Best Black Sitcoms Of The ’90s: Top 5 Shows, According To Fans

In the ’90s, there was a creative explosion of TV sitcoms that became famous, culturally significant in America, and offered a wide range of representation for a large cross-section of the American people. Black sitcoms of the ’90s were most often focused on day-to-day relationships between the talented cast members that brought these stories to life. When parsing through our sources, we were able to determine the top five best Black sitcoms of the ’90s that left a mark on the decade.

These shows might be paragons of laughter and gags, but they also created an era of mindfulness that people today might do well to remember. Mindfulness is praised by many for its ability to improve mental health and help lower stress. Could the practice also become a key tool in eliminating racism? According to new research, White people who practice mindfulness techniques are three times more likely to offer help to Black individuals.

Previous work in this area reveals that White people are more likely to come to the aid of other White people in need. That pushed researchers from California State University San Marcos to examine how mindfulness training could change the narrative. The study, led by Professor Daniel Berry, is the first of its kind to find that even a small dose of mindfulness — a self-regulation skill that involves focusing on present experiences — can promote helpful behaviors in everyday life.

Unfortunately, deeply ingrained racial bias is present in many forms of media and can cause harm in unforeseen ways. More than a third of children don’t feel represented in the books they read – because of their gender or ethnicity. A poll of 1,000 American children between six and 12 and their parents finds nearly three-quarters (74%) read regularly — but agree that characters always look the same and don’t represent different views. Meanwhile, only 13 percent of parents have seen minority races represented in the books their children read. It also emerged that 62 percent think their child would be more inclined to read more often if the main characters represented similarities to them.

Thus, in the ’90s it was no wonder that audiences were drawn to a slew of new programs that showed Black Americans at center stage. Sure, there were plenty of laughs, but the real draw of these shows are their heart and ability to draw viewers in with stories of humanity and how we treat each other. Let us know what shows you think deserve a spot on the list of the best Black sitcoms of the ’90s in the comments below!

"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" cast
“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” cast (“Fresh Prince of Bel Air” by Queenie & the Dew is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

The List: Best Black Sitcoms of the ’90s, According to Experts

1. “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1990 – 1996)

Easily taking the number one spot and universally praised by our sources, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” takes the long-established trope of a poor person suddenly joining the wealthy and casts it in a new and now iconic light. “Most people in the English-speaking world know the theme song of the classic NBC sitcom ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’ The show starred Will Smith as a Philadelphia teen sent to live with his aunt, uncle and cousins in Bel-Air, a wealthy neighborhood in Los Angeles.  Despite its hilarious moments, the show dealt with gun violence, drug use and issues of race. The Fresh Prince showed the world that Smith wasn’t only a rapper but also an actor–one who would later become one of the biggest movie stars in the world,” raves Ebony.

The premise of this show is as old as storytelling itself with countless iterations of the rags-to-riches stories. “The culture clash that follows brings out Will’s comedy and charm, making this one of the hilarious TV shows in the ’90s. The switching of the actresses who played Aunt Viv on the show was one of the things many fans remember, since viewers were not very happy about it. One of the most memorable moments in this TV show is when Will’s father abandons him again, and Will breaks down in one of the most emotional 90s Black TV show moments,” writes Yahoo!.

“You know it, you love it, you can rap the theme song word-for-word and cry every time Will gives that speech about his father to Uncle Phil. Now, check out all six seasons of the sitcom that launched Will Smith to superstardom and gave us not one but two iconic Aunt Vivs — more on that in the recent reunion special,” offers ET.

2. “Martin” (1992 – 1997)

Will Smith’s “Bad Boys” film partner Martin Lawrence was also at the helm of a very successful ’90s sitcom. “In 1992, FOX aired the first episode of ‘Martin,’ a vehicle for comedian Martin Lawrence. Viewers would get to know Lawrence as Martin Payne, a DJ working out of Detroit, in what quickly became one of the funniest sitcoms of all time. Lawrence’s ability to effortlessly play as multiple different personas within the series, often within the same episode, quickly became a highlight of the series. Each of his personas brought something unique to the show, whether it was martial arts ‘master’ Dragonfly Jones or aging player Jerome. Martin quickly became one of Fox’s top-rated sitcoms, running for a total of five seasons before ending in 1997,” explains CBR.

"Martin" (1992 - 1997)
“Martin” (1992 – 1997)

Side-splitting humor and gags were the hallmark of this successful show. “Martin Lawrence left his standup stage to make a home in Detroit as Martin Payne … But the real standout of the series was Lawrence’s theatrical skills, which he put to good use across a handful of characters he portrayed alongside Payne: Sheneneh Jenkins, Edna (Mama) Payne, Ol’ Otis, Jerome, Roscoe, Dragonfly Jones, Bob, Elroy Preston, and King Beef. Martin was and is the definition of innovation: a Black sitcom whose over-the-top comedy was uncompromising and unfiltered,” adds okayplayer.

“’Martin’ is the quintessential Black sitcom and helped usher in a wave of classic sitcoms geared toward African-Americans in the 1990s. The show starred Martin Lawrence as Martin Payne, a DJ living in Detroit with his girlfriend, Gina (Tisha Campbell), and revolved around his relationships with her, her best friend Pam and his friends. The show was at its best whenever Martin and Pam butted heads, which was always, or whenever Lawrence portrayed the loud and feisty Sheneneh Jenkins, who frequently gathered the group with her sharp quips,” explains Ebony.

3. “Living Single” (1993 – 1998)

Another ’90s smash-hit for the Fox entertainment brand, “Living Single” was praised for its core cast of actors. “In case you didn’t know, ‘Living Single’ was the progenitor of ‘Friends,’ which copied its format and cast dynamic to greater effect due to its ‘mass appeal.’ The ensemble cast featured the likes of Kim Fields, Erika Alexander, and Queen Latifah and quickly became the fourth highest-rated show on Fox,” claims TV Insider.

Some say “inspired by” while others comment “blatantly copied” when discussing this show’s influence on NBC’s “Friends.” “When Living Single premiered in 1993, it gave 20-something Black viewers a chance to see themselves on screen. The show centered around six friends living in Brooklyn as they navigated love, friendship, sex and their careers. It also was the inspiration behind the hit NBC sitcom Friends, which also features six friends living in New York City,” adds Ebony.

“Bowser’s portrayal of successful young Black people proved to be an immediate success, becoming one of Fox’s highest-rated shows in its first season. While the series was hilarious, and Maxine and Regine had epic comic chemistry, what made ‘Living Single’ work is the way every character felt real. It was the kind of elevated writing that showed what sitcoms needed to go forward in the 90s, making it one of the few sitcoms of the era that still holds up,” writes CBR.

4. “Family Matters” (1989 – 1998)

As a huge hit with major cultural impact, “Family Matters” was a program that earned top-ratings in a time when viewers were staying at home on Friday nights. “With Steve Urkel, ‘Family Matters’ gave us one of the most iconic TV characters of the 90s. ‘Family Matters’ was actually a spin-off of another sitcom called ‘Perfect Strangers,’ but the original series did not feature a predominately Black cast. ‘Family Matters’ followed the lives of the Winslows, a middle-class family living in Chicago and their annoying yet lovable neighbor, Steve Urkel. Although Steve wasn’t originally intended to be the main character, he eventually stole the show. During its time on the air, ‘Family Matters’ was part of ABC’s Friday night lineup which was called TGIF,” offers TV Overmind.

“Only meant to appear once, ‘Family Matters fans loved the Urkel character, and he effectively usurped the rest of the show. Suddenly, the show was about Steve’s ridiculous antics, catchphrases, and inventions. The Winslows’ home had to suffer through a lot of explosions, but it made for one of the most beloved, and funniest, series of the 90s,” states CBR.

The transition to this program nearly becoming the “Steve Urkel Show” was rapid. “’Family Matters’ initially revolved around a middle-class black family in Chicago before their nerdy neighbor stole the show following his one-time guest appearance. After that, Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) became an icon in pop culture, breaking the barriers of only attracting black audiences, which contributed to the show’s catapulted success. ‘Family Matters’ became the second-longest-running live-action U.S. sitcom with a predominantly African-American cast, behind only ‘The Jeffersons,’” details TV Insider

 5. “Moesha” (1996 – 2001)

This popular show ran in syndication on Paramount’s now-defunct UPN network. “Although Brandy’s ‘Moesha’ dealt with loss, an unfaithful partner and issues around her father remarrying in the show’s debut, we still found ourselves laughing throughout the story. This episode was a great preview of how entertaining and impactful each episode would be. ‘Moesha’s’ cast was full of complex Black characters learning important lessons and trying to better themselves. And the show also took time to show that adults can be just as flawed as growing high schoolers. During this sitcom’s successful run, Moesha’s friend Kim was able to help launch the warmly received ‘The Parkers’ show. Both programs were beloved for the realistic, funny and emotional depictions of beautiful Black lives,” posits Watch Mojo.

“’Moesha’ was a TV show that revolved around the life of a Black teenager and how she handled the stuff that life threw at her. Brandy Norwood starred as ‘Moesha’ and lived in South Central with her middle-class Black family. Her friend circle was made up of Niecy, Kim, and Hakeem also frequented the TV episodes and made up most of the storylines. One of the ‘aha’ moments in the TV show is when Brandy’s real-life brother, Ray J, joins the series as Dorian, Frank’s nephew,” writes The Grio.

“A reboot for ‘Moesha’ may be in the works, and for many of us who followed Brandy‘s teen antics on the show as kids, we are so here for that. ‘Moesha’ centered around a black teenager diving into deeper explorations of all kinds of relationships and left cliffhangers in several story lines dangling when it was canceled,” claims Café Mom.

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