The Cosby Show – Bill Cosby set a standard for Black role models on television with his show about a well-educated, suburban Black family. He created a positive vision for Black men and women with examples of successful parents, respectful children, and a good family dynamic. The Cosby Show gave urban youth a personal ideal to strive for that was different and better than those that television had previously provided for minorities about their culture. It gave Black people career goals that were attainable. Cosby used his show to deal with issues of Black family life and used it as a vehicle of change for a struggling Black culture. He showed Black people as contributing members of society and as equals to all other cultures.
The Boondocks – The Boondocks is one of the most intelligent shows about the Black experience that was ever created. On the surface, the Boondocks seems like the superficial cartoon expression of the BET awards. Kids curse at adults, the parents are missing, and the grandparents are strict disciplinarians. You would need a team of scientists with hand counters and a sophisticated computer analysis system to count the number of times “nigga” is said during each episode. However, the show is not just another inappropriate attempt at catching the attention of disillusioned Black youth. It is a well-written, poignant satire disguised as a silly unintentional animation. Each negative display of Black culture is a calculated exhibition pointed towards enlightening the people who are living in those negative stereotypes.
The Chappelle Show – Though David Chappelle touched on almost any subject during his short tenure at Comedy Central, he also exposed and discussed many different issues that affect people of color. Chappelle had a unique gift for exposing cultural inequalities from the past and present in a way that made his audience consider the validity of his claims of racism. Through laughter Chappelle forced people to look at issues that they may not have considered without his lighter touch.
Good Times – Where Bill Cosby played Black father-lite as Heathcliff Huxtable in the better part of town, James Evans was the strong Black father struggling to raise a family in Good Times. People overlook the serious topics that Good Times broached because of the silly exuberance of the oldest son, J.J. He was written in as a foil, but the show regularly touched on poverty, corrupt government, and several different types of abuse. Where the Cosby Show gave Black families a realistic goal to aspire to, Good Times gave everyone a candid look at urban life at that time. Good Times talked about the issues that affect the poor, the mentality that shapes people born in the ghetto, and the struggle to leave that lifestyle.
A Different World – This show was another brain child of Bill Cosby, but this incarnation was decidedly from the standpoint of college age Black students. Once again Cosby’s show gave Black youth a clear vision of a better future through education, but the characters were more radical and the topics were more polarizing. A Different World addressed racial profiling, showed the interactions and struggles between Black people from different walks of life, and exposed the perceptions that different people have of Black people. It was also one of the first television shows with an all-Black cast and the first to depict college life at a historically Black college. This show actually caused college enrollment rates to rise.
227 – 227 was one of the first television shows that had an African American woman as its lead. It focused on life in the city and featured a diverse cast that were treated as equals on the show.
In Living Color – In Living Color employed a mostly Black cast, was produced and written by a Black man, and focused on Black issues from a Black viewpoint. In between the laughs, this show was well ahead of its time.
The Jeffersons – Though George Jefferson acted ignorantly and obnoxiously towards the people around him, the show that carried his name dealt with a lot of the issues of the time, interracial marriages, stereotypes about different races, and it starred a Black man as an affluent business owner.