Julia onward, black sitcoms have managed to permeate pop culture, while addressing issues we face as a people, a family, and in general with laughter. I wanted to narrow it down to the top 5, but before I do, I definitely have to look at a few honorable mentions that were powerful as well. There were so many choices and while I have a ton of black sitcoms that I enjoy, it's impossible to put them all on the list. A few that just missed both cuts (What's Happening, The Jeffersons, Moesha, Living Single, Roc, etc.) were definitely great, but just fell short on my criteria. If you don't agree with my choices, that's fine, of course. This is all opinion-based, but I attempted to take in consideration the impact, comedy, quality, and importance of each show that I put on this list. Also, to make a note, shows like In Living Color and Chappelle's Show don't make the list because they were sketch comedy shows. And now, the honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Sanford and Son

I couldn't make this list without including this show. Out of all those 1970 black sitcoms, this was my personal favorite. Redd Foxx, with his timing, facial expressions and calls to Elizabeth, carried this show on his back and made it look too easy.

Everybody Hates Chris

Set in early '80s Brooklyn, detailing the story of a young Chris Rock's life, this show was beyond genius and doesn't seem to get the credit it really deserves. The comedic timing, the concept, and the creativity was what made this show one if the best.

The Steve Harvey Show

I know what you're thinking. Really? Yes, really. Aside from having some of the best original music via black sitcom ("Funk Hits The Fan" will have the feet tapping), this show was hilarious and launched careers to a new level. Steve Harvey and Cedric The Entertainer were known for their stand up comedy through Def Comedy Jam. But this show catapulted them to a much higher level. With Steve playing a former musician turned high school teacher, the hilarity ensued every episode. Also, his off and on romance with Regina, the school principal kept you waiting for the big payoff, which took some seasons to finally happen. The show holds up well even nearly 20 years later, which many sitcoms have the trouble of doing.

A Different World

It was tough to NOT put this one in the top 5. One of my personal favorites, set at the fictitious Hillman College (inspired by the real life Morehouse and Spelman Colleges), was a ground breaking sitcom in what it accomplished. An all-black cast, set in an all-black college, taking over television during prime time hours in the '80s (and into the early '90s). Originally a Lisa Bonet-driven project, it soon switched to primarily focus on Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison's characters, which gave the show a great long term story.


5. The Boondocks

I struggled with whether or not this was an actual sitcom. After recognizing it as such, it easily worked its way into the top 5. Aaron McGruder created a show that not only dealt with the topics affecting Black America at that present time, but also foresaw some of the changes and issues we see currently. With a plethora of quotable moments, heavy substance, and a stroke of slight ignorance, The Boondocks flourished through their first three epic seasons.

Since McGruder's departure from the show, things've felt a bit different, but there is nothing that can deny the ultimate greatness of this show. The show has been rumored to be etched in stone through a possible feature film, but since the show's conclusion in 2014, that seems unlikely. The legacy, however, will not die. Word to Riley and Huey.

4. Good Times

I personally was never a big fan of this show. I watched from time to time while I was younger when the reruns would come on, but I can't say it's my personal favorite. So, why is it on my top 5 list? Impact. Importance. The show, set in the old Cabrini-Green projects of Chicago, attempted to bring the viewer closer to the harsh realities of the neighborhood we grew up in, along with our means for survival. From James, the hardworking father, who eventually met an untimely death on the show(and is the best father of any black sitcom), to J.J., the outlandish son, this show is filled with iconic moments and characters. Bookman, Thelma, Florida, etc, the show lives on in infamy. From "Dyn-O-Mite," to " Damn, Damn, Damn," seen above, the quotes from this show are forever remembered and while it didn't serve as a huge launching pad for careers, Janet Jackson's role as Penny remains one of her most prominent accomplishments.

3. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

The final 3 should be obvious I'd expect. The order of where to place them was a bit challenging. Any order you decide wouldn't be wrong, but this is how I saw it. Fresh Prince is a legendary show with so many iconic moments and episodes that a great case could be made for it to be number one. The show, which started as Will Smith's popularity in music reached its high point, gave a fresh perspective from the older black sitcoms. How? The series ' basic premise invloved taking a young Philly kid and having him live with his rich relatives in Bel-Air (Ed. Note: It was like Diff'rent Strokes, but without the hokey idea of the White Savior).

Through the seasons, we saw Will and his dating struggles, Carlton and his quest for acceptance, Hilary float by in her own world and an infamous actress switch on a lead character (hated the lightskin Aunt Vivian). One of the most riveting episodes in TV history came when Will's father returns to his life (and left just as quickly), prompting Will to break and ask Uncle Phil, "why he don't want me, man?" Moments like that, along with other gripping episodes and Will's comedic timing that easily places The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on the top 5 black sitcoms list.

2. The Cosby Show

I must admit, this show personally was also never one of my favorites. I was never a huge fan, and I admittedly like A Different World more than this one. However, there is no other show that could accomplished what The Cosby Show did. Ratings wise, The Cosby Show smashed all competition and set themselves apart from previous black sitcoms by making white people FEEL like they had a window view into our lives as black families.

The main characters, Heathcliff and Claire Huxtable, were a strong black successful couple that managed to raise a big family while maintaining very important careers. This was a far departure from the Good Times/Jeffersons days where the success of the black family was no longer ridiculed on television, it was seemingly respected. The life lessons taught to their children resonated through the screen, so much so that Bill Cosby would be known for years as "America's dad". He crossed barriers with his character and this show. 

The Cosby Show would eventually have its own successful spin-off (the aforementioned A Different World) and be a launching pad for some careers as well. What Bill accomplished with this show and these characters should never be taken lightly. A great case can be made for this show to be no. 1 easily and if you'd put it at no. 1, I would certainly understand. The Cosby Show is an iconic piece of Americana TV. (Ed. Note: Plus, because of Cosby, everyone and their mother uses Olivia Reaction Gifs, as seen below)

Sometimes, a young Raven-Symone expresses all the "WTF" you need.

1. Martin

I doubt you're surprised. In television, there are very few shows that truly stand the test of time and never get old. Martin is the ultimate. The show didn't cross the barriers that The Cosby Show did, and didn't give you the perspective and emotional complexities of a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and therein lies the beauty of Martin.

It didn't have to.

The show was entertainment at its finest, never attempting to cross over heavily into political messages, racism, or class wars, instead it gave you laugh after laugh after laugh, which is what a sitcom is for. Martin felt like a show for the everyday black man and woman, and in essence, that's exactly what it was. Watching Martin struggle with his job at WZUP, try to balance his career with his relationship with Gina while maintaining a friendship with his childhood friends Cole and Tommy, was beyond relatable. And real. His disdain for Pam, Gina's best friend, was even realer. Plenty of men in relationships probably can't stand their girl's best friend, and Martin was quick to let it be known.

Every character on the show, even the less important ones, had quotable moments and relevance. From Otis to Jerome to Bruhman to Hustleman, etc, every character had a role and was beyond memorable. Martin reruns, even 23 years later, still draw high ratings when shown and never seem to get old. From the Varnell Hill saga to Martin's momma's biscuits, there is no show that can match up to this one, quality wise.

The list of notable episodes are endless and the show only experienced a drop in quality during its final season when Tisha Campbell missed half of the season due to personal issues with Martin Lawrence. That absence forced the writers to scramble and make new ideas, which mostly fell flat (but, it can be argued that almost every show declines in quality as it nears the end). Even that doesn't deter much from the show's overall legacy. At the end of the day, Martin is the number one black sitcom of all time. And in my opinion, there is a huge argument that it could be the greatest SHOW of all time, period (it's number one on mine).

Well, there you have it, folks. As mentioned earlier, I left off a few that I personally love (Jamie Foxx Show, Bernie Mac Show, Wayans Brothers Show, etc) but the fact remains that there are countless classic black sitcoms. If you agree or disagree, that's perfectly fine. It's all opinion based as is, so I look forward to seeing or hearing your reactions and comments. Let the debates begin.


Popular Posts