3. Sanford and Son
As Fred Sanford, Redd Foxx introduced the world to single parenthood daddy style via Sanford and Son. A reworking of the white British comedy Steptoe and Son, this black American version seized the groundbreaking language and spirit of 1970s comedy by hiring show writers that included Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney who occasionally peppered its dialogue with the N-word. And while Fred delivered a whole lot of ‘You big dummies’ to son Lamont (Demond Wilson) at the end of the day this duo was as tight, hip and cool as televised father and son could be. Not only were they in business together as junkyard partners but their family ties were subtle as they were strong. This was evident by Lamont’s affectionate references to his ‘Pop’ and the bold gesture of an adult son not only living with his senior citizen Dad but participating in the simple and loving tasks of preparing his meals as well. And when you added Aunt Esther, Uncle Woodrow and friends Rollo, Julio, Bubba and Grady to the mix the quips and antics on Sanford and Son were always fast, flying and extremely funny.
With this All In The Family‘s spinoff’s finger popping theme song (sung by Good Times star Ja’Net DuBois) centered on the exploits of George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) “moving on up” it could sometimes be forgotten that The Jeffersons was actually a family sitcom. But since George and Louise “Weezy” Jefferson (Isabel Sanford) had one son, Lionel who was coincidentally played by two different actors both named Mike Evans (one was co-creator of Good Times) the longest running black sitcom in television history definitely qualifies as one. Their neighbors, television’s first interracial married couple Tom (Franklin Cover) and Helen Willis (Roxie Roker) turned Jeffersons in-laws when their daughter Jenny married Lionel. And in between moments of George calling Tom honky, dropping the N-bomb and making good on literally putting his foot up the butts out of the undesirables he kicked out of his home George eternally remained a good dad to Lionel, loving husband to Weezy and a good verbal sparring partner for sassy maid Florence (Marla Gibbs.)
1. (Tie) Good Times
This Maude spinoff was an instant trailblazer its depiction of the black family in America because it was the first. The genesis of its legendary status began behind the scenes when Esther Rolle, who played Evans family matriarch Florida Evans fought to have John Amos cast as her husband James when show producers were determined to make her a single mom. And right or wrong what a strong, kick ass and protective dad James Evans Jr. was to J.J.(Jimmie Walker), Thelma (BernNadette Stanis) and youngest son Michael (Ralph Carter). The Good Times television legacy will forever be marred and tarnished by critics, academics (and by cast mates Rolle and Amos) for supposedly relying too heavily on comic relief turned cultural phenom Walker’s J.J. character and his Dy-no-mite catchphrase (see also sitcom entry# 4 on this list for Family Matters’ depiction of Steve Urkel.) But 40 years later television audiences coast to coast and around the world still laugh at this cult classic hit. Not only has Good Times been a endless notable quotable in hip hop lyrics and spoofed for generations but it’s especially relatable in these recession challenged times. The reason? Because the fictional Evans family taught us how to take the hard knocks and bad times of real life and always make them good.
1. (Tie) The Cosby Show
When it debuted in 1984, Bill Cosby changed the face of the black family in America with this groundbreaking sitcom. Regardless of race creed or color never before or since has all of America and most of the world identified, emulated or wanted to be a Cliff, Clair (Phylicia Rashad), Sondra (Sabrina LeBeouf), Denise (Lisa Bonet), Theo (Malcolm Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempest Bledsoe) or Rudy Huxtable (Keisha Knight Pullinam). Never had television viewers ever laid eyes on such an attractive, clean cut brood of kids with a sexy set of parents who still looked like they were intimate. And to top it off this sophisticated bunch was living a very comfortable New York City urban Brooklyn upper middle class lifestyle. During the crack-infested social program deficient times of the Big 80s, The Cosby Show had detractors who criticized it for not being realistic to the plights of poorer blacks (see sitcom entry #9 Julia). But Cosby’s behind the scenes efforts to be both funny and ensure that humor was never demeaning; resulted in a timeless, classic show that transcended race in its depiction of the American family. The Cosby Show was hilarious and smart without ever being stereotypical and raised the comedic standards bar of black situation comedy to heights it has not seen since the show ended in 1992.