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10 Best ’90s Black Sitcoms, Ranked

10 Best ’90s Black Sitcoms, Ranked
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African Americans have long made an impact in film and radio, from old-time radio shows like Amos and Andy to the silent film era, where Oscar Micheaux produced and directed popular black-led films for audiences of all races. So, it’s no surprise that, once TV took over, African Americans would also leave their mark on this medium as well. By the mid-1980s, many young black business professionals were entering the workforce, the black middle class was expanding, hip-hop was taking over, and The Cosby Show, which premiered on NBC in 1984, had inspired a generation of how African Americans could be portrayed on television.




All these factors led to a golden age of black sitcoms that would pop up on TV screens in the 90s, filled with diverse stories of upward mobile African American young adults and families telling their stories. From the nerdy genius on Family Matters to the rich family of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, these new stories led to unique and hilarious shows. Mainstream audiences were also introduced to new comedians and actors who would play a pivotal role in 90s’ Hollywood. In fact, these shows became so popular with black and white audiences that many were used to prop up new stations like Fox, WB, and UPN, as well as helping a pre-Must See TV NBC during a lull. Despite many of these shows being unceremoniously canceled once these networks had amassed large followings, their impact is still felt today.


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10 ‘Keenan And Kel’

Network: Nickelodeon

After their undeniable chemistry on skits like Good Burger, the two All That alumni were given their own show, once again showing their comedic genius. Unlike a lot of classic 90s kids’ shows, this sitcom about a scheming teenager and his dullwitted friend, he always ropes into his plans and is not trying to teach moral lessons or be deep. In short, it was a comedy built on laughs, and laughs alone; but that’s what makes Kenan and Kel so great.


The sole purpose is to make fans laugh using their signature irrelevant style of comedy from All That, but more focused on a narrative. Keenan Mitchell and Kel Thompson’s dynamic chemistry harkens back to legendary comedy duos like Abbot and Costello or Martin and Lewis. The way the pairs effortlessly bounce jokes back and forth is even more impressive because of how young they were; so it was no surprise both were asked to audition for SNL, with Kenan eventually joining the show. Even 23 years after the final episode ended, Kenan and Kel is a comedy that has aged gracefully, and will still make viewers laugh out loud.

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9 ‘Family Matters’

Networks: ABC & CBS

Kellie Shanygne Williams and Jaleel White in 'Family Matters'
Image via ABC


TGIF’s legendary show about a middle-class family and their wacky neighbor was a staple in every house with children. While this show was initially about the family, Jaleel White’s break-out performance as Steve Urkel turned him into the leading man, for better or worse, as Urkel was basically carrying the series in the sitcom’s later seasons.

This iconic sitcom revels in its campiness and its over-the-top main character, who’s essentially a mad scientist. As the seasons go by, it just gets crazier and more fun thanks to Steve’s increasingly unhinged antics. This includes Urkel coming up with his own theme song and dance, machines that turn people cool, and even time travel. Craziness aside, this show taught kids right from wrong and allowed the Winslows to be a semi-normal suburban family never defined by their race, which harkens, back to The Cosby Show, the sitcom that changed the way suburban America view the black family. Family Matters was built on that same foundation, but with the different purpose of showing that the black family could thrive even in the inner-city, and with a young mad scientist living next door.


Family Matters TV Show Promo

Family Matters

Release Date
September 22, 1989

Main Genre
Sitcom

Seasons
9

Creator
William Bickley, Michael Warren

Prequel
Perfect Strangers

Production Company
Bickley-Warren Productions, Lorimar Television, Warner Bros. Television

Number of Episodes
215

WATCH ON HULU

8 ‘The Wayans Bros.’

Network: The WB

carol singing on stage_Wayans Bros show

After costarring on their older brother’s iconic sketch show, In Living Color, Marlon and Shawn Wayans began developing a 30-minute sitcom to showcase their own comedic chops. This show about two brothers of the same name living together with polar opposite personalities would eventually become famous in its own right.


The Wayans family took their zany and physical style of comedy from In Living Color and Don’t Be a Menace A Menace In South Central While Drinking Juice and transplanted it into a sitcom format with hilarious results. The cast’s commitment to being as outlandish as possible added to the show’s charm. There’s something oddly comforting about watching this cast of grown-ups act like children for twenty minutes.

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7 ‘My Brother And Me’

Network: Nickelodeon

Alfie and Goo_My Brother and Me

This cult Nickelodeon show about the up-and-down relationship between two brothers was supposed to be the network answer to Sister Sister. While the show met its premature demise because the creators couldn’t agree on the direction of season two, it became clear years later how much of an impact this gem had on kids.


With its memorable one-liners, this underrated show had jokes kids and their parents could laugh at for different reasons. What differentiates this show from others is that the characters acted like real kids and didn’t feel overly goofy or sweet. Instead, they spoke and behaved the way children do when their parents aren’t looking, which is bad, adding to the show’s authenticity. The fact that African American children could see characters that reminded them of themselves plays a big part in why 90s babies fondly remember this gem. This sitcom is primed for a reboot.

My Brother and Me

Release Date
October 15, 1994

Main Genre
Sitcom

Seasons
1

Studio
Nickelodeon Studios

Creator
Ilunga Adell, Calvin Brown Jr.

Number of Episodes
13

Network
Nickelodeon

WATCH ON AMAZON PRIME

6 ‘Moesha’

Network: UPN

brandy-moesha-tv-series
Image via Everett Collection


In 1996, R&B sensation Brandy starred in this hit show about a smart-aleck adolescent whose recently widowed father marries a new woman. The show gained popularity for its faithful portrayal of high school youths, which made viewers feel like they were reading through the diary of a teenage girl in 90s LA. While CBS declined the show after seeing the pilot it became a runaway hit when it was used as a midseason replacement on UPN.

Whether she’s trading hilarious clapbacks between friends at the popular hangout, arguing with her parents, or making bad decisions about boys, this comedy accurately depicts teenage life. Moesha was also educational, shedding light on serious topics like premarital sex, teen pregnancy, and the loss of a parent. This makes it fun for fans to watch Moesha make all the same mistakes as them and learn important moral lessons from these youthful blunders all from the safety of their home.


Moesha

Release Date
January 23, 1996

Cast
Brandy Norwood , William Allen Young , Marcus T. Paulk , Ray J

Main Genre
Comedy

Seasons
6

WATCH ON PARAMOUNT PLUS

5 ‘Roc’

Network: Fox

Roc idriving his garbage truck_ROc

This powerful show, led by Broadway actorsCharles Dutton and Ella Joyce, is about a compassionate garbage collector who cares for his family and community. Unlike most sitcoms, these two Broadway alumni brought a certain gravitas to the show, which was grounded in real life situations that weren’t played just for laughs.


This underrated 90s sitcom used infused comedy and drama to find the funny in topics that most sitcoms might consider either too dark or taboo. The leads often played certain scenes straight that most sitcoms would use for jokes, adding to why the show feels so distinctive. This edgy show also had many political commentaries to which the everyday person could relate, not to mention, being daring enough to be the first show to portray a gay wedding on a sitcom. While short-lived, it’s remembered fondly by television purists as a sitcom that didn’t pull any punches to tell its story from week-to-week.

Roc

Release Date
1991-8-25

Main Genre
Sitcom

Seasons
3

Creator
Stan Daniels

Number of Episodes
72

Network
FOX

WATCH ON APPLE TV

4 ‘Living Single’

Network: Fox

Regine Khadijah Synclaire and Max in Kitchen Living Single


Staring Queen Latifah, this sitcom about a co-ed group of friends living in the same building supporting each other through their careers, relationships became a staple of primetime television in the mid-90s. Ironically, it’s produced by the same production studio as Friends on the same lot, with almost identical characters, and had the same name, leaving some to think that Friends was just a ripoff of this sitcom.

The 90s classic is one of the first black sitcoms to focus primarily on a predominantly female cast and also highlights young black business professionals inspiring its viewers. However, its snappy dialogue and trendy characters appealed to audiences of all backgrounds. It also infused popular hip-hop music fashion as an expression of its characters. Its stories and humor perfectly reflect when people start their professional careers and finally begin living independently. The strong bond between these friends shows that once people leave the nest, their friends are like their family.


Living Single

Follows the lives of several single male and female roommates and friends in 1990s Brooklyn, New York.

Release Date
August 22, 1993

Cast
Queen Latifah , Kim Coles , erika alexander , Kim Fields , John Henton , T.C. Carson , Mel Jackson

Main Genre
Comedy

Seasons
5

Watch On Hulu

3 ‘Martin’

Network: FoxOfficer Otis_martin

In a lot of ways, Martin felt like a modern throwback to old black-and-white rom-com shows like The Honeymooners or I Love Lucy. Staring Martin Lawrence in his first sitcom leading role, Martin centered around a fiery couple, Martin Payne and Gina Waters (Tisha Campbell), and their loyal friends living in Detroit. Martin (Lawrence) worked as a radio DJ, with Gina working at a PR firm with her best friend, and Martin’s mortal enemy, Pam James (Tichina Arnold). Martin’s best friends, the somewhat dim-witted but kind-hearted Cole Brown (Carl Anthony Payne) and the perpetually unemployed Tommy Strawn (the late Thomas Mikal Ford) rounded out this hilarious cast.


Lawrence’s stellar comedic performance leaves no doubt why he was such a staple of the 90s. The biggest staple of Martin was Lawrence’s ability to play multiple iconic characters, which made the sitcom feel like a sketch show at times. Each of these recurring characters, from his next door neighbor Sheneneh Jenkins to the loudmouth pimp Jerome, were ridiculous yet hilarious. There was no question that Lawrence and his supporting cast had undeniable comedic timing, often improving scenes and leaning into the absurdity of the comedy. Comedy aside, Martin is about imperfect people navigating their lives the best way they know how, making it oddly sincere for such a slapstick show.

WATCH ON HBO MAX

2 ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’

Network: NBC

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air original cast
Image via NBC


The Cosby Show was one of the first sitcoms to show a black upper-middle-class household; but The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air raised the ante with the wealthy family in Bel-Air once again, breaking the mold of how black families were portrayed on television.

Will Smith’s undeniable charisma as a Philadelphia youth sent to live with his Uncle Phil (James Avery) and Aunt Vivian (Janet Hubert until Season three, Daphne Maxwell Reid thereafter) in posh Bel-Air is just one of the many reasons this show is a classic. One of the sitcom’s major strengths was its talented writing, which was able to make astute observations about society and pop culture without coming off as being preachy. The social differences between the Banks family and Will were a goldmine of material for writers to mine, and they did just that and more. Its humor walked the tightrope of being universally funny to all audiences while still containing lots of inside jokes, particularly about what qualifies as black enough. It’s a timeless sitcom, which was re-booted as a drama simply titled Bel-Air in 2022.


The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Will Smith more or less plays himself in this good-natured NBC sitcom. As the show’s popular theme song explains, fictional Will’s mom sends him away from his rough Philadelphia neighborhood to live with wealthy Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian in Bel-Air. Will often has fun at the expense of stuck-up cousins Carlton and Hilary.

Release Date
September 10, 1990

Cast
Will Smith , James Avery , Janet Hubert , alfonso ribeiro , Karyn Parsons , Tatyana Ali , Joseph Marcell , Daphne Reid , Ross Bagley

Main Genre
Sitcom

Seasons
6

WATCH ON HBO MAX

1 ‘A Different World’

Network: NBC

An official photo from the TV series A Different World

The Cosby Show dominated the primetime ratings in the 80s; so it was only fitting that when Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) went off to Hillman College in 1987, the storyline would be ripped for a spin-off. Thus, A Different World was born. However, after its first season, and despite high ratings, two major events happened that would alter the course of the sitcom: Bonet left the series, and Debbie Allen became the sitcom’s showrunner. The rest, as the old saying goes, was history.


Allen infused the show with a new spunky energy that caused the show to become so ingrained in pop culture that many Black people attended college solely because of the show. Funny enough, when Denise left the show after becoming pregnant, the arguably more interesting supporting characters had to pick up the slack, with the show re-focusing from the Denise-centric plotlines to one that used its wild assortment of personalities to near-perfection. It’s full of laughs and heart thanks to the chemistry between its ensemble cast, each with unique comedic timing. A Different World was important as its diverse cast showcased to suburban America that black people were not a monolith. Similar to the actual college experience, these characters grow and change throughout the seasons, investing fans into the lives of these fictitious students. This includes the epic will-or-won’t-they relationship between Whitley and Dwayne, whose comedic chemistry rivals Lucy and Desi. Most importantly, the change in focus allowed A Different World to escape the shadows of its parent show to cover social issues like Aids, date rape, colorism, and other topics The Cosby Show largely avoided. This makes this show forever topical and relatable, no matter how many years go by.


WATCH ON HBO MAX

NEXT: 10 Best Black Sitcoms From The 80s



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