Roc Everybody Hates Chris

5 Black Sitcoms to Fill the ‘Cosby’ Void

Jamilah Lemieux says it's a good time to consider a few other solid TV depictions of Black families

by Jamilah Lemieux, July 22, 2015

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Roc Everybody Hates Chris

(left) The cast of Roc, Tyler James Williams from Everybody Hates Chris

I was a Cosby Show Stan for most of my 31 years on this planet and until I was 16, I was under the impression that most Black folks felt the same way. Alas, an older guy from my neighborhood who I had an unrequited crush on explained to me that he didn’t relate to the Huxtable clan because his family “never had money like that.” We both lived in a mixed income, largely Black neighborhood that felt like a middle-class enclave in many ways, with nice restaurants and nicer architecture—but my family didn’t have any money either. And I mean that in the “no car, no vacations, no washing machine, no cable” sort of way, not the “I didn’t get every single thing I wanted” one. I was also the only child in a single parent home and though I had strong ties to both my father and older sisters, we never have lived under the same roof.

Yet, I never felt anything but a meaningful connection to Cliff, Clair and the kids. They listened to jazz like my family, they joked liked my family. I committed many of the same youthful transgressions played out by Rudy, Vanessa and Denise. It took years before I looked back and felt any need to interrogate the lack of conversation about race and racism, and even with the more informed lens through which I see the show, I still appreciate so much of what I got from it at the time.

Alas, as the past year has finally forced to the surface horrible testimony from Bill Cosby regarding how he has treated women, and accusations of even greater misdeeds, the fate of the show’s legacy is in question and my personal ability to watch it has left the building.

Part of the reason that the Cosby allegations have been so hard to swallow, the actor’s reputation as a “moralizer” aside, is that they force us to part ways with something that was dear to many of us during our youth. Rape, of course, is more important than jokes, more important than philanthropy and certainly more important than a great TV show. The loss of The Cosby Show is a great one, but does not compare to the lives that may have been damaged by this individual’s actions, and any of us who spend a great deal of time lamenting a sitcom should be reminded of that.

I buried the leade here, but I needed to share these thoughts, ‘k? I'm pretty sure that all of Black America needs therapy behind this Cosby stuff (amongst, you know, everything else.) That said, I would like to remind you about a few great Black sitcoms that can help folks cope with missing Cosby reruns. Hopefully, one of the networks that dropped the Huxtables will consider putting another smiling Black family (or two, or three) on in their place if they haven’t already

Roc (1991-1993): Roc might be the most criminally underrated Black TV show of our time. Everything about it was top notch: the caliber of the actors, most of them from the theatre, the quality of the writing, the timeliness of the storylines—they shot the show LIVE for an entire season, for Godsake. And does anyone else recall the episode when Eleanor (Ella Joyce) is reading Waiting to Exhale, and gets to the part when Bernadette torches her husband’s belongings, and you know she’s reading that part without saying anything other than “Oh, no she didn’t…oh, yes she DID!” This was one of the greatest Black moments in television. I’m not sure if it was the age of Roc and his wife, or the fact that they were a working-class household, or the absence of children on the series until season 3, but we have not given the show it’s due for it’s adept portrayal of a Black multigenerational household. And it’s time that we did. Also, first gay wedding on TV? Roc did that in its first season—6 years before Ellen DeGeneres’ big coming out extravaganza.

The Bernie Mac Show (2001-2006) and Everybody Hates Chris (2005-2009): Bill Cosby was always so heavy handed in his critique of Black comics who use profanity and tell raunchy jokes, so I found it ironic that  sitcoms that stood so squarely and perfectly on the shoulders of The Cosby Show came from two of them. Rock’s series based on his childhood in a working class household in Brooklyn featured a smaller family with just as much heart as the Huxtables, but with the comedian’s signature sardonic wit and willingness to engage heavy topics through parody. The late great Bernie Mac also drew from his own experiences, depicting the relationship between himself, his wife and the children he took in from his drug-addicted sister. Both shows took on topics that were oft-ignored on Cosby (financial challenges, racism, the crack epidemic), while still featuring parents who were madly in love with one another and talented child actors who often stole the show. The Bernie Mac Show currently airs on Bounce TV; Everybody Hates Chris airs on MTV2 and may be available on a variety of streaming networks.

The Parent ‘Hood (1995-1999): Robert Townsend’s sitcom about a Harlem-based upper middle class family had shades of Cosby, but took a more direct approach to social issues of the day. Also unique were the fantasy sequences that harkened back to the actor/filmmaker’s corny-classic, Meteor Man. Like many shows before it (Good Times, Roc, Family Matters and yes, The Cosby Show), The Parent ‘Hood used troubled children from outside the immediate family to take on weighty storylines. The series went through a few casting changes and even a yearlong lapse in airing before its final season, but found new life via Bounce TV in January, 8 years after it was last seen in syndication. The rise of Regan Gomez-Preston, who portrayed teen daughter Zaria, as one of the sharpest, warmest and all-around dopest voices on “Black Twitter” should be reason enough to give the show another look.

Moesha (1996-2001): I will admit that I didn’t watch the UPN show much during it’s original run for very petty reasons: I couldn’t get past Frank Mitchell’s old Whispers haircut, and Mo’s friend Kim got on my LAST possible nerve. However, in retrospect (and syndication), I came to appreciate how important it was to have that show developed for Brandy and for Black girls with Black names to see ourselves on TV. The cameos from hip-hop and R&B stars were legendary as well: Silk, 112, A Tribe Called Quest, Chico DeBarge, Johnny Gill, Lil’ Kim and dozens more. 1990s nostalgia alone is reason enough to give “Mo to the, e to the” another glance. Moesha currently airs once a week at 1am on UpTV and has been in syndication via BET and Centric in the recent past.

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