Before Queen Latifah expanded her multimedia empire to encompass music, fashion, television, and film, she was gifted with a great vehicle Living Single, the Fox sitcom that ran for 5 seasons. The show centered on four upscale black women living in a brownstone. Latifah plays Kadijah, an editor-in-chief of Flavor, a hip urban magazine; Kim Fields, familiar to TV audiences for her role as Tootie from Facts of Life, plays gossipy, diva wannabe Regine; Erika Alexander is the wisecracking, witty super-lawyer Maxine; and comedienne Kim Coles plays Kadijah’s innocent, slightly dim cousin, Sinclaire. Rounding out the cast is T.C. Carson as the suave stockbroker, Kyle, and John Henton as his goofy sidekick handyman, Overton. Taking its cue from shows like The Golden Girls, Living Single is a show that highlights the supportive friendship among the characters, even if they trade quips, barbs, and insults.
Even though Friends and Sex and the City have longer lasting legacies, Living Single stands right beside them. The show’s a standard sitcom with old-fashioned joke set-ups with gratifying punchlines that elicit whoops, hollers, and guffaws from the studio audience. Bt despite its dated trappings, the show’s sharply written – often with some hilarious one-liners. And just as importantly, there is a strong emphasis on girl power, sisterhood, and pride. Few shows present upscale, upper middle-class black professionals – and often when we do see a comfortable black person, the character is written so blandly that the ethnicity could’ve been anything. As universal as Living Single is, the girls’ African-American heritage is an important part of the show.
Because this is an ensemble show, the casting is key – and this show has some enthusiastic performances. Latifah, the biggest star, who would go on to win an Oscar nomination for Chicago is a sturdy center for the cast. She coasts on her genial screen presence and natural comic timing, but more often she plays the straight man to her more outlandish costars. Coles, a comic vet from In Living Color is saddled with the ditz role, but has impeccible timing, and does a lot with the thinly drawn character. The real joy comes from watching Alexander and Fields spar, slinging insults and jabs – they perform with abandon and draw the biggest laughs from their rivalry. And as the only men in this show, Carson and Henton could’ve been the Lenny & Squiggy of Living Single, but the two have the time-tested chemistry of some great comic duos.
The first season of Living Single jumps in with the characters, with little introduction but that’s okay – these characters in their core are very familiar, we’ve seen them before: the calm, level-headed one; the sarcastic, caustic one; the ditzy one; the shallow, bitchy one. It’s pretty interesting how close Living Single‘s template is to The Golden Girls: Latifah’s Kadijah is Bea Arthur’s Dorothy; Fields’ Regine is Rue McClanahan’s Blanche; Alexander’s tart-tongued Maxine recalls Estelle Getty’s Sophia; and Coles’ dopey Sinclaire will remind viewers of Betty White’s silly Rose.
The plots are pretty standard for sitcoms – particularly romantic sitcoms. There are lots of episodes that center around the women’s quest to find Mr. Right. Obviously, their searches are in vain, but they’re having lots of fun looking – and even when the women spend lots of time throwing shade and putdowns, there’s always a happy ending where sisterhood and friendship prevail. These heartfelt moments are hardly ever maudlin or sappy; instead they’re true and usually restrained. It’s for these reasons that Living Single is more than just 90s TV nostalgia, but a quality sitcom.