Remember that show about 6 strong, successful, beautiful black friends – 4 females and 2 males. The show followed these 6 single people living in New York, trying to figure out life, work, love and friendship. It starred Queen Latifah, Erika Alexander, Kim Coles, Kim Fields, T.C. Carson, and John Henton.
We followed them through their success and failures, through they’re awkward and vulnerable dating experiences, saw them through fights and make ups and how that was an example of what friendships actually should be like.
There were no stupid characters. Even though one of the characters was a custodian and maybe did not have book smarts, he was portrayed as having wisdom that his was beyond his year, AND still knew how to add and subtract (CoughJoey from Friends Cough). The so-called “nerds” on the show were sexy AF!! I seriously had a couple crush on Maxine and Kyle!
T.C. Carson sings THE BEST cover of My Funny Valentine ever!!! It makes me melt every! time!
Anyway, back to the point..Despite only being about 6-7 years old when I started watching the show, (I have two older brothers and was also listening to a lot of hip hop at the time: Tupac, Biggie, Snoop.. so they were the only examples of black/coloured men that I saw in the media) I remember thinking how GREAT it was to see;
- Kyle, a young black man be very regal and a successful stockbroker.
- Maxine, a determined, successful, tough, and true to herself, STRONG woman.
- Khadijah, another successful woman with her own business, who constantly empowered females and encouraged strong female friendships.
Airing in 1993, it was the “Friends” before “Friends”.
So… Why is it, I wonder, that Friends became more popular than living single, when in my humble opinion, the writing on that show was far better, and more importantly, the characters showed a better example of success and being overall good people? For example;
- In the later seasons, Joey and Phoebe became very stupid characters (and I don’t like using the word “stupid“).. but Joey, an independent man in his 30’s not knowing how add 24 to 24, and that getting a huge laugh from the audience, was concerning to me. Joey and Phoebe became the way to get – what I call – an “easy laugh” from the audience and I did not respect that. In Living Single, the less professionally successful characters are still given merit and integrity, like Overton and Synclaire.
- Another character used for an “easy laugh” was Ross. They always came down on him for being a “nerd” and talking about something he is passionate about (which I actually find enlightening and the fact that he is talking about dinosaurs is so cool) but his friends would roll their eyes and tell him how annoying he is being, instead of giving the deserved respect for completing a PhD and having a strong passion and making that into his work. I think that this inadvertently tells people that having a “nerdy” interest or passion is not cool, and perpetuates a negative stereotype that might be excusable for teens to do, but not people in their 20-30s. Living Singles celebrates everyones success, even the custodian, Overton, and treats them as equals. Plus, in Friends, they do not focus on how Ross is a good brother, son, friend, and life partner, they just focus on him being the uptight nerd. And Joey, the brain-less womanizer, is glorified.
- The women are not all a 5 foot 8, size 0. The 4 women on Living Single are all shapes and sizes and are all worthy of love! And DAMN are they empowered!!
Dare I say it….. Could it be that the success of Friends is because it was a show about white people? Queen Latifah said herself, that Friends was inspired by Living Single….is this yet another example of coloured people doing something great first but white people reaping the benefits of it? Friends aired in 1994, and Living Single got canceled in 1998. Again I remember back to my childhood, how disappointed I was when Living Single got canceled and I was “stuck with Friends” (Yes those are the words I thought back then).
Many questions and very few answers. Sorry about that. I tried finding videos of the actors and writers talking about this, but hardly anything exists. I also tried to find articles or posts and I found one reddit post that says that Living Single was for “black audiences” and when both shows were running at the same time, more people were tuning in to Friends. Friends also had more network support, for instance, Friends was labeled as “Must see TV” when Living Single was not. I would love to sit down with the cast of Living Single and ask them what their thoughts on this matter is and how they experienced the rise of Friends dominating the polls despite the writing on Living Single being better. I know I touched on this a bit earlier, but I personally think that what made the writing good on Living Single, was that during or after each episode, you came away with something and had many good laughs. However with Friends, it was just mindless, easy entertainment with very little merit…. just my opinion. I wished more people watch Living Single. It’s hard to even do that now, because I cannot find an episode of it online. If I find the DVD box set, I’m buying it and I encourage that you too!