The 2010s and 2020s birthed a Black sitcom renaissance after experiencing a drought in the late 2000s. The aughts gave audiences classic shows like My Wife and Kids, The Bernie Mac Show, Girlfriends, and Everybody Hates Chris. In recent years, Black-led comedies have not only replenished the genre but subverted and evolved it. Since then, Black sitcoms have provided laughs, WTF moments, and commentary on the Black experience.
Now, here are some of the most influential Black comedies to hit the airwaves over the last decade.
Billed as a successor to the classic sitcom, The Cosby Show, black-ish focused on an upper-middle-class Black family living in the Los Angeles suburbs (not a brownstone in New York). The sitcom centered on the daily lives of married couple Andre and Rainbow Johnson (played masterfully by Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross) and their family.
While family served as the show’s core, most episodes dealt with the Johnsons’ interactions in a predominantly white society. Dre, Bow, and their children dealt with daily culture clashes – either at work or school. The outside world was nothing compared to having multiple generations living under one roof with different ideologies and views.
As a spinoff of black-ish, grown-ish centered on one of the Johnson kids going off to college (a la Denise Huxtable and A Different World except at a PWI). The coming-of-age comedy centered on eldest daughter Zoey’s exploits into young adulthood.
Being at university served as the perfect backdrop to watch the eldest Johnson child grow into her womanhood, including multiple relationships and floating in and out of academia. But the show’s true focus was showcasing personal, professional, societal, and academic issues through a Gen Z lens. With Zoey having graduated, the black-ish connection lives on withJohnson eldest son, Junior, taking over for Season 5.
Being the brainchild of Donald Glover, Atlanta explored the dark (sometimes, outlandish) nature of the Southern city and its music scene. The surrealist comedy highlighted Earn’s quest to make his cousin, Paper Boi, a success in the fickle music industry.
With the Southern metropolis as the backdrop, the show has evolved since premiering in 2016. The comedy shone best when providing a Black perspective on mainstream culture and thought-provoking takes on African American topics. The core four – Earn, Paper Boi, Van, and Darius – served as the show’s emotional center through their varying dynamics.
After years of making premium content on YouTube, Insecure allowed Issa Rae to jump from the web to cable television. The hit web series-turned-HBO comedy examined the exploits of Issa Dee as she navigated life in her thirties.
The flawed Issa Dee character put the spotlight on awkward Black women. Viewers got to see her everyday interactions across different life avenues. Issa’s evolution from unfocused to stable was remarkable, but the comedy’s true core was its relationships. While significant others and families fleshed out the characters, it was the female friendships, especially Issa and Molly Carter’s, that made the series beloved. All this culminated in the series becoming weekly water cooler talk.
The Carmichael Show
Jerrod Carmichael’s family life made for great fodder on his NBC sitcom, The Carmichael Show. The family sitcom followed a fictionalized version of the stand-up comedian’s everyday life.
Viewers got to observe Carmichael, his fiancée, and his family deal with numerous issues. The series saw the young couple’s progressive lens and his parents’ conservative views clash constantly over issues within Black American culture. It did so with humor and finesse. Unfortunately, the comedy ended after three seasons.
The Last O.G.
More than any show on this list, The Last O.G. was built on culture shock from a distinct perspective. Tracy Morgan’s television comeback saw him become former convict Tray Baker, as he tried to reconnect with his family and society after an extended prison bid.
Tray fought to regain his past glory as he struggled to reacclimate to society. The comedy allowed Morgan to go all in, giving an unhinged and silly performance. Viewers got to see Tray's progress throughout the series as he grew closer to his children.
Before Abbott Elementary took television by storm, South Side put a unique spin on workplace comedies. The buddy comedy follows two BFF furniture delivery men, Simon and Kareme, striving for success through unsuccessful get-quick-rich schemes.
In highlighting Southside Chicago, the show provides off-beat and silly humor while offering a different take on the area’s Black citizens. The series offers subtle social and workplace commentary through outrageous scenarios and employee dynamics. It also has an ensemble filled with rising and well-known talent letting the laughs and cultural nods fly (like The Office and Superstore).
What happens when you have a play centered on a sexually repressed Black woman leaving the nest for the first time? You get Channel 4’s Chewing Gum. As Michaela Coel’s breakthrough project, the British slice-of-life comedy explored the hilarious exploits of 20-something shop assistant Tracey Gordon.
Viewers got to see Tracey Gordon’s daily life - work, friends, and family. Much like Insecure, Gordon’s evolution saw her learn more about the world and herself. All while tackling young adulthood and delving into topics like religion and sexuality with humor. Unfortunately, viewers didn’t get to witness Gordon’s story for long, as the comedy ended after two seasons.
Dear White People
Turning a hit indie film into a TV series could be a hard transition, but Dear White People managed to do so without compromising the premise. The Netflix comedy followed the 2014 film by exploring the lives of Black students at a predominately white university.
Unlike some series based on movies, the college comedy expanded on the original film’s concept by leaning into more character development and plotlines with character-dedicated episodes. The co-ed comedy highlighted issues like micro aggressions, sexuality, and the transition to full-fledged adulthood. The show never lost its bite despite mixing original film actors with new ones.
Unfortunately, some of these shows closed shop recently, with black-ish and Insecure airing their finales this year and in 2021, respectively. Soon, another will join the list, with Atlanta's fourth and final season airing later this year.
There’s no need to fret, though, as newer sitcoms have arrived to fill the void. There are series like The Wonder Years reboot, Grand Crew, and Abbott Elementary ruling network TV. On the streaming side, there are Netflix’s The Upshaws and BET+’s The First Wives Club reimagining. If you want to see what other Black-led comedies are premiering this year, you can check out our 2022 TV schedule.
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