This Black ’90s Sitcom Is The Next Best Thing To Sister, Sister

Photo: Courtesy of Disney+.
Welcome to “What’s Good,” a weekly column where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world.
What’s Good? Smart Guy on Disney+
Who It’s Good For: If you’ve been reading this column, you know I love nostalgia. Any time I’m feeling sad or stressed or fed up with the state of the world (so… very often), I revisit a throwback show that makes me feel young and carefree again. If you’re a child of the ’90s, I promise Smart Guy will give you that feeling. It’s also for all the people pissed at Netflix Canada for having the audacity to not let us enjoy other seminal Black ’90s sitcoms like Sister, Sister and Moesha when our neighbours to the south get to. I’ve already ranted about that questionable choice on Twitter, in my Instagram Stories, and to pretty much anyone within a six-foot radius, so I’m not going to reopen old wounds. Netflix knows what it did. 
How Good Is It? As good as you remember. Well, the first few episodes of Season 1 are, and I can’t tell you how relieved I was by that fact. I had a whole other pick lined up this week. I abandoned it when I discovered that Smart Guy was available in its entirety on Disney+. Then I held my breath through the first few episodes terrified that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations my nine-year-old self has held onto. When I laughed out loud at the first short joke, I exhaled. 2020 may not make any sense but at least Smart Guy is still pure, sweet goodness. The universe said, “You can have this, as a treat!” 
For the uninitiated, Smart Guy ran from 1997 to 1999 and follows whiz-kid prodigy T.J. Henderson, a 10-year-old so smart he’s starting high school with his older brother Marcus (Jason Weaver). T.J. is played by Tahj Mowry, then an adorable child actor who was precocious but not in an annoying way, which is not an easy vibe to pull off. Yes, Mowry is the younger brother of Tia and Tamera (of Sister, Sister fame — Netflix, I’m still mad) and just like we all wondered in the ’90s, I want to know what was in the water at the Mowry house that it delivered three wunderkinds with genius comedic timing. 
Smart Guy’s success hinges on Mowry’s uncanny ability to be a know-it-all you still root for, but its heart lies with T.J.’s dad, Floyd, a single father who just wants what’s best for his three kids (T.J.’s older sister, Yvette, is played pitch-perfectly by Essence Atkins). He’s a solid, often clueless, endearing Black dad whose Danny Tanner-esque heart-to-hearts will make you tear up and whose dad jokes will make you laugh in spite of their corniness. I also can tell I’m old(er) now because I’m crushing on Floyd (played by John Marshall Jones) this time around instead of his brother Marcus. (I always felt too mature to like T.J., even though we were around the same age.) 
On this watch, I’m also aware that some jokes written in 1998 don’t land anymore. A lot of the gags at the expense of women and girls are cringe-y and there are some weird reinforcements of traditional gender roles that made me roll my eyes. I also haven’t even gotten to the episode where T.J. accidentally meets a pedophile on the Internet. A friend reminded me of it since I’ve apparently blocked it from my memory. I’m assuming it’s more After School Special than To Catch A Predator, but I’m still not looking forward to it. That’s the one downside of nostalgia: You get the good and the bad of eras past. 
Smart Guy is mostly packed with goodness, and its depiction of an intelligent, kind, earnest Black boy is still one of the best I’ve ever seen on TV. Like T.J., my big brother was a kid who was smarter than all his peers. Like T.J., he got teased for his good grades too. Sure, Carlton Banks and Steve Urkel walked so T.J. Henderson could run, but T.J. wasn’t an entitled rich kid or an insufferable geek (I said what I said); he was just a kid fumbling his way through high school. I think part of why I loved this show so much is because I saw my family in it. 
If all of that doesn’t convince you to rewatch Smart Guy (or discover it for the first time — lucky you!), just wait until T.J. gets sent to the office for ““involuntary giggling.” Above everything else, it’s T.J.’s laugh for me.
Things that are also good:
• HBO’s Lovecraft Country — especially stars Jurnee Bell and Jonathan Majors — is as good as you’ve heard it is 
• Missing the R29 movie club’s rewatch of The Bodyguard was not good, but it’s one of my all-time favourite movies so it’s always worth a revisit 
• Netflix’s Project Power is understandably getting mixed reviews, but Dominique Fishback’s powerhouse performance is undeniable 
Taking a vacation — just because it’s a pandemic and we’re working from home doesn’t mean you don’t deserve one 
• Serial’s new podcast Nice White Parents

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