I forgot the channel, but last weekend, while taking the day to recover from a long night of partying the previous night, I had the privilege of running across a marathon of Martin episodes. Of course I laughed just as I did when I first started watching it back in the early-90s, but this time, as this man in his late-20s sat and watched in his one-bedroom apartment, the show seemed to hit a little closer to home. This wasn’t just comedy I was watching, this was essentially the life I have been living for the past six years, and the life I know many others live right now.
For those who remember, Martin had the simple life. He had his girl Gina, and his boys Tommy and Cole, and Gina even came equipped with Pam, her hating-ass friend, the same one all men’s girlfriends seemingly come with. He was moderately successful as the host of his own radio show and in later seasons, a talk show host, but still always in search of that next big break. Gina, who I might add Martin later married in the show, worked at a publicity agency, in a position that we can only guess was mid-management at best. Cole still lived with his mother. Pam worked at a boutique off commission and Tommy, as everyone will recall, didn’t really have a job.
Martin and Gina’s relationship specifically was an exercise in patience and sacrifice. We all remember the string of episodes where the two of them broke up, and how long the show’s writers decided to carry out that lstory ine. We didn’t even know if they were going to get back together. Then to see them actually reconcile with one another, and go one step further by exchanging vows? I mean, come on son! What young couple in there 20s doesn’t experience such growing pains? The only thing that was unbelievable about their whole union was having Babyface sing at their wedding, but in context, considering Martin’s semi-celebrity status as a talk-show host, the idea doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
Don’t get me wrong, there were other shows that did a great job of representing various aspects of being black in America. Living Single was definitely Sex and The City before such a show even existed. For those of us who went to an HBCU (Howard University alumni, class of ’04 right here, in case anyone is wondering), A Different World is definitely true life. And of course, there is The Cosby Show.
But The Cosby’s, unfortunately are not much like most black families I know. Living Single applies more to those of us who live in New York City, whereas Martin placed itself in Detroit not so much to glorify the city, but more so to drive home its Everyman (and woman), Anywhere, USA aesthetic. And, unlike A Different World, the ambition on Martin never came off as something entitled just because they went to college. Who knows if Martin and them went to college, it was never revealed. Even a show like Friends, which some might argue, completely jacked the Martin concept (just think of the coffee house Rachel and them met at as the white version of Nipsey’s, where Martin and crew used to hang) isn’t as believable as Martin when one takes into account none of the “friends” worked a day in their fictional lives.
Martin may not reflect what any of us set out to be. Rather it reflected where a lot of us are and therein lies the beauty of the show. Martin found the funny not in the absurd, but in the real, and when I think about my own real life and the real life of so many others I know who are trying to make it, whether they’re black, brown, white or yellow, I laugh about it all. Just like Martin and them did.
Jozen Cummings is the Special Projects Editor of VIBE.com and hosts his own blog, Until I Get Married.