The need for representation is deeply felt by many. When some American viewers are able to see their community represented on television and other media, being able to identify with the cast and overall production is meaningful. Through the history of broadcast television there have been many ground breaking programs that helped to showcase the writing, humor, and talent of Black actors in comedic roles. In order to discover the top five best Black Sitcoms, we turned to expert sources to narrow it down.
These series are nostalgic for many, which is why you might be prone to watching them over and over. In fact, a recent study shows this was especially true during the pandemic. It appears most Americans can’t help but turn back time and watch the classics when it comes to pandemic entertainment. A recent survey of 2,000 adults finds seven in 10 are feeling more nostalgic than ever before. On average, Americans have re-watched a staggering 30 TV episodes and 14 movies during the pandemic. That’s a lot of screen time.
Another recent study suggests that even old-school corny humor can be good for us. Can’t seem to crack a smile whenever dad tells a corny joke? According to a new study out of London, he may want to consider adding a laugh track to his comedy routine. A new study finds that adding canned or authentic laughter to the end of a bad joke actually helps it seem funnier. It’s no wonder that some of those cheesy network sitcoms draw big ratings, especially when filmed in front of a live studio audience. Researchers at the University College of London say that while both canned and authentic laughter helps jokes seem funnier, authentic laughs were even more effective than posed laugh tracks.
The importance of Black creators and performers in media is significant, not only for diversity’s sake, but because there are so many talented Black actors that have made a mark on the industry. The shows that have made our list of top five best Black sitcoms are each classics in their own right. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!
The List: Best Black Sitcoms, According to Experts
“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” is one of the most well-regarded TV sitcoms of all time. That Sister shares the following, “If you’ve never seen The Fresh-Prince of Bel-Air, what are you doing with your life? This sitcom defined Black television, featuring a young Will Smith as the fresh prince sent to live with Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil. There’s a wealth of wonder in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, from butler Geoffrey’s sardonic one-liners to Carlton’s dorky dancing. It’s still relevant and just as funny today.”
The deeply memorable aspects of the show can still bring the lyrics to the theme song to mind with ease. 10 Melanin writes that, “If someone says ‘now this is a story all about how’ and you don’t know how to finish it, then you might want to go take a long hard look in the mirror. This iconic TV show which launched Will Smith’s acting career, follows Will (Will Smith) a kid from Philadelphia and the challenges he faces moving to the very wealthy area Bel-air. While Will learns how to be more responsible, the family in return learns a lot of lessons from Will on how to be more carefree and fun.”
Ebony also adds that, “‘In West Philadelphia born and raised …’ 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.”
The facts of the program’s run are written as follows: “When The Cosby Show premiered in 1984, it became one of the biggest hits on television and one of the most successful sitcoms of all time. The show centered on the Huxtables, an upper-middle class Black family living in Brooklyn. It starred Bill Cosby as Heathcliff Huxtable, an obstetrician raising his five kids with his wife, Claire, an attorney, played by the divine Phylicia Rashad. For many viewers, it was the first time seeing an upper-middle class Black family on television. The show won six Emmy Awards, and Cliff Huxtable was named television’s greatest dad by TV Guide,” according to Ebony.
The Cosby Show was a top-rated program with major reach in the American television market. “The family lives in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, and the series documents their day-to-day life. However, the wholesome legacy of the show has been tarnished by Cosby himself. He would later be convicted of aggravated indecent assault amidst sexual assault allegations in 2018: his conviction was later vacated in 2021 by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania over due process violations. Though its sitcom nature gave it a light comedic tone, the show managed to address real issues like dyslexia and teen pregnancy throughout its eight-season run. It was one of, if not the most popular, show in the ‘80s and had a major impact on TV sitcoms at the time. It could have been the inspiration for some later shows like Black-ish,” explains Collider.
“The Cosby Show” was also known for its stellar ensemble cast that showed an overwhelmingly positive image of the Black American family. Complex explains, “For eight magical seasons, The Cosby Show revolved around the Huxtables, a well-to-do African American family living in a Brooklyn brownstone. Not only were both parents present, but they were also extremely successful. Cliff was a doctor and Claire was a lawyer. They had five children: four girls and one boy. It went Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy. All five of the Huxtable children were based on Bill Cosby’s actual children, including his late son Ennis who suffered from dyslexia, providing further inspiration for Theo’s character. Each of the Huxtable children attended college during the show’s run, with the exception of Rudy, and only because she was too young. Denise followed in her parents and grandfather’s footsteps at Hillman College, though she would eventually drop out to find herself through an alternative path, traveling to Africa and eventually marrying a Navy man. The Huxtables represented a nuclear family with successful parents who passed their values along to their children and pushed them to succeed, even when they fought their hardest against it. By the end of the series, The Cosby Show had built a lineage of success from grandparents to children that hadn’t been seen before on television, regardless of race.”
The Jeffersons is considered to be one of the old-school classics of television during the late ’70s and early ’80s. Disctopia adds the following: “For lovers and followers of The Jeffersons, it’s one of the most underrated Black Sitcom on TV. The Jeffersons are an African-American family who moved into a luxury apartment while building close rapport with tenants. From 1975 to 1985, The Jeffersons grew in popularity among both Blacks and even non-Blacks. It broke several barriers by being the first sitcom to star interracial couples. The divergent to showing African Americans living and loving luxury is also never seen before on TV. Many loved the sitcom for portraying in George how hard working blacks can be and climbing up higher in the social class.”
During an era where representation of upward mobility in the Black community was not often showcased, The Jefferson’s managed to showcase just that. Ebony elaborates, “The Jeffersons followed an upwardly mobile African-American family as they moved from their home working-class neighborhood in Queens into a luxury apartment in Manhattan. The show became the second- longest-running African-American sitcom on television, airing 254 episodes in the 10 years it was on the air. It was a spin-off of another wildly successful CBS show, All in the Family.”
The Jeffersons enjoyed over a decade of ratings success on broadcast television. “The Jeffersons represented the American Dream. With 11 seasons, it’s one of the longest-running sitcoms on American television, and it all began as a simple spin-off of All in the Family. That’s right, notorious racist Archie Bunker deserves some credit for bringing George Jefferson into the world. The Jeffersons focused on George and Louise Jefferson, who happen upon a large sum of money. Along with their son Lionel, they moved from Queens to a deluxe apartment in the sky—a luxury high-rise in Manhattan. Florence, their housekeeper, provided comic relief, frequently spazzing on George because of his hairline and height. Both attributes became Sherman Hemsley’s trademarks, along with his signature dance. The Jeffersons remained popular well into the 1980s. During its eighth season, it became the first African-American sitcom since Sanford and Son to crack the top five in ratings. It amassed 13 Emmy nominations, and in 1981, Isabel Sanford (who played Louise, or ‘Weezie,’ as she was known) became the second black actress to win the award for Best Actress. After The Jeffersons ended in 1985, Hemsley and Sanford continued to reprise their roles on other shows, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where they bought the Banks’ house in the series finale. Hemsley and Marla Gibbs appeared as George and Florence on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne before Hemsley’s death last summer at the age of 74,” writes Complex.
A currently running program at the time of this article’s publication, “Abbott Elementary” is a major broadcast and streaming hit. “What’s it about? A cohort of teachers in an underfunded Philly elementary school band together to make a difference in their students lives, learning a lot about themselves along the way. Who’s in it? Quinta Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tyler James Williams, Lisa Ann Walters, Janelle James, and Chris Perfetti. Where can I watch it? ABC or Hulu,” details Refinery 29.
As a newly-minted award winning program, “Abbott Elementary is a mockumentary sitcom created by Quinta Brunson, who also stars as the lead character, Janine Teagues. It follows Janine, a positive second-grade teacher in a poorly funded elementary school with predominately Black students. Only in it second season, it’s already been met with critical acclaim, having received nominations and wins for several Primetime Emmy Awards. It provides a range of excellently written characters, and helps prove why mockumentary is one of the best genres to ever exist,” adds Movie Web.
Even though this show has not yet completed its run, the fact that it is something special is undeniable. The modern viewer seems to have a taste for good-hearted humor with just a touch of the awkward. Collider adds that, “The critically-acclaimed Abbott Elementary sheds light on the plights of everyday teachers at a public school in Philadelphia and stars the show’s creator Quinta Brunson as Janine Teagues, a new but highly-determined teacher. The show’s dedicated teachers, which include Sheryl Lee Ralph from Moesha as veteran kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard, are devoted to their students no matter what the district throws their way. This series has effectively revived the late-night sitcom, receiving a hardly-seen order for not 10 but 22 episodes for its second season. It has also already been renewed for a third season. This ensemble comedy features a plethora of talented Black actors, such as Janelle James as the always-hustling principal Ava Coleman, William Stanford Davis as hilarious janitor Mr. Johnson, and Tyler James Williams from Everybody Hates Chris as new teacher Gregory Eddie.”
Donald Glover has been an influential talent in the 2010s and today in the 2020s. Refinery 29 summarizes: “What’s it about? Facing a quarter life crisis, the unmotivated Earn (Donald Glover) pivots to managing his cousin’s blossoming rap career, and shenanigans abound as the posse takes on the hyper-competitive Atlanta music scene. Who’s in it? Donald Glover, Bryan Tyree-Henry, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz.”
Sometimes bombastic and funny, other times sullen and dark Atlanta straddles the line between drama and comedy. Sistah Wavy chimes in on the popular program, “If you’re a fan of Donald Glover’s acting work (Community anyone?) or his music as Childish Gambino, you may be in for a treat. The show centers around Donald Glover’s character, Earl, who is managing his cousin that suddenly finds fame with rapping. Each episode follows Earl and his crew as they attempt to maintain the success of his cousin while dealing with real life in the city of Atlanta. The show features actors Donald Glover as Earn Marks, Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles, Lakeith Stanfield as Darius and Zazie Beetz as Van.”
Regarding the buildup to the final season that aired in 2022, TV Insider states, “That sense of uncertainty looms as Earn, Paper Boi, Darius, and Van walk through their lives in the city they used to know so well. Unveiled timed to FX’s TCA presentation, Glover said of Season 4, ‘I feel like this is probably the most grounded season. I think this season explores people more than we have before,’ Glover added. ‘We’re right now living in a time when you don’t give people the benefit of the doubt, so I felt like this was a good time to explore that a little bit more.'”
You might also be interested in:
- Sistah Wavy
- Refinery 29
- Movie Web
- 10 Melanin
- That Sister
- TV Insider
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.