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9 Unforgettable Black Sitcoms of the ’90s

Black sitcoms have been popular since classics like Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Sanford and Son hit television screens nationwide in the ’70s. But it wasn’t until The Cosby Show became a ratings juggernaut in the mid ’80s that networks finally saw the potential in investing heavily in sitcoms with black leads. And so the ’90s became a decade in which more black sitcoms than ever made it onto TV, entertaining millions, making major stars out of virtual unknowns, and giving audiences of all kinds an unprecedented look into black lives and experiences (plural) with a wide array of stories that centered on black characters and smashed stereotypes.

These shows have become beloved throughout the years. They’re funny, and it’s as simple as that. But beyond that, their formats, characters, music, fashion, and characters came to define their time, becoming major influences on shows that came after, and even on those that are on TV right now.

Naturally, given the success of The Cosby Show — whose legacy has been tarnished by Bill Cosby’s crimes — a lot of shows that followed featured families. But they didn’t just copy the show’s formula of an upper middle class clan whose everyday lives and challenges were not different than any other group’s. Family shows of the ’90s ran the gamut, from working class couples with kids trying to make ends meet to those that moved their tribe out of the hood and into predominantly white neighborhood — with all the culture shock that that can entail. And unlike The Cosby Show, some of these comedies embraced the opportunity to touch on serious social issues, finding a balance that worked.

The lives of younger people took center stage as well in the ’90s. So, instead of being the token black friend within the larger context of a show, black teens, college students, 20-something professionals became the vehicle for funny and even poignant stories.

The ’90s turned hugely talented black comedians and actors into stars who remain household names to this day, and it goes to show the impact that being given a seat at the table and a voice on prime time television can accomplish.

Here are 9 black ’90s sitcoms that we love do this day for the impact they had on our lives then and now.

 

'The Hughleys' (1998-2002)

ABC

‘The Hughleys’ (1998-2002)

Two decades before Black-ish tackled a similar premise, The Hughleys featured a family that lives in a predominantly white neighborhood — in this case, after the dad, played by D.L. Hughley, develops the family’s vending machine business to the point that the family can move out of south Central Los Angeles. Trying to fit in while remaining true to their roots leads to some funny interactions with his white and Korean neighbors.

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'Kenan & Kel' (1996-2000)

Nickelodeon

‘Kenan & Kel’ (1996-2000)

Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were Nickelodeon‘s first black sitcom stars, having landed their own show when producers saw them joking around on the set of All That when they were series regulars. Their chemistry made for a very funny show about the pair’s hijinks and escapades, and the show also launched the career of Kenan, who is now on Saturday Night Live.

'In The House' (1995-1999)

NBC/Quincy Jones-David Salzman Entertainment

‘In The House’ (1995-1999)

It wasn’t the world’s best sitcom, but hey, LL Cool J has always been a snack. We got our fill watching him in In The House, playing a former professional football star who has to rent out rooms in his mansion to make ends meet.

'The Famous Jett Jackson' (1998-2001)

Buena Vista Television/Disney Channel

‘The Famous Jett Jackson’ (1998-2001)

This show had just 65 episodes but has a special place in our hearts as the first Disney Channel show to feature a black actor as the lead. The immensely talented and magnetic Lee Thompson Young starred as Jett Jackson, a kid who tries to live a normal life when he’s not filming. Thompson tragically died at age 29, after struggling with bipolar disorder and depression, but the heartwarming show lives on.

'The Jamie Foxx Show' (1996-2001)

WB Television Network

‘The Jamie Foxx Show’ (1996-2001)

Fresh off the groundbreaking comedy sketch show In Living Color and before he becoming an movie star, Jamie Foxx starred as an aspiring actor who works at his relatives’ hotel. The laughs are kinda cheap in The Jamie Foxx Show (who doesn’t need that every once in a while?), but there are some memorable moments in which Jamie and guest stars sing and play onstage together — which actually foreshadow Jamie’s Oscar-winning role as Ray Charles in the movie Ray.

'The Wayans Bros.' (1995-1999)

WB Television Network

‘The Wayans Bros.’ (1995-1999)

In Living Color, it’s not, but this sitcom from younger Wayans siblings Shawn and Marlon is still simple fun that doesn’t require too many brain cells — and that can be a good thing. So, despite being canceled abruptly after five seasons and not given a chance to wrap up the series, The Wayans Bros. has lived on and on in syndication, a favorite whenever we catch it while flipping channels. It centers around the brothers characters (Shawn is the conservative one, Marlon — what else — the clown), who live in Harlem and are just trying to make it in this world. It may not be Emmy-winning material, but it’s still a great de-stressor.

'The Parent 'Hood' (1995-1999)

WB

‘The Parent ‘Hood’ (1995-1999)

One of the four original Wednesday night shows that helped launched the WB (The Wayans Bros was another), this is one of the black ’90s sitcoms that are available on several streaming services (Hulu, YouTubeTV, Stars). In Cosby Show*-esque manner, *The Parent ‘Hood featured an upper middle class family made up of a college professor (Robert Townsend), his law-student wife, and their four kids. What sets the show apart are the whimsical fantasy sequences that the dad dreams up to help him solve family issues in a creative and unexpected way.

'The Parkers' (1999-2004)

UPN

‘The Parkers’ (1999-2004)

It’s no surprise that one of the most down-to-earth black sitcoms from the ’90s starred Mo’Nique as a single mom who dropped out of high school to raise her baby. When her grown daughter (Countess Vaughn, playing the same character she did on Moesha) starts college, so does she. The story of their evolving relationship as students and adults leads to a lot of laughs, and so does any time that Mo’Nique lets her salty tongue loose on someone.

'Roc' (1991-1994)

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Image

‘Roc’ (1991-1994)

Before Charles S. Dutton went on to win three Emmys for his work on other shows, he starred in this underrated and brief series that was fairly typical sitcom until the second season, which aired each episode live. Roc was a treat because Dutton and several of the other cast members were trained stage actors.

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