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Celebrating ‘Good Times’ at 50 and 9 Other Iconic Black Sitcoms

The family comedy paved the way for other influential shows. Here’s where to stream them


spinner image iconic characters from famous black sitcoms including the jeffersons good times living single family matters and the fresh prince of bel air
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Everett Collection (5), Getty Images)

Fifty years ago, Good Times made its mark in television history when it premiered on Feb. 8, 1974. The show had a much different approach from the racist and stereotypical portrayals of Black people on TV in the 1950s. Amos ’n’ Andy (1951-1953), for example, was a TV version of the 1920s minstrel radio show featuring Black characters who were voiced by white actors. Beulah (1950-1953), also a radio-turned-TV show — this time about a white family’s Black maid — was the first sitcom to star an African American actress. (The radio role had been filled by a white male actor mimicking a Black dialect.)

Thanks to the “Norman Lear revolution” of the 1970s, Good Times was a departure from those racist depictions of the ’50s and the absence of Black representation on TV in the ’60s, says Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.

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Before Good Times, another Lear production called Sanford and Son debuted in 1972 and became one of the most notable TV shows starring Black people and depicting Black life on the small screen. It opened the door for many more Black characters appearing on TV.

“It’s one of the first times that people feel that they’re seeing authentic representations of a Black family,” says Stephanie Troutman Robbins, the chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona. The coeditor of Race in American Television: Voices and Visions That Shaped a Nation says, “At that time, the stereotypes were, sort of, the only real representations” across media.

spinner image top johnny brown janet dubois janet jackson bottom bernnadette stanis ben powers esther rolle jimmie walker and ralph carter on good times
‘Good Times’ celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It debuted Feb. 8, 1974.
Courtesy Everett Collection

Good Times, created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans, was a spin-off of Maude. Good Times, which focused on the family life of Florida Evans, the Black housekeeper in Maude, starred Esther Rolle. The rest of the cast included John Amos, 84, as Florida’s husband, James; Jimmie Walker, 76, as J.J. (Does “Dynomite!” ring a bell?); BernNadette Stanis, 70, as Thelma; and Ralph Carter, 62, as Michael.

The show is getting an animated reboot this year, according to Deadline. You can stream the original episodes on Philo and Peacock, and Season 6 is available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video.

Here are nine other iconic sitcoms and where to stream them. Streaming availability may vary.

spinner image left sherman hemsley right isabel sanford on the sitcom the jeffersons
‘The Jeffersons’ starred Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford.
Courtesy Everett Collection

The Jeffersons

The Jeffersons (1975-1985) followed the lives of George and Louise “Weezy” Jefferson after their adult son moved out of the house and the middle-aged couple went “movin’ on up” socially, financially and physically (“to a deluxe apartment in the sky”) on New York City’s East Side. The series also was produced by Lear.

Watch it: Seasons 4 and 5 on Pluto TV; Seasons 5 and 6 on Prime Video.

spinner image from left ernest thomas and mabel king on the sitcom whats happening
‘What’s Happening!!’ featured the antics of Raj and his friends.
ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection

What’s Happening!!

What’s Happening!! (1976-1979) was created by Good Times creator Monte. The show featured three teens — Raj, Dwayne and Rerun — living in Los Angeles. They learn about life, love and everything else as they try to hide their boyhood antics from Raj’s younger sister, Dee. Thompson says the show was loosely based on the movie Cooley High. The series had its own spin-off, What’s Happening Now!! in the ’80s.

Watch it: What’s Happening!! on Tubi TV.

spinner image from left lisa bonet tempestt bledsoe malcolm jamal warner phylicia rashad and bill cosby on the cosby show
‘The Cosby Show’ showcased a family with two high-earning parents.
NBC/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Cosby Show

Even though Bill Cosby’s name is tarnished because of sexual assault allegations and an overturned assault conviction, it’s hard to ignore The Cosby Show’s place in history. The show made its mark in the zeitgeist of Black representation in television when it aired from 1984 to 1992, Troutman Robbins says. Cliff Huxtable, portrayed by Cosby, 86, was an obstetrician, and his wife, Clair, was a lawyer. Troutman Robbins says the affluent lifestyle depicted brought a different iteration of the Black family to TV. The couple raised their four daughters and son in a Brooklyn brownstone. “The Huxtables really became kind of, the metaphor, the epitome of the American dream,” Thompson says. In 1987, The Cosby Show got a spin-off in A Different World when daughter Denise went to Hillman College, a fictitious historically Black college and university.

Watch it: The Cosby Show on Philo and Amazon Prime; A Different World on Max.

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Jackée Harry, center, won an Emmy for her portrayal of Sandra Clark on ‘227.’
Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

227

In the 1980s, television gave way to sitcoms that depicted Black life outside the family context, Troutman Robbins says. In 227 (1985-1990), you see life in a middle-class apartment building in Washington and all the gossip and happenings between neighbors and enemies turned friends. Marla Gibbs, 92, who played the housekeeper on The Jeffersons, played sassy Mary Jenkins. Jackée Harry, 67, who played Sandra Clark, won a primetime Emmy Award in 1987 for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series — the first African American to do so.

Watch it: 227 on Pluto TV and Hulu.

spinner image the cast of family matters top row from left telma hopkins bryton james jaleel white reginald veljohnson jo marie payton darius mccrary bottom kellie williams rosetta lenoire and jaimee foxworth
‘Family Matters’ featured the extended Winslow family with neighbor Steve Urkel always in the mix.
Lorimar Film Entertainment/Courtesy Everett Collection

Family Matters

The family sitcom follows the Winslows and their nerdy and pesky neighbor Steve Urkel. In Family Matters (1989-1998), Carl Winslow was a police officer raising his three children with his wife, Harriette. Urkel, portrayed by Jaleel White, was the driving force of many Family Matters plotlines. The Winslows eventually accepted him as part of the family and let him move in.

Watch it: Family Matters on HuluMax or airing on TBS.

spinner image from left will smith alfonso ribeiro and tatyana ali on the fresh prince of bel air
‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ took the title character from Philadelphia and placed him in rich Bel-Air.
NBC/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

If you know the words to the theme song, you know the plotline of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996). Will Smith, 55, plays teenager Will, who gets sent away from his home in West Philadelphia to live with his rich family in Bel-Air, a Los Angeles neighborhood. Troutman Robbins says its most notable themes of class differences also touch upon the dimensions of Blackness from a geographical point. “How does someone come from the projects in Philly in a different kind of urban setting, [and] how does that translate if we put this person in Bel-Air, into wealth and opportunity and a different kind of context?” she says. A remake series titled simply Bel-Air (2022-present) streams on Peacock and Prime Video.

Watch it: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on Hulu and Max.

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Martin Lawrence, center, played many roles in ‘Martin.’
Fox Broadcasting Company/Courtesy Everett Collection

Martin

In this sitcom, comedian Martin Lawrence, 58, (who got his on-screen start as Maurice Warfield in What’s Happening Now!!) plays an unfiltered radio DJ in Detroit. Martin (1992-1997) centers around the character’s life alongside girlfriend Gina Waters, played by Tisha Campbell, 55. The show aired for five seasons and won a People’s Choice Award in 1993 for favorite TV new comedy series.

Watch it: Martin on BET+ and Max.

spinner image from left queen latifah kim coles and erika alexander on living single
A group of 20-somethings navigate dating and professional live in ‘Living Single.’
Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Living Single

In Living Single (1993-1998), a group of 20-somethings navigate dating and professional life in Brooklyn. It starred Queen Latifah, 53, who rapped the show’s theme song. Among its accolades: It won two NAACP Image Awards for outstanding comedy series in 1996 and 1998.

Watch it: Living Single on Hulu and Max.

spinner image tracee ellis ross golden brooks luck hari and persia white on the sitcom girlfriends
‘Girlfriends’ featured four friends dealing with life and careers in Los Angeles.
Paramount Television/Courtesy Everett Collection

Girlfriends

The West Coast Sex and the City, Girlfriends (2000-2008) starred Tracee Ellis Ross, 51. The show followed four friends living in Los Angeles navigating romance and careers. Thompson says it’s a beloved show at the very turn of the century.

Watch it: Girlfriends on Netflix and the CW.

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