5 '90s Black TV Shows That Kept Me Sane During the Quarantine

editor@purewow.com (PureWow)
·5 min read

Over the past five months, I've watched Dwayne Wayne crash Whitley Gilbert's wedding at least four times on A Different World. I’ve committed countless of Jaleesa’s sassy clapbacks to memory. I’ve also giggled at a ton of Ron’s cheesy pick-up lines and I still get chills when I see Reverend Jesse Jackson’s powerful call for the students of Hillman to get out and vote.

Amidst all the chaos that's ensued during the coronavirus pandemic, this is how I’ve been spending much of my time at home (well, aside from scrolling through Instagram and baking banana bread). And although friends have recommended tons of new shows and movies for me to watch (there’s a lengthy list that I’ve yet to get to, BTW), I always resort to feeding my nostalgia with reruns of ‘90s Black TV shows. And I actually... don't regret it at all.

See, it’s like watching these shows for the first time, which I know sounds weird. But there’s something so comforting and satisfying about seeing fictional characters who not only look like me, but also fully embrace their Black identities. I love getting to live in these fictional worlds that often reflect my own. I love their ability to provide the escapism that I need without completely ignoring social issues that matter. And of course, this isn’t to discredit newer, groundbreaking shows that are currently doing the same (hey, Black-ish!). But when I get to relive timeless classics that practically helped shape who I am, nothing quite compares.

Below, see five Black TV shows that helped lift my spirits during the quarantine.

1. ‘A Different World’

What is it about?

Although the Cosby spin-off initially centered on Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) during her time at the historically Black Hillman College, it went on to follow several other Hillman students as they navigated the challenges of college life, from the pampered Southern rich girl, Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy), to the studious medical student, Kim Reese (Charlene Brown).

What I love about it: While I could go on about the show’s accurate portrayal of the Black college experience and rave about how it balances humor with complex issues, what really draws me is the fact that the community is so diverse and inclusive. For instance, we see the carefree playboy (Ron), the math genius (Dwayne), the divorcée with a knack for marketing (Jaleesa) and the war veteran (Colonel Taylor). With so much variety, Black viewers can actually see themselves reflected in these characters.

Watch on Amazon

2. ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’

What is it about?

A teenaged Will Smith has to move out of his dangerous neighborhood in West Philadelphia after he gets into a big fight. But when his mother sends him to live with his rich relatives in Bel-Air, there’s a bit of a culture clash and hilarity ensues.

What I love about it: Where do I begin? There’s Carton’s classic dance moves, Will’s roasting sessions and Hilary's epic one-liners. But more importantly, this show is a timeless masterpiece that tackles the importance of family, responsibility and maintaining healthy relationships. It also addresses issues like gambling, sexism, drug abuse and parental abandonment (honestly though, who could forget Will’s emotional speech when his dad left him??).

Watch on HBO Max

3. ‘Living Single’

What is it about?

A tight-knit group of six Black friends in their 20s: Entrepreneur Khadijah James (Queen Latifah), aspiring actress Synclaire James (Kim Coles), fashion lover and gossip queen Regine Hunter (Kim Fields), attorney Maxine Shaw (Erika Alexander), repair man Overton Wakefield (John Henton) and stockbroker Kyle Barker (Terrence C. Carson). We follow their personal and professional lives as they all live in a Brooklyn brownstone.

What I love about it: Everything. No, seriously, from Sinclair’s unapologetic quirkiness to Maxine’s boldness and sharp wit, it’s so easy to identify with these characters. Plus, they have amazing chemistry.

Watch on Amazon

4. ‘Martin’

What is it about?

Set in Detroit, the classic comedy follows an ambitious radio host named Martin Payne (Martin Lawrence), his girlfriend Gina Waters (Tisha Campbell-Martin), and his group of friends, including Tommy (Thomas Ford), Cole (Carl Anthony Payne II) and Pamela (Tichina Arnold).

What I Love about it: TBH, I’m still floored that Lawrence played nine (nine!) different characters on this show, from the snarky Sheneneh to the fiery Ol’ Otis. But what I love most are those random, silly moments between Martin and Gina (remember when Gina's head got stuck in the bed frame?!). Sure, their relationship is a bit problematic, but there’s no denying that they had a strong bond.

Watch on Amazon

5. ‘In Living Color’

What is it about?

This sketch comedy series not only introduced big names like Jim Carrey, Jennifer Lopez and Carrie Ann Inaba, but it also presented a diverse cast. Skits ranged from Homey D. Clown and the Homeboy Shopping Network to Men on Film.

What I Love about it: Keenan Ivory Wayans, the show's creator, does an amazing job at tackling serious issues, like racism and school inequality, in an innovative and funny way (remember T'Keyah Crystal Keymáh's powerful "Black World" sketch?). And of course, there's no shortage of social commentary, like Carrey's hilarious parody of Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice, Baby."

Buy on Amazon

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