Say what you will about Black sitcoms from back in the day, they definitely had their highlight-reel moments. Nowadays, it’s hard to deny just how terrible and limited with imagination Black sitcoms have become. Truly. With the funny on mute, and creativity brought to a standstill, today’s Black sitcoms seem like they’re in a perpetual state of confusion. While syndicated reruns of A Different World and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air continue to make an impression on millions of African-Americans who love television, let’s face it: there’s nothing funny about watching today’s crappy Black TV.
With that in mind, we wanted to list 10 of the worst Black TV shows of all time and examine the most unimaginative sitcoms ever to grace the small screen, in no particular order:
1. Method & Red
Bill O’Reilly must’ve been a good boy on Santa’s list when FOX decided to air this program to the masses. The show found hip-hop legends Method Man and Redman, fresh off their 2001 big-screen adventure How High, portraying two fictionalized versions of themselves who move to a predominately upper-class suburb in New Jersey. The rap duo might want to disown their association with the project forevermore; the show managed to reduce two of the dopest MCs into playing nouveau riche simpletons in this monstrosity.
Spanning 66 episodes just may have been the dark omen that hipped audiences to realizing that UPN doesn’t really care about Black people. The series followed rapper Eve as she played a woman looking for 21st century love while juggling a career. With episodes entitled “Condom Mania,” “She Snoops to Conquer” and “Porn Free,” the former “pitbull in a skirt” and her episodic adventures predated any number of the outrageous clichés that boob-tube audiences would come to know and love once reality TV hit its boon.
Marques Houston helped to personify the UPN street mantra (“U Pick-a Negro”) when he joined the network to star in the One on One spin-off series, Cuts. Co-starring relative unknowns like Shondrella Avery, Rashaan Nall and Edward “Grapevine” Fordham Jr., Cuts was mired by unimaginative storytelling, numerous plot holes and clichés, and a premise that could have been dreamed up by a 7-year-old. The former IMx frontman was so embarrassed by his time on UPN that he has never since returned to the small screen.
4. The PJs
Eddie Murphy is known internationally as the man of a thousand characters, but in 1999 he wanted to be the king of TV comedy. The show was so bad due to its depiction of extremely negative experiences of living in the projects that Spike Lee and other social activists spoke out against the animated series. Even worse, the laborious stop-motion process (which took months to produce) earned FOX a high budget with no ratings to show for it. The hoopla got so bad that Eddie Murphy stopped voicing main character Thurgood Orenthal Stubbs to go back to making big budget Hollywood films.
5. House of Payne
House of Payne has its fair share of drama. The series has involved behind-the-scenes ratchedness involving Tyler Perry firing four of his writers just because they wanted union coverage, and flaunts outrageously simplistic dialogue. Every character is arguably a walking, talking stereotype yet audiences eat it up, giving Perry and co. high ratings and residual dollars from syndication. But with no sort of plot progression, no clue of storytelling and its unimaginative usage of tone, House of Payne is absolutely horrid. Worse, it led to the Meet The Browns spin-off…
6. Homeboys in Outer Space
While no one can explain how guys like Flex Alexander and Bill Bellamy keep getting work, the former was a part of an abomination that limited African-American actors to bumbling space fools. Homeboys in Outer Space was intended as a parody of science fiction shows, but in the ’90s it seemed as if Darryl M. Bell (A Different World) and Flex were taking us into the Mesozoic era. Littered with hip-hop clichés (their car was a hybrid lowrider and an 18-wheeler), Homeboys tried its best to convince us it was down, but failed miserably.
7. The Secret Life of Desmond Pfeiffer
If House of Payne is considered one of the worst (if not the worst) Black TV shows in the known era, then The Secret Life of Desmond Pfeiffer was certainly coming for the crown. Just how bad was this show? The Chi McBride-starring sitcom jumpstarted a firestorm of controversy because of the show’s “lighthearted” take on American slavery. How did they find a way to make such a dark time in American history laughable? The first episode featured Chi McBride as Abraham Lincoln’s “valet” (see: house slave) and was quickly removed from UPN’s schedule. Way to anger all of Black America, UPN!
The ripped-from-reality FOX television series starred former NFL star Michael Strahan and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell as estranged brothers pressured to get along by their parents. And while in real life, the former New York Giant can afford not to have to move back in with his parents, the show was off-putting by fans for its attempt to make Black failure into a joke. The ratings for the show’s debut reflected the public’s disappointment and FOX was forced to cancel the show after one season.
9. Under One Roof
The man who highhandedly rejuvenated ratchetness on VH1 was allowed to bring his talents to MyNetworkTV in the abysmal Under One Roof. Flavor Flav starred as a fresh-from-jail character who moves into his brother’s mansion (played by Kelly Perine) and begins parading his prison buddies around, which was supposed to result in comedic hijinks galore. Instead, the show’s writing came off more as paint-by-numbers, the cast was underdeveloped, and the former Public Enemy hype-man continued to show just how low he would go to cash a check. Under One Roof was one of the last first-run primetime shows to air before MyNetworkTV switched to a syndicated programming service.
Airing on (you guessed it!) UPN for two years, Sparks was supposed to be about the everyday lives of a family of lawyers running a family-owned law practice. Instead, the show—which starred James Avery (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Terrence Howard, Miguel Núñez Jr. and Robin Givens—proved to be an episodic how-not-to instruction video on the dangers of workplace sexual harassment. While the brothers (played by Howard and Núñez) competed for the affections of the former Mrs. Mike Tyson, the show mired itself in mediocrity, never taking the yuks past second gear and making it a horrible highlight reel to have on anyone’s IMDb account.
Kevin L. Clark heads Don’t Lose Your Day Job, a website for video game enthusiasts. You can keep up to date with the latest from him on Twitter @DLYDJ.