If you’re a Black person in America and have never seen A Different World, then I really don’t know how great your life has been. I’d imagine your childhood was rough. As a proud 90’s baby, I watched a lot of cartoons, TV shows and movies, but this show, by far, is the best show I’ve seen IN MY LIFE. This is the only show where I can watch a few seconds from the opening scene and tell you what happens in the rest of the episode. THE ONLY ONE!
I don’t remember when I first saw this show but I do have one memory of watching the episode where Whitley and Dwayne, well Dwayne really, were having trouble balancing work and being newly weds. It was in the morning. I think it was on UPN, before it became the CW, and I was ironing or waiting for my mom to finish ironing my pants. I was enamored with this show. Through my middle and high school years, I found this show on Nick at Nite, UPN and other various channels (I was a night owl so I always found it at night). I’m never really introduced to things. I usually found it on my own for some strange reason.
Fact is, this show was one of the prime reasons why enrollment for Black students increased tremendously in not only HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and/or Universities) but in colleges in general. We all wanted to go to Hillman (which is not a real college by the way. Don’t know who didn’t know that already but I feel like I needed to state that). It’s been said before but representation matters.
Now, when I say that I love this show, I mean season two through six. No one counts season one. We just deem it as a mistake season but let’s go back there for a minute. Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) graduated high school, much like her older sister Sondra, but instead of Princeton, Denise chooses to live out the family legacy of going to Hillman College. Upon arriving at Hillman, Denise meets a cast of characters (literally and figuratively…because you know, it’s a TV show) including math man Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison), the seasoned senior Julissa Vinson (Dawnn Lewis who also starred in Hanging with Mr. Cooper) and the seemingly misplaced white girl Maggie Lauten (Oscar winning actress Marissa Tomei who is now the hot auntie in Marvel’s Spider-Man series). Everything was wrong with season one. According to Debbie Allen (Phylicia Rashad’s sister), she was tasked with getting the show to what we know and love now. In season one, I don’t remember seeing many other students milling around. The focus was mainly on Denise and how everyone interacted with her, which made sense because she was why we had the show. There wasn’t any depictions on screen of what it was like to be on a Black campus and so in season two, drastic changes were made and this is where it gets good. Maggie was out (Sorry, girl, but like I said, Tomei won an Oscar for her role in My Cousin Vinny and again, she plays Aunt May in Spider-Man. I think she was ok.) Also, Denise was gone. Denise was failing out of school anyway and it is well documented, there was a rift between Cosby and Bonet.
In walks Winifred “Freddy” Brooks (the multi talented Cree Summer) and Kimberly Reese (Charnele Brown). They turn Ron Johnson (Daryl Bell) into a playboy and PRESTO! We have a show! This show tackled rape, racism, marriage, love, HIV, domestic abuse, war, the sacrifices made in order to go to college and much more. Even today, I don’t know a show that tackled all these issues and more in such an entertaining and eloquent way. We got a scope of personalities on the show from all different age groups from Mr. Gaines (Lou Myers) down to Terrance Taylor (Cory Tyler). Let’s talk about a couple of my favorite episodes, shall we.
Let’s start with the obvious. The wedding episode. This is obviously the most recognizable episode of the show because a wedding episode in a TV series is time consuming and the most thought out episode of any other. It’s where we get the infamous “Baby Please!” plea (which was improvised) from Dwayne as he professes his love and commitment (FINALLY!) to Whitley (played by the beautiful Jasmine Guy). Fun fact: comedian and actor Orlando Jones wrote two episodes in this series and appeared twice in the series (both times were at Byron Douglas’ brother. Byron of course was played by the incredible Joe Morton). My other favorite episode is not so obvious, “Love Taps”.
“Love Taps” was the episode where Gina (Ajai Saanders) is being abused by her boyfriend Deon. Fun fact: The actor who played Deon also played a tutor in a prior episode. He was the tutor that quit on Charmaine when she was trying to raise her grade in French. It was the only subject she couldn’t pass with flying colors like she usually could (See, weird isn’t it). I love this episode for two reasons. One, Kadeem Hardison directed this episode. I think it was the first time I saw that someone could direct and star in a show at the same time, and two, I enjoyed how throughout the episode everyone rallied around Gina telling her she needed help. No one wavered on their opinion about the situation. I also enjoyed that the person who was really able to talk some sense into her was my favorite character, Whitley.
Last but not least, a lost episode from the sixth season, Piccolo. Piccolo was a character played by the best rapper alive, Tupac. Knowing the extent of the relationship that he and Jada had now, makes that episode that much more fun to watch, There was also a lesson in Lena (Jada Pinkett at the time) having to come to terms with the fact that her friends from Baltimore (where Jada is actually from) and her friends in college were two different aspects and stages in her life, the past and the present/future. Of course, everyone was relatively happy at the end, even though Dorian (Bumper Robinson) had a black eye.
Despite what we’ve heard about Bill Cosby and what he’s done, we can’t deny that the man made strides in the industry for his people. We might not like him but we have to acknowledge the work as a stand alone aspect of his life. Because of his genius (and not his behavior in his personal life), we were given Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, introduced to Raven-Symone, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison. We got to see Sinbad on a regular basis. We got this show and the Cosby Show. I applaud this work and credit this show with half of the reason I really wanted to go to college (I didn’t really have a choice about going, That was a done deal. LOL). This showed me all the various aspects of college life and how I could make my own college experience.
Also, NBC or whoever owns this series now, I know this is asking a lot given the circumstances, but I need all six seasons of this show on DVD. PLEASE AND THANK YOU! If we can’t have that, can I at least have it for myself. Gosh! And no, it is no longer on Netflix…maybe I’ll ask them about that.