In today’s digital world, television is poppin’ more than ever! We have access to virtually any t.v. program, at any time by just a few clicks of a button. And more access means catering our visual media consumption to things that are more of our flavor.
Families in t.v. have been a popular concept for many shows. The Cosby Show (despite the terrible drama surrounding its creator) is the clear leader of the black family on t.v., followed by other memorable shows such as Family Matters, My Wife and Kids and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But families aren’t always the straight-laced unit of a mom, dad, and a few kids.
Let’s take a look at 15 unique representations of the black family in television, from today and years past.
1. This Is Us
Initially, I thought this show would be a little too sweet for my taste. Boy, was I wrong. If you haven’t checked out the hit series, the main plot of This is Us is also the big twist. [SPOILER] Soon-to-be parents, Jack and Rebecca Pearson (a white couple), are expecting triplets. Unfortunately, during their premature delivery, all but one make it. Randomly, after being abandoned at a fire station, another baby (who is black) is brought to the same hospital where the Pearson kids are born. The Pearsons decide to adopt him as their own. That particular child, Randall, grows up with his white family and as an adult, builds a very gorgeous, black, intelligent, and woke, family of his own.
On the surface, Randall’s family may not be very unique, but when you meet his parents and siblings, there is something very special about the Pearsons as a whole.
2. The Bernie Mac Show
Photo: The A.V. Club
If you are a millennial, this show may be considered a classic to you. Bernie Mac is living happily with his fine wife Wanda, and no kids', until his sister goes into rehab. Bernie then decides to take in his sister’s three children and raise them as his own.
The Bernie Mac Show was a wonderful show of a close-knit relationship between an uncle, aunt, nieces and a nephew.
3. Baby, I'm Back
Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
I’ll be the first to admit that this show sounds like a terrible depiction of the black family, but when you get past the initial premise, there’s an honest story that many simply choose not to discuss. Raymond Ellis (played by Demond Wilson from Sanford and Son) abandons his wife and two young kids in D.C. because he’s ashamed to not be able to provide for them financially. Seven years later, while living in California, he hears some shocking news and decides to go back to D.C. to get his family back. On paper, this sounds horrible, but as you watch, you discover it’s about a man who has realized he made a dire mistake and makes up his mind to try and fix it. It’s a tale that is ugly, but real. Many people make mistakes like this, but his realization of his faults, and the actions he takes to mend the hurt he has caused is quite commendable.
4. The Boondocks
Photo: Inverse Entertainment
The Boondocks was edgy AF, but always sparked important discussions about race, politics, social class and much more. The plot revolved around the Freemans, a black family consisting of a grandpa and his two grandsons, who recently moved from the south side of Chicago, into the predominately white neighborhood of Woodcrest in Maryland.
Families consisting of kids being raised by their grandparents is a reality I’ve seen often in real life but is rarely depicted in media. I think most would agree that The Boondocks went above and beyond in filling that void.
Speaking of grandparents raising kids, parents moving in with their adult kids is also a unique reality that isn’t often seen on TV. The short-lived show, Grady, attempted to change that in the mid-70s. A spin-off of the iconic show, Sanford and Son, the show follows the character Grady Wilson as he moves in with his daughter, and her family, from the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts to Westwood.
6. Instant Mom
Photo: TV Land
When it comes to single parent love stories, it’s usually the woman with kids being “rescued” by the handsome, successful, childless single guy. What if it were the other way around? Instant Mom revolves around Stephanie, a beautiful, smart, food blogger (played by Tia Mowry-Hardrict) who, after marrying Dr. Charlie Phillips, becomes an “instant” step-mother to his three kids. She hilariously stumbles through each episode figuring out how to become a great parent to these kids that aren’t biologically her own.
7. Let’s Stay Together
Kids aren’t always necessary to make a TV family happen, and Let’s Stay Together proves that. Stacy Lawrence is preparing to build her new family with fiancé Charles Whitmore. Stacy’s younger, already married sister Tasha, provides a constant picture for her sister of what married life could possibly be.
On the other hand, Charles’ sister, Kita, offers a perspective of the single life the couple will be leaving once they are married. Although Tasha has a set of baby twins, the show revolves around the adult siblings and their relationships.
Single mom shows are often stories of struggle and survival. Not this one. Julia (played by the gorgeous Diahann Carrol) is a widowed mother of one who is a nurse working in the doctor’s office of an aerospace company. The show premiered in the late 1960s, and despite it being set in a time when race was a huge issue, Julia lived in a fabulous Los Angeles high rise and wore fabulous clothes alongside fabulous white friends who didn’t seem to care or notice anything out of the norm. Julia was a beautiful, black single mother doing the damn thang and inspiring other black women to do the same. Groundbreaking.
9. On Our Own
This show is, by all means, literally a family show. On Our Own focuses on the Jerrico family, seven siblings who are left alone after losing their parents and raised by the oldest sibling. All of the siblings, except the oldest, are a real life family, the Smollett's (today, Jurnee and Jussie are the most well known). The plot is a bit unrealistic, but it’s definitely unique.
10. New Attitude
A pair of sisters go into business together by opening a hair salon called “New Attitude." A black family business, run by two smart, driven sisters is a story anyone with a sibling can admire.
11. One On One
This is another single parent story, but there is no serious drama involved between the two parents. Flex Washington, a former NBA star turned successful sportscaster, has a teenage daughter, Breanna, who he lets stay with him permanently after she finds out her mom is taking a job offer in random Nova Scotia. One On One is a great father-daughter show and, from what I can see, one of the few created.
Going back to shows about families going into business together, Sparks is about a family of black lawyers in Compton, California who run a family-owned law practice together. Dope! The show is also notable for being the next sitcom for James Avery after his long run on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and one of Terrence Howard’s earlier starring roles.
13. Sister, Sister
Photo: Paramount Network Television
Do I even have to explain this show?! If you are a black millennial, it is iconic. But for those who don’t know, it’s about a set of twins (Tia and Tamera Mowry) who were separated at birth and are, unexpectedly, reunited while shopping at the mall with each of their adoptive parents. The two single parents decide to live together for the twin girls, and an unorthodox black TV family is born.
14. The Sinbad Show
Sinbad was quite the “it” guy in the 1990s. He became so popular that he received his own sitcom that carried his name. The Sinbad Show followed David Bryan (Sinbad’s character) after adopting two orphaned children. The concept of a cool, single guy choosing to become a dad because he believed he could positively change the lives of two kids is special and really sweet.
15. The Parkers
Teen moms and single mothers are nothing new to TV, but The Parkers gave it a hilarious, positive spin. Nikki Parker (played by Mo’Nique, before the Oscar win) was a teen mom who dropped out of high school. Years later, Nikki’s daughter, Kim, grows up and heads off to college. To Kim’s surprise, and horror, Nikki decides to go to school as well. The show is super funny and sends the message that it’s never too late to accomplish the goals you have for yourself and your family.
TV is awesome when you can see yourself in the stories that are told. I can’t wait to see how shows continue to evolve and positively depict the black family in the future.
Do you see your family in any of these shows? Do you know of any other unique black TV families I might have missed? Let me know!