Living Single was the under-acknowledged blueprint for HBO’s Sex and the City. It’s not a common notion among TV critics or viewers, but one can’t mention SATC without paying homage to its predecessor LS.
Today audiences’ praise HBO’s the innovation of Girls for being more realistic to the 20something struggle then than its sister series SATC that’s become a common comparison. LS rarely—if ever—gets mentioned as the model for young, feminist-esque, career women figuring out the beauty of life.
On August 22, 1993 we were introduced to four very different women navigating single life in Brooklyn. For five seasons Khadijah, Synclaire, Max and Regine made us laugh and smile as nuanced black women who defied caricatures and stereotypes. Overton and Kyle added much appreciated testosterone to the already colorful cast.
The show marked its 20th anniversary last month. As much as we take pleasure in reliving the best moments of one of our favorite quartets, one can’t help but to think of the regression in black female representation on TV. We’re mostly left with Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) in Scandal. “In a 90s kind of world” black women had depictions of themselves on the tube, which at best made them proud and at worst at least didn’t cause them to shake their heads in shame. When Living Single wrapped its final season in 1998, Sex and the City debuted, later becoming a major hit for the network. Had LS not existed SATC may not have been possible.
In 2000 UPN’s Girlfriends filled the representation void of a circle of black female friends that had been missing since LS left the air. Girlfriends resonated with so many—lasting eight years—because black women were desperate for nuanced “positive” representation. Living Single and Girlfriends have left sad holes in TV for the 20something/30something black women living in big cities with big dreams.
One has to wonder if Living Single’s lack of recognition for being revolutionary TV as one of the first series of its kind for black women, rarely receives its just because it was a black show. The show’s tackling of issues like race, sexism, sexual harassment and love with a predominantly black female cast was wildly unprecedented. But the thunderous applause for SATC will convince you it was a completely new concept. A closer look at the types of characters on LS and SATC you’ll see they are (coincidentally?) similar.
Is it mere coincidence that our beloved Khadijah was a successful Editor-in-Chief in 1993 then along comes fan favorite Carrie Bradshaw, a successful sex columnist in 1998? There’s also Max, the cynical feminist attorney. Later we’re introduced to SATC’s Miranda who is also a cynical, tough, feminist thinking attorney. Regine was the lesser successful Samantha with sex-positivity ideas of dating. Pointing out the stark similarities is no shade to the brilliance of SATC. Art is inspired by other art, but props must given where it’s due.
The beauty of Living Single is it’s non-monolithic portrayal of black women. Although the women were roommates and close friends, they were all unique. Max was nothing like Regine and Synclaire was nothing like Khadijah. And that’s the humanity that is often robbed of black characters on television. Living Single still resonates 20 years later not because all black women can relate to Khadijah, Max, Synclaire and Regine, instead we celebrate their stories—bright, funny, caring, educated, complex, driven black women on a journey through life—that remain ones rarely told in media.