I watch a lot of TV — more than I should probably admit, actually. I watch adventures, dramas (I’m partial to police shows), sitcoms and reality TV. And although my DVR is super-diverse, there’s a handful of black shows that I absolutely watch — without fail. I know what some of you are going to say — I don’t see race. Why make it about color? What’s a “black” show, anyway? For the purposes of this post, a black show is defined as a show in which all or most of the main characters are black. And based on my own unscientific account from friends — both real and of the Facebook variety — while most of my black friends have some or all of these shows in rotation, fewer of my white friends do.
One reason I’ve heard is that they can’t relate to them. *Insert record player scratch here* I wasn’t a 20-something living in what seemed to be an all-white area of New York City, but I still enjoyed Friends. So if you’re in the “It doesn’t relate to me camp” (not you, of course, but maybe some friends or friends of friends) here are 10 black TV shows you need to add to your DVR queue. You’ll thank me later.
1. Empire (Fox)
If you haven’t heard of Empire, I’m really questioning where you’ve been the last few years. Terrence Howard plays the head of a music company who looks to find a successor when he’s diagnosed with an incurable illness. Add in a fabulous ex-wife fresh out of prison, a soundtrack that makes you literally bob your head, and it’s obvious why the show quickly gained a cult following. With the over-the-topness of it all, it’s basically a soap opera that airs at night, and we’re here for it.
2. Black-ish (ABC)
I gotta admit. I absolutely hated the name of this show before it came out. I pre-emptively disliked it, just because. And the first episode felt like they were trying too hard to make us get how “black” the family was. But after that rocky start, it’s a show my husband and I watch faithfully each week. My sister-in-law even texted us to say that the family is “totally us.” It does a great job of showcasing two black parents from different walks of life that go through the same struggles as everyone else, but through a different lens. Episodes explaining the struggle of a black man’s barbershop experience and the family watching news coverage of police brutality are equally as real (and the emotion is equally relatable).
3. Survivor’s Remorse (Starz)
Not gonna lie. This show can do no wrong in my eyes. I love it so much, and the relationship between couple Reggie and Missy is total #relationshipsgoals. The premise revolves around a Boston-reared basketball player who makes it big when he’s picked up by a team in Atlanta. It’s loosely based on (and executive produced) by LeBron James, who happens to be my spirit animal even though I don’t follow sports (don’t ask). It’s a comedy and it has you laughing when you least expect it. In one episode, a kid awakens from a lengthy coma and all he wants is a night of drinking and strippers from his favorite hoops star. In another episode, the family navigates a church visit in which the basketball star’s sister brings her latest girlfriend to church and the family has to deal with the church’s homophobia. Seriously, do not not watch this show. You’ll regret it.
4. Atlanta (FX)
True story: When I first found out the corny dude from Community (I literally had to Google the name of the show just now) was the same dude who produced and starred in Atlanta and was the same dude who’s a rapper (Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino), I wasn’t really sure what to think. Plus, the trailers were super-weird and I couldn’t tell what the show was about. But since my husband is from the ATL — meaning I am by proxy — we gave it a try. And it didn’t disappoint. My boo, the barometer of all things Atlanta, gave it the stamp of approval. Glover used an all-black writers’ room to make the show as authentic as possible, which is evidenced in the scenes in which Paper Boi (Glover’s drug dealer cousin-turned-rapper) gets a hookup on some lemon pepper wings (WET!) and the prison scene in which that Atlanta accent goes hard for like a full scene (and yes, there is such a thing as an Atlanta accent, Google it). But warning, it’s a dark comedy — you won’t be laughing the whole time, but already, the character development is on point and I can’t wait to watch the rest of the season.
5. Luke Cage (Netflix)
We knew this show was going to be black AF when the trailer opened up to a Wu Tang Clan track. We couldn’t have been the only ones who fell in love with Harlem’s bulletproof hero during his recurring role as Jessica Jones‘ love interest on the Netflix series of the same name. So it was only a matter of time before he got his own show. It’s violent and dark, like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but I dare you not to get hooked. The show also features some of our favorite actors of color — including Alfre Woodard, Rosario Dawson and Mahershala Ali, who plays another badass on House of Cards. Luke tries his hardest to keep a quiet existence sweeping up hair at a barbershop, but can’t help getting caught up as an unlikely hero when violence hits his neighborhood.
6. The Carmichael Show (NBC)
Two different people told me I remind them of a character on this show. I’m still not sure which character they were referring to, but the LOL-worthy episodes made me forget that’s what I was watching for. The show is named after lead actor and executive producer Jerrod Carmichael, a stand-up comedian, and follows his and his family’s day-to-day life. Think Black-ish with no kids and no mansion. They discuss sometimes heavy topics, like politics, gender and social activism, but with an eye toward comedy. One episode followed the family’s discussion of whether it was OK to watch porn after their pastor admitted being addicted to it. I never knew an argument about porn could be so funny.
Confession: I’ve only ever watched a couple of episodes of Issa Rae’s acclaimed web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. But I was super-excited to watch her new HBO show based loosely on the series. The comedy follows Rae’s life as she navigates work, her best friend and the boyfriend she’s thisclose to breaking up with. I laughed out loud so many times during this show that I was afraid I’d wake up my kids. My favorite scene? When Rae gets up on stage during an open mic night — prompted by her ex — and raps an original ditty called “Broken Pussy.” For real. Trust me, it’s much funnier than you’d think.
8. Power (Starz)
The 50 Cent-produced show is about the life of a drug dealer who is trying his hardest to go straight. Lead character Ghost owns a legitimate nightclub, but is still deeply entangled in the drug game. Him hooking up with an ex-girlfriend (while he’s married, no less) who happens to be a federal prosecutor is a recipe for all kinds of disaster. It’s got everything — money, power, sex, a trending hashtag on Sunday nights and a lead actor that looks good in and out of a suit. If that doesn’t hook you, let me check your pulse.
9. Queen Sugar (OWN)
Based on the book of the same name, Queen Sugar is a drama with some heavy hitters behind it. It airs on Oprah Winfrey’s network and superdirector Ava DuVernay is one of the executive producers. The Bordelon siblings come together after a tragedy to run the family’s sugar cane farm in Louisiana. It’s a heart-wrenching addition to this pretty much light-hearted list, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s also great to see one of my True Blood favorites Rutina Wesley back on the small screen (can I mention here that her skin is absolutely flawless?). Though I’m still catching up on the season, the show feels “quiet” to me so far — with the family having the kind of quiet tension that you know will eventually boil over. Everything DuVernay touches is gold, and this is no exception.
10. The Get Down (Netflix)
OK, yes, another Netflix original. But can they help that they’re killing the game in diverse original programming? The Get Down is set in the late ’70s in Bronx and from the trailer, I couldn’t tell what it was about. So I wasn’t 100 percent sure about this one when I started the first episode, but the kung fu reeled me in. Let me explain. As a kid who grew up watching Bruce Lee, I perked up when street kid, kung fu fighter and budding DJ Shaolin Fantastic made his first appearance. If you grew up in the late ’70s/’80s, you’ll love the nostalgia (Yo, remember when everyone was rocking Pumas?). If you like music, you’ll love the frequent musical interludes. If you like politics and history, well, it has that too. Basically, I’m saying there’s something for everyone — but you may have to watch a couple of episodes to get into the tone and timbre of the show. Trust me, it’s worth it, and the action quickly picks up. Oh, and it also features Jaden Smith as a popular graffiti artist who has so many spot-on Jaden-isms that you’ll think he had a hand in writing the script.
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