In this golden age of television, there are so many amazing shows out there, from huge fantasy series like Game of Thrones to the greatest dramas ever, like Breaking Bad. And, today, I’m going to focus on some fantastic shows that are all led by talented Black actors and actresses.
I’m talking classics like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, to some of the latest and greatest, such as Atlanta. If you’re looking for some amazing TV shows led by Black actors, be sure to check out this list, as all of this will surely entertain you for plenty of hours.
First up, we have the HBO original series, Insecure. Starring Issa Rae, Insecure is a modern day comedy, following two young Black women through their every-day triumphs and tribulations, from trying to find a new job to relationships of all types, and to heavier topics such as race.
Insecure is honestly such a great series. From the first moment I watched it, I was captivated so much by Issa Rae’s performance that I was looking forward to whatever Rae had coming up next. The show offers hilarious moments and heartfelt/serious topics that truly make it one of the best comedies on TV in a long time. The show ended in 2021 with five great seasons to watch, so be sure to check it out.
One of the most recent entries on this list is Abbott Elementary. Filmed in a mockumentary style, this comedy series is set in Philadelphia and follows a group of teachers who work in an underfunded school , where it’s rare that a teacher ends up staying for more than a year. However, these certain teachers are trying to really change the game, and make the lives of their students that much easier and give them a proper education.
The series actually won several awards at the 2022 Primetime Emmys, and features several amazing performances that are certainly deserving of every award they have won. What really makes Abbot Elementary stand out amongst the rest is its writing, because it is so funny – which is proven even more since Quinta Brunson, one of the stars of the series, also won an Emmy for her writing for the show.
“Whatcha’ talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”
I’m sure at some point in your life you have heard that phrase - Diff’rent Strokes is actually where it’s from! This iconic sitcom series follows a Manhattan family who has plenty of wealth, but when their African-American housekeeper passes away, they decide to adopt her children.
The series, which ran for eight seasons, was a huge success and had fans tuning in constantly. While it was primarily a comedy, Diff’rent Strokes wasn’t afraid to dive deep into some serious topics with special episodes often centered things like racism, drug use, sexual abuse, and more. The series made Gary Coleman a household name, and is one that surely can’t be missed.
Black-ish (And It’s Spinoffs)
If you want to talk about a very popular recent series, check out black-ish. This show, starring Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, follows an upper-class African-American family through their personal lives and the trials they face as African-Americans - but with more than enough funny situations.
While I’m definitely okay with shows ending, I’m always going to be sad that black-ish ended with Season 8. There’s just something about this family that makes it feel so homey, from watching the children grow up and move on to their own lives, to learning to deal with the outside world. There are two spin-off series that should be watched, mixed-ish and grown-ish, each having their own stories that overlap with the mother show, but the original is the best in my eyes.
If you want a horror show featuring Black-led actors, be sure to check out Them. This Amazon Prime original follows a Black family in 1953 as they move from North Carolina to a predominantly white neighborhood in Los Angeles. But as time goes on, the dark secrets of their new home start to reveal themselves, both from behind closed doors and from their mysterious neighbors.
Whatever you think this series is going to be about, subvert those expectations, because I can assure you, you are going to be shocked at the twists and turns that occur. The Them cast is astoundingly great and the set design is also really well-done. It’s certainly one of the best horror shows on Amazon, and one you should check out.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
“In West Philadelphia, born and raised.”
You know the rest of the song. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air follows Will, a kid from Philadelphia who gets into a fight, and his mama got scared, so she sent him off to Bel-Air to live with his uncle so he could get straightened out. Of course, Will causes hijinks wherever he goes.
Man, I grew up on this show. I still remember getting up at the ass-crack of dawn before school so I could see reruns before I’d have to run to the bus, because I loved watching Will Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro and everyone else rock their roles in this show. From the jokes and relationships, to even Will's character development over six seasons, it was stellar. With the dramatic reimagining, Bel-Air, on Peacock, which is getting a Season 2, now is the best time to re-watch the original to get a sense for these characters.
Now, this is a great one. Atlanta, created by and starring Donald Glover, features the story of Earn, a young Black man who is trying to pave his own path in life through helping out his cousin, Alfred, in the music business, all while trying to maintain his personal life in the city of Atlanta.
Atlanta is a brilliant dramedy, and honestly one of FX’s best shows. Its take on comedy is subtle but hilarious, and it has some truly amazing episodes that challenge how you view the world, and what people go through. The series is ending after Season 4, which has premiered, so be sure to check it out. It’s certainly one of the best Black-led TV shows on right now.
In this HBO original, Lovecraft Country is based on the novel of the same name, and takes place in a town that is inhabited by creatures that were famously in the novels of famous sci-fi horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. Enter Atticus Freeman, a young Black man who is traveling across the United States in the 1950s in search of his father, and this in turn leads him to face said monsters and have to find a way out of these horrors alive.
I am never going to forgive HBO for canceling this show after one season. They could give me all the House of the Dragons seasons I want or make me excited even more for The Last of Us series coming out in 2023, but it was an atrocity that this beautiful show was canceled. It had a stellar cast, and some freaking amazing visual effects that made the monsters look real and terrifying. It should have at least gotten a Season 2. I’m going to remain bitter about it for the rest of my days – you have to check this out.
Another classic Black-led sitcom, Living Single, takes place in Brooklyn, New York, and follows the lives of male and female roommates as they grow through their careers, goals, and most importantly, relationships, creating craziness along the way.
Living Single aired for five seasons, where viewers enjoyed the comedic adventures of the characters. Queen Latifah starred in Living Single, and it really set her career off, showing just how funny she is. Also, the opening theme for this show is a bop and a half. Just pump that into my veins for some instant serotonin.
“Did I do that?” is the classic phrase uttered by Steve Urkel, a famous character from Family Matters. This hit sitcom ran from 1989-1998, and follows the Winslows, a pretty normal family that often gets dragged into crazy adventures, usually at the hand of Urkel himself, their next-door neighbor.
While I would spend mornings watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I’d spend the evenings watching Family Matters, and to be honest, I love this show just as much. While I do love the family, there’s just something about Urkel that speaks volumes to me. He’s a smart kid with crazy inventions, but at the end of the day, even if he can be a little bit annoying, all he wants is friendship and companionship, and he evolves over time. It also helps that he’s freaking hilarious.
You want to talk about a classic 1990s show, this is for sure one of them. Sister, Sister stars real-life twins, Tia and Tamera Mowry. For years, neither of them knew the other existed, until they are suddenly reunited in their teenage years, and try to make up for lost time.
While Sister, Sister was also before my time, I gave the show a try because I love the Mowry sisters in the Twitches series on Disney Channel. Once I watched it, I understood why these two became such big stars. Their chemistry is unbeatable and there’s always something you have to love about sisters learning to live with each other and grow as humans.
The Underground Railroad
Next up, we have the Amazon original series, The Underground Railroad. In this brilliant story based on the real-life Underground Railroad, this show asks, “what if the Underground Railroad was an actual railroad instead of just a series of safe houses, routes and helpful humans?” This is what happens when our main character, Cora, decides to hop on this train that is supposed to free her from the chains of slavery.
While this isn’t a long-running series and is a miniseries, this show is just outstanding. While it tells a compelling fantasy story about a fictional railroad, it also pays tribute to all the struggles that slaves had to go through back then just to obtain their freedom, and does it in a brilliant way. Thuso Mbedu, who was a part of the The Woman King cast in 2022, is amazing in her lead role, and knocks it out of the park.
Starring Regina King, Watchmen is a brilliant HBO series based on the comic of the same name. The show is set in an alternate universe where white supremacy is even more rampant in America, and now, it’s up to vigilantes and other heroes to somehow stop the crime that is rapidly spreading across Tulsa, Oklahoma.
While Watchmen doesn’t look like it’ll be getting a Season 2 anytime soon, it’s such a fantastic series. Nominated for several Primetime Emmy Awards, Watchmen deserves every ounce of praise it has gotten, from its story to its character design to its acting, specifically Regina King in the lead role. Every amazing episode is so carefully crafted that you’ll be wanting more.
Key & Peele
If you want an amazing sketch comedy show, check out Key & Peele. This Comedy Central series, starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, follows these two hilarious actors through several different iconic sketches, all of which will surely make you laugh.
It’s always funny for me to revisit this show, as these two have truly taken off since it premiered. Key has expanded his movie and TV catalogue and Peele has gone on to write and direct some amazing movies and TV shows, with his most recent 2022 release, Nope, receiving critical acclaim. However, I always like to return to this show, because they truly were one of the best comedy pairings out there, and you’ll definitely be holding your side from laughing after watching one episode.
Next up, we have All American, a popular CW show that just wrapped up its fourth season. In this series, a premiere football player is recruited to play for Beverly Hills high, and he not only has to prove himself on the field, but to everyone who thinks he isn’t worth the effort.
As someone who loves football and a great fish out of water story, All American has everything you could want, from a serious storyline that dives into high school and societal issues, to thrilling sports sequences that make you feel like you’re watching a real-life football game. The show isn’t for everyone, but I think it’s worth a shot. The fifth season for the show is set to come out in October 2022, so now is the time to watch it.
How To Get Away With Murder
If you want a thriller that will have you putting on your thinking caps, you need to check out How To Get Away With Murder. Starring Viola Davis, this iconic series follows a group of law students, as well as their professor, who end up getting caught up in a murder investigation. But as more secrets are revealed, their lives get turned upside down even more.
Let me start off by saying that Viola Davis is extraordinary in this role – which makes sense considering she won an Emmy Award for her performance in the show. While she’s only gotten more popular, I love her in this role and wish they had continued on with it, but it was smart to end it after six seasons.
Everybody Hates Chris
Everybody Hates Chris is a sitcom that is based on the life of comedian and actor Chris Rock and his life as a teenager in the 1980s in New York, chronicling how he feels that “everybody” hates him, and trying to survive in his crazy family.
While the show didn’t run for super long compared to some of the others on this list - it only ran from 2005-2009 - I have a special place in my heart for Everybody Hates Chris, and that’s mainly because of the great acting from Tyler James Williams. While he’s gone on to do other impressive things, I loved him in this show and sitcom is truly where he shines. Now, if a reunion happened, then I’d be a happy camper.
Last but not least, we have Empire. This popular drama starring Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, and plenty of other amazing talent, is centered around Empire Entertainment, a fictional music company where the main players are constantly up in arms about who is going to control it, and how one man’s decision is going to change the face of the company forever.
Empire was a huge success for Fox, receiving plenty of praise for its acting, soundtrack, and amazing story. Running for six seasons and 102 episodes, Empire captured the hearts of the audience and left them wanting more after every episode.
There are many more amazing shows other than these, but hopefully if you’re looking for some brilliant Black-led television shows, you now know where to start.
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A self-proclaimed nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, Alexandra Ramos is a Content Producer at CinemaBlend. She first started off working in December 2020 as a Freelance Writer after graduating from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Journalism and a minor in English. She primarily works in features for movies, TV, and sometimes video games. (Please don't debate her on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!) She is also the main person who runs both our daily newsletter, The CinemaBlend Daily, and our ReelBlend newsletter.