Maxine (Erika Alexander) from Living Single, Joan (Tracee Ellis Ross) from Girlfriends and Tamera Mowry from Sister Sister | Agents of Fandom

5 Black Sitcoms That Everyone Should Watch

Which Black sitcoms should be on your must-watch list?

From the 1970s through the early 2000s, Black sitcoms were popular staples on American television. These shows, arguably some of the funniest and most iconic in television history, served as more than just entertainment. They were windows into Black culture and Black reality. They also allowed Black viewers to see themselves reflected in stories that understood and highlighted Black voices.

These shows also peeled back the curtain for non-Black viewers and gave them insight into Black lives without watering themselves down. From the harsh realities of Good Times to the aspirational tone of The Cosby Show, to the goofiness of The Wayans Brothers, Black sitcoms are critical when it comes to showing that Black characters and families are every bit as relatable as their white counterparts.

Some of the following sitcoms made and helped shape television history, even if they never received credit for it. Most of them were only marketed to Black audiences, stifling their potential reach. These are five Black sitcoms, in no particular order, that everyone needs to watch right now.

‘Living Single’ (1993-1998)

Erika Alexander, Queen Latifah, Kim Fields, and Kim Coles sing in a bathroom in a scene from 'Living Single' | Agents of Fandom
(L-R) Maxine (Erika Alexander), Khadijah (Queen Latifah), Regine (Kim Fields), and Synclaire (Kim Coles) were game-changing characters for many Black viewers in the 1990s. Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Six attractive twenty-somethings sit around a cozy living room in a stunning New York City apartment. They banter back and forth about their job woes and relationship struggles and get caught up in outlandish scenarios. But even as they encounter hardships in life, they at least have one another to lean on. Sounds like Friends, right? Nope. It’s Living Single, a Black sitcom that premiered a year prior, and even served as Friends’ inspiration.

Living Single premiered on FOX on August 22, 1993. Creator Yvette Lee Bowser sought to change the portrayal of young Black people on television. Her show, starring Queen Latifah, comedian Kim Coles, former child star Kim Fields, future American Fiction star Erika Alexander, and actors TC Carson and John Henton, was a game-changer for Black sitcoms. It was among the first with an all-Black ensemble that portrayed entrepreneurs, lawyers, actors, and fashion designers.

While Warner Bros. propelled the remarkably similar Friends to unprecedented heights with extensive promotional campaigns, the studio didn’t do the same for the Black-led Living Single. After FOX moved Living Single to Thursday nights to compete directly with Friends, the show’s ratings dropped, leading to its cancellation after five seasons.

Where to watch: Living Single is available to stream on Hulu, Max, and Amazon Prime Video.

‘Sister, Sister’ (1994-1999)

Tia Mowry and Tamera Mowry stand beside co-star Marques Houston in one of the top Black sitcoms of the 1990s, 'Sister, Sister' | Agents of Fandom
(L-R) Tia Mowry, Marques Houston, and Tamera Mowry inspired a generation of young viewers with their portrayals of Black teenagers in Sister, Sister. Image Credit: Paramount.

One of the more popular Black sitcoms of the 1990s was Sister, Sister, starring twin actresses Tia and Tamera Mowry. Rounding out the main cast are Emmy-winning comedy legend Jackée Harry, veteran actor Tim Reid, and singer Marques Houston. In its fifth and sixth seasons, Deon Richmond and RonReaco Lee joined the main cast as the twins’ college boyfriends.

The show centered around Tia Landry and Tamera Campbell, who were separated at birth and adopted by different single parents. After a chance run-in with each other at a local mall, Tia and her mother Lisa (Harry) move from their inner-city apartment to Ray Campbell’s (Reid) suburban home. The show was groundbreaking, as it was one of the first sitcoms with Black teenagers as its main characters.

It delivered heart and laughter for six seasons as its leads navigated boys, school, finding their own identity, and their overbearing parents. More importantly, for its first three seasons, its main stars wore their curly, natural hair, representing millions of young Black girls in the process. And it also gave us the ultimate ’90s sitcom diss: “Go home, Roger!”

Where to watch: Sister, Sister is available to stream on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Paramount+.

‘Girlfriends’ (2000-2008)

Tracee Ellis Ross, Jill Marie Jones, Golden Brooks, and Persia White wait in a doctor's office on 'Girlfriends,' one of many underrated Black sitcoms from the 2000s | Agents of Fandom
(L-R) Tracee Ellis Ross, Jill Marie Jones, Golden Brooks, and Persia White portrayed revolutionary Black female characters on the smart and raunchy Girlfriends. Image Credit: Paramount.

Sex and the City was a revolutionary show that shined an unapologetic light on sexuality from a female perspective. Just as groundbreaking was Girlfriends, a sitcom that followed four young Black women (Tracee Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks, Persia White, and Jill Marie Jones) navigating their careers, dating lives, and friendships with one another.

Despite its status as a network show, Girlfriends was raunchy and often explicit. Its sly and thoughtful jokes usually tested the limits of what could be said or alluded to on network television. It tackled everything from fraying friendships to sexually transmitted diseases and interracial relationships. Just as important, it also promoted and helped normalize discussions of sexuality among Black women on television while also being wickedly funny and smartly written.

Where to watch: Girlfriends is available to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

‘Half & Half’ (2002-2006)

Essence Atkins, Rachel True, guest star Coby Bell, and Telma Hopkins have a discussion in the hallway of Mona and Dee Dee's building | Agents of Fandom
(L-R) Essence Atkins, Rachel True, Coby Bell, and Telma Hopkins starred in Half & Half, a Black sitcom that explores childhood trauma and the very idea of Blackness. Image Credit: CBS.

One of many Black sitcoms unceremoniously given the axe as UPN and The WB merged to form The CW, Half & Half was a breath of fresh air. It starred Rachel True as a bohemian, unlucky-in-love A&R executive named Mona Thorne. Smart Guy alum Essence Atkins co-starred as her rich, spoiled, privileged, and estranged half-sister Dee Dee. Rounding out its main cast are Family Matters veteran Telma Hopkins, stage and screen siren Valarie Pettiford, actor and singer Chico Benymon, and comedian Alec Mapa.

Much of the series’ conflict stems from Dee Dee unexpectedly moving into Mona’s apartment building. They also unpack their childhood trauma, much of which revolves around Dee Dee being spoiled and catered to while Mona was often an afterthought to their father (acting legend Obba Babatundé). Hopkins and Pettiford play Mona and Dee Dee’s overbearing mothers and former and current wives of the sisters’ father. Their blended family situation leads to the two hilariously bickering with one another.

Over two decades after its debut, Mona remains one of the few prominent representations of alternative Black women on television. The show also smartly explores serious topics, like a love interest dubbing Mona not “Black enough.” It also was among the first Black sitcoms to portray a friendship between a straight, Black man and a gay man. The series featured a revolving door of musical guest stars, including MC Lyte, Nicole Scherzinger, Tyrese Gibson, and Destiny’s Child singer Michelle Williams.

Where to watch: Half & Half is available to stream on Paramount+ and Amazon Prime Video.

‘Martin’ (1992-1997)

Martin Lawrence looks away while Tisha Campbell stares daggers at him in Martin | Agents of Fandom
Martin and Gina are widely considered one of the best Black couples in sitcom history. Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Often considered one of the holy grails of Black sitcoms, Martin is a dynamic show from the mind of comedian Martin Lawrence. Lawrence stars as cocky, sexist radio show host Martin Payne. Tisha Campbell filled the role of his longtime girlfriend Gina. Tichina Arnold, Thomas Mikal Ford, and Carl Anthony Payne II fill out the rest of the cast.

Lawrence’s signature physical comedic stylings permeate the entire series. Whether the main characters are being attacked by a massive rat while on vacation or Gina gets her head stuck between the bars of a headboard, Martin never shies away from outrageous sight gags. The actor and comedian is also famous for portraying other over-the-top characters on the show. These comedic creations include Martin Payne’s meddling mother and his loud, combative neighbor Sheneneh Jenkins.

Sheneneh, in particular, became a sensation due, in part, to her gaudy clothes, elaborate hairstyles, and hilariously argumentative nature — because, let’s face it, nearly every Black neighborhood has a Sheneneh.

Where to watch: Martin is available to stream on Max and Amazon Prime Video.

The Impact of Black Sitcoms on Black Culture Can’t Be Understated

Singer Brandy Norwood sits beside actress Shar Jackson in the Black sitcom 'Moesha' | Agents of Fandom
Moesha, starring singer Brandy, is another groundbreaking Black sitcom from the 1990s. Image Credit: Paramount.

Of course, these are just a handful of the phenomenal Black sitcoms that have aired on television. Each tells a story that’s not only important to Black culture but also entertains and educates. From the hair representation of Sister, Sister to the sex positivity of Girlfriends to the alternative Black representation on Half & Half, each of these shows is a thread that makes up the tapestry that is Black culture.

What are your favorite Black sitcoms? Which ones would you recommend to new viewers? Leave a comment below or hit us up on the Agents of Fandom socials for all the latest entertainment news and reviews.

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