Years ago, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Black sitcoms ruled the airwaves. These great series, spread across channels like ABC, NBC, The WB (which later became UPN then, The CW), and Disney Channel, zeroed in on the everyday facets of Blackness. Though their respective premises differed ever so slightly — sometimes about a baby genius, a pair of lost identical twin sisters, a puppet people somehow pretended was a real boy, or a deluxe apartment in the sky — these stories often focused on the normalcy of being Black. Yes, they were technically made for anyone with access to a television, but we knew the truth: these were our shows, and this was our world.
The Proud Family is one such beloved title. A Disney original, the animated series was about a young girl named Penny Proud (voiced by icon Kyla Pratt) as she navigated life as a pre-teen. As if puberty wasn’t complicated enough — we’re years removed from it now, but middle school was no joke — Penny also had to deal with the perpetual pandemonium that came with being part of the Proud family. Although things were far from peaceful at home, Penny and her family truly loved each other and always had each other’s backs. Years after its series finale, The Proud Family is back on our screens with a very Black remake on Disney+. Just when we thought we were all rebooted-out, creators Bruce W. Smith and Ralph Farquhar presented us with The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, reuniting fans with our favorite cartoon family and introducing a whole new gang of famous friends. Though the show has a brand new look (and a controversial new theme song), the heart of the new release remains the same: family.
The idea of community, in all of its iterations, was a recurring motif of The Proud Family and other classic TV shows, and the traditional and unconventional family units that we grew up with imparted key lessons that would follow us for the rest of our lives. Even as our real-life guardians instilled wisdom into us, we knew that we could also rely on our TV uncles and aunties to drive those principles home. From watching our favorite characters learn to say no to drugs, nurse broken hearts, or live out their dreams, each episode taught us the importance of sticking together through the good times and the bad. They reminded us that we could do anything we set our minds to with the love of our people behind us — an ever-pertinent message for any Black kid trying to find their way in this anti-Black reality.
Ahead, Unbothered taps into some good ‘ol nostalgia in celebration of the lasting legacy of The Proud Family and the many other Black family sitcoms that raised us.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
"Let me start by saying this: there's a reason The Fresh Prince was good enough to revisit 30 years later. Even though it wasn't able to go as far as the modernized version — the TV landscape was totally different in the 1990s — Fresh Prince was innovative in its exploration of sociopolitical issues like race, class, and gender. What other show was offering up such a nuanced take on economic disparities like this NBC classic?"
"But even more than the evolved conversations that stemmed from the series, Uncle Phil (the late great James Avery) and OG Aunt Viv (Janet Hubert) were the example that so much of our generation truly needed. Patient (well, most of the time), loving, and understanding, the Banks were the ultimate support system to each other and to their kids. Fresh Prince gave us some of the best representations of Black love, romantic and familial, that Hollywood has ever seen, and I'll never forget that."
Everybody Hates Chris
“Everybody Hates Chris was THE show! Every time you thought Chris was onto something good, life took a humbling turn for him, and it was painfully funny to watch. Chris Rock told the truth about living in the world during the 80s as a black kid in such a hilarious, yet truthful way that still translates into current day. PLUS, Queen Tischina ‘My Man Has Two Jobs’ Arnold was everybody's mama.”
On Our Own
“Everyone has that one TV show from their childhood that they swear they made up because no one else seems to remember it. For my big brother Sam and I, that show is On Our Own starring the Smolletts — yes, as in Jurnee and Jussie (everyone also has a problematic sibling, OK?) and their brothers and sisters. The sitcom ran on ABC for just one season from September 1994 to April 1995. I must have caught some reruns because I was extremely young during its first run. I do remember being unhealthily obsessed with the fact that SIX of the seven siblings starring in the show about a group of kids whose parents pass away and are raised by their big brother (this is the exact same premise as Party of Five which also debuted the same month — is this a Living Single/Friends situation?) were real-life family. Ralph Louis Harris, unrelated, played their eldest brother and real siblings Jazz, Jocqui, Jake, Jojo, Jurnee, and Jussie (shout out to Mama Smollett because WHEW) rounded out the cast as the little humans he was forced to take care of.”
“Sure, Sam and I may be the only people who remember that they all had names eerily similar but not quite like their own (Jussie was Jessie, Jurnee was Jordee, Jake was Joc, you get the picture) which makes this show definitely sound fake, but I swear it was real. If it wasn’t real, how do I vividly remember the episode where the kids band together to raise money to go to a Whitney Houston concert? Or when Joc (my little fave!) gets bullied at school for believing in Santa Claus? We have On Our Own to thank for my enduring crush on Jurnee Smollett (who was acting circles around everyone, even back then) and for enlightening me at a young age that seven children is far too many children. Also, the threat of the Jerrico family almost getting caught by child services looming over every episode gave me a unique understanding and tolerance of high stakes chaos and drama. I’m still mad that this extremely real show was unceremoniously canceled after 20 episodes. Two viewers should have been enough to keep it going!”
Yes, these Black shows were technically made for anyone with access to a television, but we knew the truth: these were our shows, our world.
My Wife and Kids
“For me, My Wife and Kids was one of the first shows that made me realize what a healthy Black family dynamic looked like. Even though plenty of other tv shows about Black families preceded this one, My Wife and Kids really hit home for me. The show was so dynamic because it pulled you in with comedy while simultaneously teaching you life lessons and various ways to handle real life situations. Coming from a household that wasn’t the most communicative, it definitely made me feel like it was possible to create my own healthy Black family.The show also put a spotlight on how to be a strong male leader of a household without being toxic; while Michael Kyle (Damon Wayans) had his moments, he always did what was best for his family.”
“TGIF was a staple in my household;I ran home to watch Family Matters every Friday night. I learned my first lessons on love, friendship, drugs and gun violence by watching Laura grow up. (Not to mention, Stefan was one of my first celebrity crushes.) It wasn't often we saw a positive representation on TV growing up, but Family Matters understood the assignment.”
“They don’t make TV like Desmonds anymore — seriously, there's been a severe drought when it comes to wholesome Black British family dramas in the UK of late. But way back when, Desmonds, a long running sitcom about a Black family-run barbershop in Peckham, London, was the Caribbean windrush-gen representation we deserved. And it was so damn funny. In the 90s, as soon as you heard the horns from the soca theme tune, we all knew what’s what. Each episode saw Guyanese barber Desmond Ambrose (Norman Beaton) and his wife Shirley (Carmen Monroe) try to run their business and understand their South London kids, meanwhile the likes of Porkpie and Ghanaian scholar Michael ('There is an old African saying…') would always overstay their welcome. The comedy was so unashamedly Caribbean and British working class it could have come straight from my West Indian grandma’s house. A classic way ahead of its time!”
“Smart Guy was by far one of my favorite shows! It was my first time seeing a single parent dynamic on TV that wasn't centered around the mother figure. TJ's dad was so sweet, caring, and nurturing towards all his kids and reminded me a lot of my own dad. In hindsight, it was nice seeing a Black man in such a vulnerable role. Even though I grew up with both parents, I was relieved to see a Black single parent dynamic where the kids were actually thriving.”
"Sister, Sister was my SHOW! Though I loved the twins equally, I heavily identified with booksmart, competitive Tia in the earlier seasons. As a skinny bookworm of a child myself, I loved the way she made being smart look cool — and cool it was!"
"From my living room in a majority white Ohio suburb, I watched Tia and Tamera mature on TV into exactly the type of young woman I wanted to be: stylish, beautiful, self-assured, and unapologetically Black. As I watched the later seasons, I daydreamed about what my college years would be like; I couldn't wait to be surrounded by fine Black men (would I meet a Tyreke, or a Jordan?!) and go to events like Freaknik. (Can we talk about that episode? Iconic!) Though the PWI I ended up choosing fell a little flat in both of those regards, I'm grateful to Sister, Sister for giving me two Black role models to look up to when I so often felt othered IRL. I just knew I was going to grow to be a baddie like them. And did!"