Need A Nostalgia Trip? Stream This Beloved ’80s Sitcom

Welcome to “What’s Good,” a weekly column where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world.
Photo: NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.
What’s Good? A Different World On Amazon Prime
Who It’s Good For: If you are a Black person of a certain age — feel free to @ me if I’m wrong — your connection to A Different World is so deep, it’s hard to put into words. Whether you watched it while it aired from 1987 to 1993 or discovered it later via reruns like I did (I’m so young), you know why this show is so great. For anyone else, A Different World feels like that best friend from university you fell out of touch with but still think about often. It’s for lovers of Black sitcoms, Black love, Black friendship, and any college-set dramas. Remember Felicity? Or the latter seasons of Dawson’s Creek? Or Saved By The Bell: The College Years? They were all trying to be as good as A Different World. Some succeeded more than others. 
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How Good Is It? This choice is selfish. I wasn’t thinking of you when I picked A Different World. I was thinking of my own mental health. In the past seven days, as the pandemic of black trauma has raged on, I have pretty much only had the capacity to watch old episodes of shows I already know I love. A Different World (a spinoff of The Cosby Show) has been my safe space when the real world was too overwhelming. Revisiting Denise Huxtable (the inimitable Lisa Bonet who sadly left the show after season 1), Kim Reese (Charnele Brown as the show’s grounding presence), Freddie (carefree Black girl Cree Summer) Whitley Gilbert (legend Jasmine Guy), and Dwayne Wayne (a hot nerd before his time played by Kadeem Hardison), as they navigate life at Hillman College, a fictional historically Black college (HBCU) in Virginia is bringing me much-needed Black joy and comforting nostalgia
Before I continue about how GOOD A Different World is, I have to acknowledge that this show has a complicated legacy. Bill Cosby’s name is on the credits. But since he’s physically barely in it (a couple cameos in season 1) and producer-director Debbie Allen took over in season 2 to revamp the series, the show has been able to transcend its connection to the disgraced rapist. As Kadeem Hardison put it in 2018, “A Different World is much bigger than Bill Cosby.” He’s right. A Different World depicted life at a HBCU on mainstream TV for the first time. It showed young Black people learning, loving, and making mistakes. It centered on them and their experiences without focusing on whiteness. A Different World inspired an entire generation of Black kids to go to college. A Different World is THAT good. 
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Aside from its importance in television history, A Different World was just a really good sitcom. After a shaky start (he was a little creepy at first), Dwayne Wayne became a loveable love interest that set the standard for TV boyfriends. Whitley went from insufferable diva to complex hothead with a heart of gold. Kim and Freddie are so relatable I swear they are family. Seriously, if I ever meet Cree Summer or Charnele Brown, it’s going to get awkward. A Different World has one of the best will-they-or-won’t-they relationship arcs in television history in Whitley and Dwayne, and their love taught me to believe in love. Also, Dwayne crashing Whitley’s wedding (this is not a spoiler; the show is 30 years old!) is the only acceptable romantic grand gesture in pop culture. 
You can take my advice and start rewatching A Different World, or you can return to your personal favourite TV show from your youth that makes you feel like you’re back in your childhood bedroom, daydreaming about Lisa Bonet. I want that feeling for you, whatever show gets you there and whoever your Lisa Bonet may be. You deserve it. 
Things that are also good:
• Being an effective white ally
The High Note doesn’t have enough Tracee Ellis Ross, but she is Very Good in it, so it gets a shoutout for her performance alone
• Watching commencement speeches and weeping even though you are a grown-ass woman who is not graduating from anywhere
• Letting Minnie Riperton sing away your blues
Janelle Monae in Homecoming, a show I am too scared to watch, but still want to acknowledge the talents of Monae and her co-star, Canadian heartthrob Stephan James
• This column is all about escapism, but I'm still going to give you some homework. If you want to educate yourself on anti-black racism, watch movies The Hate U Give and Fruitvale Station, and documentaries The 13th and Strong Island on Netflix to start

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