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A scene from 'Living Single' (photo credit: Image courtesy of the Everett Collection).
A scene from 'Living Single' (photo credit: Image courtesy of the Everett Collection).
A scene from 'Living Single' (photo credit: Image courtesy of the Everett Collection).

The 14 Best Black Sitcoms From the '90s

Black sitcoms from the '90s served as a healing measure for an entire diaspora. From Moesha to Living Single, these are the best '90s Black sitcoms.

Black sitcoms from the ‘90s served as a healing measure for an entire diaspora. While worldly events, crises, and epidemics were developing outside the house, watching Black sitcoms on TV became a safe haven inside the house. Not only were we seeing characters that represented us, but we were also rewarded with some much-needed laughter and escape after a day of work (or school), even if it only lasted 30 minutes.

These sitcoms transported us to places across the country. We saw ourselves in Detroit in Martin’s living room, traveled from the South to a Brooklyn brownstone to be with Khadijah and her friends in Living Single, and spent a lot of time on the West Coast in cities like Los Angeles courtesy of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The ‘90s Black sitcom renaissance endowed the most accurate depictions of Blackness in its epicenter: the good, the bad, and the not-so-pretty. If it weren’t for these original sitcoms, we wouldn’t have been gifted countless others that weren’t just influenced by these classics, but became classics in their own right, too.

So, in honor of these ‘90s gems, we’re highlighting the 14 best Black sitcoms from the decade.

14. Cousin Skeeter, Nickelodeon (1998-2001)

Starring as the voice of Cousin Skeeter was actor and Def Comedy Jam stand-up comedian Bill Bellam, who brought his humor and larger-than-life personality to the titular character. In Cousin Skeeter, viewers are given a cousin relationship they didn’t know they needed, as Skeeter travels to New York to tutor his cousin Bobby (played by Robert Ri’chard) in Algebra, and ends up becoming his life coach and best friend in the process. Kurt Farquhar, Cousin Skeeter’s composer, was deep in his creative bag when he tapped into puppetry. He gave the culture its very own Black puppet, which was a spin on the sitcom formula that hadn’t been taken yet. This sitcom also introduced us to Meagan Good, who would star with Ri’chard again almost two decades later in the Harlem TV series.

13. Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, ABC (1992-1997)

After failing in his basketball career, Mr. Cooper takes advantage of his background in education and starts teaching kids. This sitcom demonstrated what it meant to not only be a teacher but a mentor to kids, as Cooper becomes a father figure and good role model for the students he encounters. We got to see familiar pre-adolescent and adolescent faces like twin sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Raven-Symone, Omar Gooding, and more. But what really separated Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper from other shows was the titular character’s living situation. He had two female roommates, Robin (played by A Different World’s Dawn Lewis) and Vanessa (played by Holly Robinson), resulting in a subtle but still significant progressive element, the trio’s conversations and unisex perspectives making for great exchanges.

12. Kenan & Kel, Nickelodeon (1996-2000)

From the original cast of Nickelodeon’s sketch series All That, actors Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were given their own sitcom. Unlike other sitcoms set in New York or California, Kenan & Kel resided in Chicago, where we got to see the hands-on Rockmore parents teach their son Kenan responsibility by making him get a job to work his way through high school (and babysit his younger sister, Kyra, played by (Vanessa Baden). His best friend, Kel — with his infamous catchphrase, “Who loves orange soda? Kel loves orange soda. I do, I do, I do” — doesn’t have a supportive family like Kenan’s, spending most of his time at the Rockmore house (to the parents’ chagrin). But at the center of this series is Kenan’s scheming, employing an assortment of “get-rich-quick” schemes throughout the series that always horribly — and hilariously — failed.

11. The Steve Harvey Show, The WB (1996-2002)

Although stand-up comedian Steve Harvey took on the lead fictional role of high school music teacher Steve Hightower, he still sported his real-life Choppa suits (he even has a suit line on the market today) in the beloved Steve Harvey Show. In this sitcom, we got to view a high school dynamic from the administration and faculty’s point of view. All office personnel worked together as a well-oiled machine, holding up a school of diverse teens, namely the series’ primary friend group: Romeo (Merlin Santana), Bullethead (William Lee Scott), and the always too ecstatic Lydia Liza Gutman (Lori Beth Denberg). But it was the Black leads who occupied office space that were the show’s main standouts, most notably Wendy Raquel Robinson as the school’s principal (and overall boss b**ch), Ms. Regina “Piggy” Greer.

10. Smart Guy, The WB (1997-1999)

In Smart Guy, we were able to experience the unheard-of: a black boy who didn’t get into extreme trouble, and had wits beyond his own instructors at school. T.J. Henderson (played by Tahj Mowry) is a boy genius in the sitcom, carrying the family (and his brother's friend Moe, played by Omar Gooding) on his back while going from elementary to high school as a 10-year-old. Smart Guy defied stereotypes while telling a touching story of a family — T.J.’s brother Marcus (Jason Weaver), sister Yvette (Essence Atkins), and father Floyd Henderson (John Marshall Jones) — trying to support one another.

9. Family Matters, ABC/CBS (1989-1998)

As the title suggests, this series was all about a family that took care of each other. In the Winslows, we saw a middle-class family doing their best to help each other, with patriarch Carl Winslow (Reginald Vel Johnson) leading by example. But what viewers remember most about Family Matters is a character that was originally supposed to have a one-and-done appearance on the show — Steve Urkel. Played by Jaleel White, Urkel was the Winslows’ nerdy neighbor who quickly became a fan favorite, resulting in him becoming the show’s breakout character. In making Urkel a main character, Family Matters birthed one of the greatest catchphrases in sitcom history — “Did I do that?” — and gave us a beloved Black teenage chemist who built everything from a time-traveling watch to a cloning machine.

8. Sister, Sister, The WB/ABC/UPN (1994-1999)

Before there was The Parent Trap starring Lindsay Lohan, we had Sister, Sister. This show gave us the opportunity to see what some of our households looked like – blended. Hearing sisters Tia Landry and Tamera Campbell (played by real-life twin sisters Tia and Tamera Mowry) bounce between “your dad” and “my mom” resonated with teens who were trying to navigate that situation in their own lives, while also juggling school life (including college life in later seasons), work life, home life, and their bug-a-boo neighbor, Roger (played by Marques Houston). Sister, Sister showed us what it was like to be adopted and always yearning for the knowledge of your biological parents, in a way that was fun but also insightful.

7. The Parkers, UPN (1999-2004)

Moesha viewers got well acquainted with boy-crazy Kim (Countess Vaughn), but it’d be in the spinoff series The Parkers where she’d be the star of her own show. A highlight of The Parkers was Kim and her mom Nikki Parker’s (Mo’Nique) tight-knit but codependent mother-daughter relationship. They were sort of like the Black Gilmore Girls of the time, except Nikki was on a hunt that overpowered any storyline. It’s in The Parkers that we learn where Kim got her boy craziness from, as we watch Nikki chase and get rejected by Professor Stanley Oglevee (Dorien Wilson) time and time again. Also, how could we forget Freestyle Unity? Made up of Kim’s friends, this music group had enough songs to make a decent album, their appearance across the series only adding to the show’s appeal.

6. Moesha, UPN (1996-2001)

In this sitcom, legendary R&B singer Brandy Norwood demonstrated and proved to fans just how versatile she was as the show’s lead star, Moesha Mitchell. The series was a raw and layered experience at times, exploring taboo subjects like sex, drugs, therapy, and grief. But there were also lighter moments, especially whenever Hakeem Campbell (played by Lamont Bentley) was involved. Each time the dark chocolate, handsome youth appeared on screen at the Mitchell residence, the audience praised him with endless applause and cheers. Rounded out with a catchy theme song and Moesha’s diary-writing nightcaps, Moesha continues to be a timeless Black sitcom.

5. The Wayans Bros., The WB (1995-1999)

The Wayans’ familial legacy began a little earlier in the sketch comedy series In Living Color, with Keenen Ivory Wayans, Damon Wayans, and Kim Wayans. However, sitcom The Wayans Bros. would focus on the two younger siblings of the clan, Shawn and Marlon Wayans, with the pair separating themselves from past and present Black sitcoms as soon as the show’s faux theme song started playing. (“They’re brothers, they’re happy and they’re singing and they’re colored,” will never not be great.) In the series, we’re introduced to Shawn and Marlon Williams, the former being an entrepreneur who owned a newspaper stand, and the latter being a jokester who usually wreaks havoc on most of his brother’s plans. We watch the boys maintain jobs and go through the ins and outs of their life in Harlem, with girls as their sole motivator. The late John Witherspoon was a standout as the boys’ father, Pops, hilariously trying to keep them in check while operating his diner. Overall, The Wayans Bros. found the younger Wayans brothers building out their own path, the series serving as the stepping stone to future creative endeavors like genre parody films (the Scary Movie franchise) and hilariously deranged comedies like White Chicks.

4. The Jamie Foxx Show, The WB (1996- 2001)

Leaving Texas to live with his Aunt Helen (Ellia English) and Uncle Junior (Garrett Morris) in Los Angeles to chase his dreams of being an entertainer, Jamie King (Jamie Foxx) had us laughing from The Jamie Foxx Show’s beginning all the way to its finale. In almost every episode, you were guaranteed the back-and-forth tension between him and goody-two-shoes coworker Braxton (Christopher B. Duncan). The series showcased Foxx’s versatility as an entertainer; one moment he’d be delivering a great comedic line like “talk to the hand,” and the next he’d be serenading a live audience with his underrated singing abilities. The series was also notable for its guest appearances, with Method Man and Red Man, Mac 10, West Side Connection and Ice Cube, Ronald Isley, Mary J. Blige, Gerald Levert, KCI & Jojo, and Gladys Knight (playing Foxx’s mom) all popping up.

3. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, NBC (1990-1996)

Before Fresh Prince, we’d already seen a well-off Black family before making money (The Cosby Show). But The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would be the first ever Black sitcom to place us in a mansion. The luxury experienced in the sitcom was unlike anything we had experienced before, with the Banks family even having their own butler. With Will (Will Smith) as the show’s lead, we see the Philadelphia native adjust to the good and bad of living in such a place, all while navigating the different relationships he has with the Banks family. As great as Will Smith was in the series, the ensemble cast was also significant, too, especially the late James Avery as the Banks patriarch. As fun and lighthearted as the series was, it also made space for serious topics, most notably the abandonment Will feels from his father. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air continues to have an impact not just on Black TV but TV overall, redefining the idea of what a sitcom could be.

2. Living Single, FOX (1993-1998)

From the moment you heard its theme song, you knew Living Single was going to be a hit. In the series, viewers follow Khadijah (Queen Latifah), a journalist who works at VIBE magazine. When she’s not working she’s usually spending time with her friends: attorney Maxine Shaw (Erika Alexander), the superficial, man-hunting Regine Hunter (Kim Fields), and Khadijah’s cousin Synclaire James (Kim Coles). It was great to see characters like Khadijah and Maxine have the careers they had, something that was unfortunately not really attainable for Black women in the ‘90s. Living Single was also notable for its male cast, especially with Terrence C. Carson as Kyle Barker, Maxine’s banter partner turned lover and successful accountant (another career path you didn’t see too many Black males taking in the ‘90s or even today). Since its end, it’s become more widely known that Living Single inspired the well-acclaimed Friends sitcom. The series’ impact continues to live on in shows like Issa Rae’s Insecure (2016) and Tracy Oliver’s Harlem (2021).

1. Martin, FOX (1992-1997)

Martin Lawrence left his standup stage to make a home in Detroit as Martin Payne on Martin. Alongside Mr. “What's up, what's up, what's up!” was his girlfriend, Gina Waters (played by Tisha Campbell), archnemesis Pamela James (Tichina Arnold), and his boys Tommy (the late Thomas Mikal Ford) and Cole (Carl Anthony Payne II). From trying to desperately find out what Tommy did for a living to hosting an interrogation to find the culprit who stole his CD using a fake dog, Martin made your stomach hurt with laughter. 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.

Vanessa Elie is a pop culture freelance writer. She has bylines in Blavity, EssenceGU, Miami New Times, Complex, and Okayplayer. Find her on Twitter at @nessawrites1.