Good Times: Black Again Isn’t As Bad As Its Trailer — But It Also Isn’t Good

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
There isn’t a show out right now that’s more offensive than Good Times: Black Again Netflix’s new animated series reboot of the 1970s classic sitcom Good Times and that’s saying a lot considering Zeus Network is still actively in business and cranking out almost exclusively aggressive and exploitative content, like the reality TV franchise Baddies. After the Good Times reboot trailer dropped, immediate backlash ensued. If the conversation on X (formerly Twitter) was any indication, most people believed the series would be degrading and disrespectful, and a few were willing to give it a chance. While the show does lean too heavily on outdated tropes and punchlines under the guise of comedy, it isn’t as bad as everyone predicted. But to be clear, that doesn’t mean it’s good. 
In the recent television landscape, representation and authenticity seemed to be chief traits among what’s been greenlit for audiences’ small-screen entertainment. On-screen stories about Black people navigating dating and friendship (Living Single, Harlem, Insecure) and the high and lows of just trying to make it (Atlanta, The Vince Staples Show) receive high praise for all the ingredients that typically make good TV: exceptional acting, piercing comedy, heart-tugging and relatable drama, and, most importantly, nuance. But unlike other shows in the Black TV cog, the Stephen Curry-backed Good Times reboot (created by Ranada Shepard) emerges as a severely missed opportunity to progress the legacy (and hard work) of original lead characters James (John Amos) and Florida Evans (Esther Rolle). Instead, it succumbs to the pitfalls of lazy caricatures and offensive stereotypes and chooses to promote and champion generational poverty. 
Good Times: Black Again introduces audiences to a fourth generation of the original show’s Chicago-bred family: James’ grandson Reggie (voiced by J.B. Smoove), the not-too-smart taxi-driving patriarch; Beverly (Yvette Nicole Brown), the God-fearing matriarch who constantly prays to a video game-playing Black Jesus; Grey (Marsai Martin), a bright teenage daughter whose radical beliefs struggle to mimic that of Boondocks’ Huey Freeman; Junior (Jay Pharoah), a dim-witted son who out-stupids himself by the episode; and a drug-selling, gun-toting baby named Dalvin (Gerald “Slink” Johnson).

'Good Times: Black Again' reduces the complexities of important social issues and perpetuates damaging narratives about poor Black people without offering the humanity or nuance needed to put these issues in context.

While every adventure across the 10-episode series brings the family together a la Norman Lear’s usual story arcs, there is no shortage of exaggerated and highly offensive stereotypes about Black people and underserved communities — whose stories indisputably deserve to be told— along the way. Within the first five minutes of episode one, the ridiculousness increases rapidly with a singing cockroach in the shower and a housing project beautification contest prize of free rent and “two weeks without roaches.” The egregious mishandling of Black life continues throughout the series with Beverly using her lactating breast to find a kidnapped Dalvin, Junior’s ADHD turning into a drug-withdrawing monster, and Reggie shucking and jiving for Elon Musk
The series consistently reduces the complexities of important social issues and constantly perpetuates damaging narratives about poor Black people and youth without offering the humanity or nuance needed to put these issues in context. However, believe it or not, there are a few bright spots in this mess. Episode 3, titled “Grey’s Anatomy,” depicts Grey’s first menstrual cycle and explores themes of girl power with added subtext about mother-daughter dynamics. The premise is promising, but the execution falls short. The episode devolves too quickly the second it gets close to a gratifying moment. You’ve got to scrape away Beverly shaming her daughter for wanting to use tampons, jokes about being shot, and the unnecessary cringe-inducing montage of Grey proudly smearing her period blood on a school whiteboard to get the intended message. Should periods be less taboo? Yes. Is there a better way to assert this message? Absolutely.
Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images.
The original cast of 'Good Times' in 1977
Despite its intentions, which I believe are good, Good Times: Black Again misses the mark in its portrayal of Black experiences. Comedy, when wielded effectively, has the power to highlight arresting social points. However, in this case, the show resorts to cheap laughs at the expense of nuanced storytelling. The original Good Times series was a groundbreaking portrayal of a working-class Black family navigating life’s challenges with dignity and resilience. At a time when seeing Black folks on television was scarce, Good Times offered viewers a glimpse into the realities faced by many Black families in America.
By contrast, Good Times: Black Again falls short of capturing the essence of its predecessor, opting instead for caricatures of the original series. The original Good Times was necessary for its time, providing a platform for Black voices to be heard and stories to be told and paving the way for future generations of Black creators to impact the entertainment industry. 

Good Times: Black Again falls short of capturing the essence of its predecessor, opting instead for caricatures of the original series.

Which begs the question: Why are Black creators making this kind of art?
Southside Chicago native Shepard, one of the industry’s only Afro-Latina showrunners on an animated project according to AWN, says she grew up watching the series and finds the controversial, all-adult animation necessary to spark more conversation. “If you stick with it, the stories have so much meaning, heart, and powerful social commentary,” she told AWN. “I do regret that the cast and I were not able to get ahead of the show and frame it in a way that would have prepared the audience for the show,” Shepard said.
While Shepard seems to understand that times have changed, referencing that we’ve had a “Black president and currently a Black female vice president,” it seems odd to not also progress the family’s socioeconomic and education status in any way. And even if the intention is to highlight the working class, it doesn’t provide any freshness. In fact, it removes the pride James had in providing for his family and the Evans’ family desire to be in a better position.
BernNadette Stanis who portrayed Thelma in the ‘70s version lended her voice to the animation but says she expected the reboot “to be different.” “I did a little voice for them, but I did not know it was going to be the way it is,” she told The Hollywood Reporter . “But I think that they did that because they knew what their show was going to be like. So I guess they figured, if you put us in there, it wouldn’t look so bad or whatever.”
Alternatively, the cast is stacked with star and award-winning talent like Smoove, Brown, Pharoah, Martin, Johnson, Wanda Sykes, Cree Summer, Tisha Campbell, among others. It’s hard to believe they would sign on to the show if there weren’t some gems to glean from such a series. Brown defended her role on the show, tweeting of the series, “This show is edgier and more irreverent than the Good Times of our childhood but it’s still a show about family, fighting the system and working to make things better despite where you start out in the world. That 100% lines up with my values.”
Ultimately, with so much backlash and the difficulty to get TV shows greenlit for multiple seasons, who's to say this series will even continue, but one thing’s for sure: Moving forward, it’s imperative for creators to prioritize depth, richness, and diversity in their storytelling, steering clear of harmful stereotypes that only serve to please white execs and further untrue beliefs about Black people. Good Times: Black Again may have aimed to shed light on the realities faced by Black families, but it ultimately misses the opportunity to offer meaningful commentary. 
Poor Black people are not the least of us, and there’s a fine line of telling their story and playing around with it.

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