In a world where Black characters were limited to servants, aggressive and oversexualized stereotypes in TV and film, Black sitcoms came on the scene to rectify those images. These shows healed generations through their ability to create accurate and relatable personalities on screen, giving Black consumers relief and a much-needed escape when they watched.
From the ‘70s till now, Black sitcoms have played such a monumental role in the culture. By filling the void that was so obviously apparent in Hollywood, they embodied Black people in a way that had never been seen before. From various careers and plots, these sitcoms showed that African Americans are not a monolith.
Below are 35 of the best Black sitcoms, in no particular order, that have graced television screens. From “A Different World” to “Insecure,” we’ve got the old and the new. Check out our list below.
1. The Cosby Show
Having graced our television screens for eight seasons, “The Cosby Show” is without a doubt one of the best Black sitcoms ever. Created by Ed. Weinberger, Michael J. Leeson and Bill Cosby himself, the 1984 series followed the life of the Huxtables – an affluent African American family based in Brooklyn, New York. The parents, Cliff, played by Cosby, and Claire, played by Phylicia Rashad, were both very successful in their careers as a doctor and lawyer, respectively. They had five beautiful children, four girls and one boy: Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy.
Through “The Cosby Show,” viewers were able to get a peak at what a successful African American family looked like. Throughout the series, it was clear that both Claire and Cliff worked hard to instill strong values in their children and pushed them to be the best they could be. Four of their five kids went to college, minus Rudy because she wasn’t old enough.
Because of “The Cosby Show,” the world got its first look at HBCUs on a national scale. Denise wound up at Hillman College, a fictional historically Black institution in Virginia, thus creating the spinoff series “A Different World.” Everyone and their mother wanted to go to Hillman College.
“The Cosby Show” has won several honors from Emmys to Golden Globes, NAACP Image Awards and People’s Choice Awards. So, it was no surprise when TV Guide said the series was “almost single-handedly reviving the sitcom genre.”
2. A Different World
It’s only right that “A Different World” is next. Starting in 1987 and lasting for six seasons, the show originally followed Denise Huxtable and her journey at Hillman College. While she left ahead of season two, the series continued, focusing more on Whitley Gilbert, played by Jasmine Guy, and Dwayne Wayne, played by Kadeem Hardison, as well as illustrating the life of students at HBCUs.
“The Cosby Show” faced a lot of criticism for not focusing on controversial topics. However, “A Different World” shied away from nothing. Each episode left you feeling enriched and awakened to new issues going on around the world. The show tackled domestic violence, date rape, colorism, racism, the L.A. riots and was even one of the first shows to discuss HIV/AIDS and apartheid. “A Different World” goes down in history for its activism while also illustrating the beauty of being a Black student at an HBCU.
Thanks to the series, generations of African-American students were influenced to pursue their higher education at historically Black colleges and universities.
3. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
“In West Philadelphia born and raised/ On the playground was where I spent most of my days…” We bet you just rapped that line. We all know that track word for word. It’s the theme song of Andy and Susan Borowitz’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Entrusting rap’s first Grammy Award winner, Will Smith aka The Fresh Prince, to play the role, the series was an immediate fan-favorite.
We all know how the story went, as it was famously told in the theme song. Smith got into a fight with some neighborhood gang members in his hometown of West Philly. His mother sent him away to go live with his aunt and uncle in a mansion in California, where he had to adjust to their affluent way of life.
Like “The Cosby Show,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” also showed viewers the ins and outs of a wealthy Black family, but it dived into more serious topics like classism, ageism, police brutality, and interracial marriage, to name a few. “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was such a hit that, in 2022, Peacock reconceptualized a more dramatic version of the series titled “Bel-Air.”
If you wanted to laugh for 30 straight minutes, “Martin” was definitely a go-to and still is! Having aired five seasons from 1992 to 1997, Martin Lawrence played Martin Payne, a DJ who lived with his long-term girlfriend and eventual wife, Gina Waters Payne, played by Tisha Campbell.
Martin’s selfish ways, free-spiritedness and unfiltered, slick mouth were typically what kept the show so entertaining. He’d get into comedic conflicts with various characters like Pam, played by Tichina Arnold, who Martin often exchanged hilarious insults with. Aside from his main role, the leading man routinely aroused viewers through side characters like Jerome and Sheneneh. “Martin” has played an unarguable role in hip hop and Black culture.
5. Living Single
Taking things back to Brooklyn where six friends, who are all in their 20s, bond over personal and professional experiences. “Living Single” is definitely one of the most influential Black sitcoms of the ‘90s. Having aired five seasons, some say “Living Single” is the predecessor to “Friends.” “Living Single” was praised for having a primarily female-led cast: Queen Latifah as Kadijah, Kim Fields as Regine, Kim Coles as Synclaire and Erika Alexander as Maxine. The four showcased career-driven Black women.
6. The Jeffersons
One of the OGs when it comes to Black sitcoms, “The Jeffersons” first aired in 1975 and gave us an amazing 11 seasons until 1985, which made it the second-longest running series with a majority Black cast.
This show introduced us to George and Louise Jefferson who moved on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky after the success of George’s dry-cleaning chain, Jefferson’s Cleaners. The two, along with their son, Lionel, were living the American Dream.
But it didn’t come without facing some harsh realities as some episodes addressed things like the KKK, alcoholism, suicide, gun control, transgenderism and much more. While “The Jeffersons” was robbed of a proper season finale, the show’s impact will forever be stamped in our hearts.
7. Family Matters
Created as a spinoff to Dale McRaven’s “Perfect Strangers,” “Family Matters” follows the Winslows, a Black, middle class family in Chicago who had the luxury of living next door to everyone’s favorite nerd Steve Urkel, who captivated audiences by his tireless pursuit of Laura Winslow, the daughter of Harriette and Carl. The show was a part of ABC’s primetime slot TGIF along with “Perfect Strangers,” “Full House,” “Boy Meets World” and “Step by Step.” “Family Matters” is the third-longest running Black sitcom, followed by “The Jeffersons” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”
8. The Parkers
A spinoff of “Moesha,” Ralph Farquhar, Sara V. Finney and Vida Spears brought us inside mother-daughter dynamics with the creation of “The Parkers.” Released in 1999, the show followed mother Nikki and daughter Kim as they both attended Santa Monica College. Nikki, who got pregnant at a young age, was forced to drop out of high school and never had the opportunity to go to college despite wanting to, and as it came time for Kim to go, Nikki joined her. “The Parkers” is widely known for its hilarious situations and relatability across many different ages.
Picture this: It’s the year 2000, and you and your girls are having a girl’s night in. So, of course you’ve got to turn on “Girlfriends.” The show followed a close knit group of friends, Joan played by Tracee Ellis Ross, Maya played by Golden Brooks, Lynn played by Persia White and and Toni played by Jill Marie Jones. Together, they tackled topics of dating, parenthood, friendship and career goal setting. We’re still waiting on a “Girlfriends” movie!
10. The Wayans Bros.
Anything with the Wayans name attached to it is going to be quality entertainment. On the show, Shawn and Marlon Williams are two brothers trying to navigate life in Harlem, New York. While Shawn owns a local newsstand, both he and his brother work there while also helping out their father, played by John Witherspoon, with his diner. “The Wayans Bros.” was pure comedic gold as viewers watched the brother and father dynamic, and how they worked through difficult but hilarious situations.
11. One on One
“One on One” was created by Eunetta T. Boone and gave us a deep look into the dynamics of father-daughter relationships. On the show, Flex Washington’s ex-wife accepted a job out of the county and allowed their daughter, Breanna, to move in with him. Flex goes from living a life of ultimate luxury and being a ladies man to full-time dad, and he juggles with trying to be a best friend and being a responsible parent to Breanna. The series had five seasons before ending in 2006.
“Moesha” was a pivotal coming of age sitcom for Black teens, with Brandy Norwood starring as the title character. We watched her as she juggled school, family, friends and romance. Something that made “Moesha” so relatable was the way the show tackled real issues affecting teenagers, such as premarital sex, teenage pregnancy, race, body dysmorphia, gender inequality and sexuality. The show bravely dedicated an episode to teenagers being gay, in the episode titled “Labels,” where Moesha outed Hakeem’s cousin, Omar, for being gay. “The Parkers” was the spinoff after Countess Vaughn left the show after season 4.
13. Everybody Hates Chris
Loosely based on comedian Chris Rock’s upbringing, “Everybody Hates Chris” recounts Chris’ fight for respect from family members and outsiders. It details his journey growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York known for its roughness and commonly referred to as “Bed-Stuy, do-or-die.”
The show brilliantly used humor to tackle topics of race relations, classism, gang violence, drug abuse and more. “Everybody Hates Chris” enjoyed four seasons before Rock felt it was time to call it quits.
14. The Sinbad Show
Premiering on Fox in 1993, Sinbad played the role of David Bryan who was a carefree bachelor until he adopted two children, Zana and L.J. and became a single father. While there was only one season, Dave helped his adoptive children adjust to their new life and guided them through their troubles with friends, school, relationships and overall being a teenager.
15. In the House
From 1995 to 1999, LL Cool J starred as Marion Hill, a former professional football player who has to rent parts of his house to make ends meet. One of his tenants, Jackie Warren, played by Debbie Allen, had two children, Tiffany, played by Maia Campbell, and Austin, played by Jeffrey Wood.
Trying to become more adult-oriented, the show rewrote the initial plot, and ended up sending Jackie and Austin away, leaving Tiffany with Marion to finish school. In its third season, new cast members were added to the lineup: Kim Wayans and Alfonso Ribiero to help Marion with his sports clinic.
16. The Boondocks
This show followed the dysfunctional Freeman family as they move from the South Side of Chicago to the white suburbs of Woodcrest. Through the use of satire, “The Boondocks” dissected American politics from the Black perspective, making statements like “Jesus was Black, Ronald Reagan was the devil, and the government is lying about 9/11” in the “Garden Party” episode.
When asked about his controversial approach, show creator Aaron McGruder told ABC, “I just hope to expand the dialogue and hope the show will challenge people to think about things they wouldn’t normally think about, or think about it in a very different way.”
What can be appreciated about “The Boondocks” is that while the show didn’t hesitate to call out the American government and years of oppression at the hands of white Americans, it also called out and challenged the way Black people act and think. A notable episode was “The Trial of Robert Kelly,” where Huey found himself disagreeing with his brother Riley and most Black people around him about R. Kelly being guilty of child pornography and urinating on a 14-year-old girl. The show mocked Black people as they made excuses for Kelly.
I think it’s safe to say this is the best animated series of all time. Aaron McGruder is a true mastermind for creating “The Boondocks.”
17. The PJs
Giving us stop-motion animation, “The PJs,” short for “the projects,” was created by Eddie Murphy, Larry Wilmore and Steve Tompkins. The show illustrated life in public housing. It became Disney’s first adult animated series. Some notable voices of the characters include Murphy, Loretta Devine, Ja’Net DuBois and Michael Paul Chan.
18. That’s So Raven
This teen sitcom aired on Disney Channel and followed the life of Raven Baxter, a teenager with secret psychic abilities. Throughout the episodes, Raven typically got a small vision of an event meant to happen in the future and without any extra context, she jumped to conclusions that typically always got her caught up.
“That’s So Raven” was the channel’s first original show to garner over 300 million views. Raven had kids across America yelling her signature catchphrases — ”Ya nasty!” “Gotta go!” “Oh… snap!” Though broadcasted on Disney Channel, this Black sitcom grazed the surface of some controversial topics like racism and fatphobia.
19. My Wife and Kids
This hilarious sitcom is set in Stamford, Connecticut, where the upper-middle class Kyle family reside. Father and wannabe head of the household Michael Kyle Sr., played by Damon Wayans, obnoxiously tried to flex his power to his family, but his wife and three-kids showed him time and time again who the boss really was.
First airing in 2001, the show ran for five seasons before the finale in 2005. The show garnered a plethora of awards. In 2002, it won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New Television Comedy Series and in 2004, both Damon Wayans and Tisha Campbell won BET Comedy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, respectively.
20. The Jamie Foxx Show
Based on the experience of Jamie Foxx trying to make it in the entertainment industry, Jamie King moved to Los Angeles from Texas to pursue his music career on the show. To support himself, he worked at his aunt and uncle’s hotel, King’s Tower. The show outlined his struggles while working at the hotel and his quest for love as he chased after Francesca “Fancy” Monroe and clowned archnemesis turned best friend Braxton P. Hartnabrig. The series saw five seasons from 1996 to 2001.
21. Sanford and Son
Another true OG in the name of Black sitcoms, “Sanford and Son” laid the blueprint for Black sitcoms to come. It dove into the father-son dynamic where the dad, Fred G. Sanford, is a widower and sold junk with the help of his son, Lamont. Fred’s quick wit made the show captivating and hilarious. It had six seasons from 1972-1977.
We lost “Living Single” but Issa Rae brought us “Insecure.” The series unpacked the awkward experiences of contemporary Black women, and its later seasons explored finding one’s purpose, relationship problems, friendship, postpartum depression and career development. The series ultimately just poked fun at the random and normal experiences of Black women in their 20s. “Insecure” has earned several Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. In 2022, it won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Comedy Series.
23. The Game
Created as a spinoff of “Girlfriends,” “The Game” aired in 2006 and was centered around Joan’s cousin, Melanie Barnett. Melanie, who was in medical school, gave up admissions to her dream school to follow her boyfriend Derwin Davis as he started his rookie season as a professional football player for the San Diego Sabers. As the seasons continued, the couple faced several ups and downs, and they weren’t the only ones. The series heavily focused on the relationships between the players and their significant others. It had an amazing run of nine seasons from 2006 until 2015 before being revived in 2021 by Paramount+.
24. Diff’rent Strokes
“Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis?” Arnold’s famous catchphrase truly trademarked the show. This series told the story of two boys, Arnold and Willis Jackson, played by Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges, respectively, who are taken in by a wealthy white man after their mother, who worked for him, passed away. The show tackled several serious issues like child molestation, kidnapping, alcoholism, drug abuse and racism.
25. Half & Half
The show followed the lives of two half-sisters, Mona and DeeDee, in San Francisco who were estranged throughout their childhood and begin to try to build a close relationship once they move into the same apartment building. Mona grew up without her father, Charles, in the household since he and her mother divorced, and struggled financially, while DeeDee, whose mother was Charles’ new wife, lived a life of privilege and luxury. Throughout the series, the two learned to help one another navigate their problems.
26. Smart Guy
“Smart Guy” followed the life of T.J. Henderson, a 10-year-old genius played by Tahj Mowry, who went from elementary to high school. The show dove into T.J.’s adjustment to his new life as a high schooler, including being classmates with his older brother, Marcus, a charismatic but underachieving student.
The show was a groundbreaking show that showcased a Black boy genius as the protagonist. It was a refreshing change from the predominantly white shows of the time, and it showed viewers that Black people could not only be funny and soulful, but also intelligent.
27. All of Us
First airing in 2003, “All of Us” explored the dynamics of co-parenting as Robert James, played by Duane Martin, shared custody with his ex-wife Neesee, played by LisaRaye McCoy, whom he tried to have a cordial relationship with for the sake of their son. But, problems arose as he moved to maintain peace between Neesee and his finacée, Tia Jewel, played by Elise Neal. The show saw four seasons before it ended in 2007.
Set in a middle-class apartment building, “227” primarily focused on the lives of the Jenkins family: Lester, Mary, and their teenage daughter, Brenda. Other main characters included the unfiltered Pearl and her grandson, Calvin, who later became Brenda’s boyfriend.
The show was known for its over the top characters, particularly Sandra, played by Jackée Harry, who was Mary’s younger neighbor. In 1987, Harry won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role.
29. The Bernie Mac Show
“The Bernie Mac Show” was inspired by a segment from The Original Kings of Comedy, in which Bernie Mac took in his sister’s children after she entered rehab. The show focused on his love for his family while still displaying his comedic chops. Mac often broke the fourth wall throughout the show to speak directly to the audience to share his thoughts on a particular topic, which became a charming aspect of the show. It ran for five seasons and ended in 2006.
30. The Proud Family
As the first animated Disney Channel Original Series, “The Proud Family” was steeped in Black pop culture — from its theme song by Solange and Destiny’s Child to its guest appearances by Mo’Nique, Vivica A. Fox and Samuel L. Jackson.
The show explored a variety of topics, including Penny Proud’s relationship with her parents, Oscar and Trudy, her nemesis LaCienega, and her teenage friendships. It also tackled other topics like Black History Month and Kwanzaa.
Being so popular, a revival series was announced back in 2020: “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.” The revamp premiered on Disney+ in 2022 and it now follows 14-year-old Penny Proud and her family as they navigate life in the 2020s.
31. Sister, Sister
This sitcom followed twin sisters who were separated at birth and reunited 14 years later. The show starred Tia and Tamera Mowry as Tia Landry and Tamera Campbell, respectively. The two were polar opposites, but they eventually became one big family with their adoptive parents, Ray and Lisa. “Sister, Sister” was another show that often broke the fourth wall as Tia and Tamera would routinely address the watchers at home. It aired 119 episodes across six seasons from 1994-1999.
32. The Steve Harvey Show
Steve Harvey played former funk legend and music star Steve Hightower, who was forced to take a job as a music teacher and vice principal at Booker T. Washington High School in Chicago after retiring from his musical career. Due to budget cuts, he was also forced to teach drama and art. His longtime friend Cedric, Cedric’s girlfriend turned wife Lovita, and former classmate turned love interest Regina “Piggy” Grier joined him at the school. His tough love for his students was evident through the bond witnessed between him and students like Romeo Santana and Stanley Kuznocki.
33. Kenan & Kel
Serving as a spinoff of Nickelodeon’s sketch comedy show “All That,” “Kenan & Kel” was set in Chicago and followed the misadventures of two best friends. Each episode began with the two speaking to the live studio audience, while Kenan explained that they gotten into trouble and Kel forgetting why. They often found themselves in goofy, unnecessary situations, mostly due to Kenan’s scheming and Kel’s oblivious but lovable nature. Kenan would come up with plans to get what he wanted and recruit Kel to help him out.
34. Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper
Mark Curry’s first major role was that of Mark Cooper, where he was a former Golden State Warrior who returned to Oakland to teach and coach basketball at Oakbridge High School. He moved in with his longtime friend Robin and her friend Vanessa, who he eventually started dating. The show displayed his battles living with two women and his annoying neighbor.
35. The Parent ‘Hood
Last but certainly not least, this series follows Robert Peterson, a former Black English professor who had to learn how to deal with parenthood after his wife decided to return to the workforce. Based in Manhattan, their family was upper middle class and lived in a brownstone. While taking primary care of the children, Robert quickly realized how different his upbringing was compared to his children’s. The show enjoyed five seasons before its season finale in 1999.
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