My friends and I have been discussing 90’s Black sitcoms recently. More importantly, the lack of Black Television shows now that are of the caliber of those from the ’90’s. The ’90s was a great time to be young and see yourself on television. Black families, black love, and black stories. That is something that I have been missing. Representation is key, and there were several shows that represented my family and me.
- Family Matters
- Living Single
- The Parent ‘Hood
- In the House
- Hanging with Mr. Cooper
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
While all of these shows stand out in my mind and hold a special place in my heart, there was one show in particular that I never missed as a kid. A Different World.
I could not get into the Cosby show then or now, but I understand the appeal to the masses. So it has always intrigued my mind, what stuck with me about A Different World all of these years later. As a Cosby spinoff, this show still holds up today. The issues talked about are still being discussed today. Now, I have probably rewatched this show about a million times its original run. Although, I remember watching it for the first time at about 10/11 years old longing to go to this school with them. Did I have any idea what college was, much less what a historically black one was at the time? No. But it was this show that made me yearn for more information.
For me, this was the first show to explore black college students and their experiences with learning about real life, love, and financial security. Now, I only just learned what the original premise of the show. (Marisa Tomei experiences attending a historically black college.) I wonder if it would have had the same effect on me as the show actually had. The premise became that Denise Huxtable was going off to college. And it was supposed to be about her adventures at Hillman college. However, when Lisa Bonet exited the role. The show started centering around Jasmine Guy’s character (Whitley Gilbert).
What I remember thinking at the time was, these kids were all living together, learning together, and helping each other through issues that arose. That appealed to me. I couldn’t wait to do the same. I probably felt strongly about it because I had come from a city in Massachusetts where there was one other black family. I was half of the black student body in the elementary school that I attended at the time. It was a wonder to see a place where there were so many young black minds were thriving.
Now, of course, when I was watching the show initially… I may have missed out on some of the nuances of the romantic entanglements and the characters represented, but I did get the heavy-hitting themes that the show tackled. There are a few episodes that stand out in my mind… but before we get to that. Let’s talk about the characters.
What was great about the characters was that they were young and allowed to make mistakes. They were allowed to be nerdy, or prissy or in Freddie’s case a bit out there and still fit in. They were able to be comfortable in who they were. There wasn’t a sense of not being “black enough.” Black people come in many forms, shapes, sizes, and have varied interests. And the show was able to showcase that in grand fashion. We were able to watch these characters come into their own and see how their initial ideas of how the world works were challenged and somewhat changed the older they got. The characters were also multilayered… which meant that they sometimes did not so great things. Just like real people and that hit home for me.
- Whitley Gilbert – portrayed by actress Jasmine Guy. At the beginning of the series, Whitley Gilbert was the spoiled, selfish brat of Gilbert Hall. However, as time wore on… through her associations with her friends, we saw her become more well rounded. She seemed to have the hardest time learning that it is rough out in the real world. But she managed to pull it together with the help of Hillman. She majored in French and Art History.
- Dwayne Wayne – portrayed by Kadeem Hardison. Let me tell you how cool I thought Dwayne Wayne was. My mother bought me a pair of flip-up glasses that I wore for ages until they broke. I thought he was the greatest for a long time. (Back when I thought he was real.)He majored in math, wanted to be an engineer and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. Throughout the series, Dwayne matured from a flirtatious wanna-be ladies’ man (He used to tell women that he got a perfect score on his Math SAT’s as a pick-up line) to a mature and respectable husband. He was from New York… just like me. I really appreciated the portrayal of him as being a nerd… an engineer and interested (and excelling) at all things school… since what we usually see are drug dealers or gangbangers. Look at those glasses… ain’t they fly? And his kick game was always fresh. I wanted a Dwayne Wayne guys.
- Freddie Brooks – Portrayed by Cree Summer… Shoutout to Cree for voicing all of the cartoons I watched back in the day… She has probably been in a few things you guys watched. Freddie is the resident free spirit. She wants to save the planet and has various ideas about doing so. What was interesting was how much she clashed with Whitley over her ideals. It didn’t matter to her what others thought… She stood by her beliefs. There is a lot that I learned from this character in regards to helping out the environment that I still put into practice today. (I have to be the only one of my friends that enjoyed the saga that was Freddie and Ron… I mean there is a thin line between love and hate right…? I saw that coming. Should they have done that to Kim…? no…. More on that later though.) On the flip side, I was glad when she started dating someone… I was not happy when that person turned out to be Shazza… I got that he was supposed to be the male version of her… but he was all talk… and started putting her down towards the end. But I digress. That is a tough jacket… I wanted it. She started out wanting to be a writer but ended up in law school.
- Ron Johnson – portrayed by Darryl M. Bell. I have a lot of friends that tell me they don’t like Ron’s character. I enjoyed watching Ron get his comeuppance in certain situations. Seeing several people is something people do in their young age… It is called dating… however, you usually let people you’re dating know. However, Ron’s character was very vocal about his thoughts and feelings… no matter how misguided they were sometimes. That vocalness usually served as what he had to learn about. (Remember the episode on homelessness… where Ron makes a lot of comments only to find that a man that he looked up to was homeless?) He had a lot to learn about women (and the world in general) and a lot of time to learn it. We all know a person like that. He wasn’t the best student academically and not because he was stupid… because he was lazy. He had an ambitious attitude. Always trying to come up with an idea to get rich. He wanted to do the least amount of work and gain the most from it. (Who doesn’t in college?) His friendship with Dwayne was unparalleled for me at the time. (Only to be rivaled later by Kyle and Overton of Living Single.) They gave each other real advice (relationship and otherwise) and helped each other through life. Ron was slightly immature… yes because he was young. Towards the end of the series you can see that he was feeling some kind of way about his reputation (as a ladies man.) Especially since no one took him seriously when it came obvious that sleeping with everyone wasn’t as fulfilling as he thought it would be and wanted to be serious about a relationship.
- Kimberly Reese – portrayed by Charnele Brown. Our resident Med Student. She was dedicated to her work and an overachiever. She put so much pressure on herself to be the best. Kim’s character was the vessel for a lot of heavy-hitting stories. She had a pregnancy scared early on in the series. She was the character to tackle interracial relationships when she started dating Freddie’s cousin Matthew. (That was interesting for me to see people’s reaction to her dating Matthew. Especially Ron’s. People who paid no real attention to her before had a lot to say about her and Matthew. I, at least, got a taste of what I would later be in store for. She actually roomed with Whitley and the two became unlikely friends for the rest of the series. Here were two women that worked out differences and came to each other with their issues.
- Jaleesa Vinson- Taylor – portrayed by Dawnn Lewis. I have to say even though she was the voice of reason to her younger counterparts… I didn’t appreciate her character until I was much older and on my 100th time watching the show all the way through. She enrolled at Hillman at 25 what we would now call being a non traditional student. (Which I ended up having to be later in life.) She showed that if you wanted something bad enough, it was never to late to get it. She was big on showing the guys mostly her ex Walter that she was just as intelligent… if not more than he gave her and women credit for. She became the assistant dorm director of Gilbert Hall… and that became interesting watching her help solve problems the kids got themselves into. She ends up running her own staffing agency out of her home. There was nothing that she couldn’t do. She majored in Business Management.
- Walter Oakes – Portrayed by Sinbad. Walter was the graduate student at Hillman and becomes the co dorm director at Gilbert Hall. (When it becomes a co-ed dorm room.) Dwayne and Ron needed someone to look up to on-campus and Walter was that guy. He advised them on one thing after another… The episode No Means No comes to mind. There was also an episode when he was trying to recruit Alvin Dicks to Hillman for basketball… he is concerned that Alvin will not choose Hillman for the wrong reasons. He channels this love for helping out children into his outreach program that he starts. He was very involved and the shaping of young minds and the older I get the more I appreciate this character. Was he somewhat of a chauvanist… sure… But he had Jaleesa to put him in his place.
- Colonel Bradford Taylor – portrayed by Glynn Turman. Dr. War scared the hell out of me. Mostly because he didn’t put up with any excuses. He wanted the best from his students and he put them through the wringer because he knew they could do it. He became Dwayne’s mentor and was the sense of direction in his son’s life. (Terrance needed that.) He wanted to get young black minds ready for the real world. I remember when the students were talking about being burnt out… and he broke down how much time they had actually spent doing work… SMH… poor guys.
- Gina Deveaux– Portrayed by Ajai Sanders. Gina was in the know and by that she was in everyone’s business. But she knew her stuff. She dated a guy that was abusive to her and that episode also stands out in my mind. (More on that later as well.) She gets placed on academic probation when she gets jealous of Charmaine which while funny… was super realistic to me. But she was able to learn from that experience and move forward.
- Charmaine Brown – Portrayed by Karen Malina White. As Mr. Gaines called her… the mouth of the south. As a freshman, she annoys everyone with talking about her beloved Lance and the general fast way in which she talks. (Poor girl, Lance called her to break up with her.) She was another overachiever like Kim… who thought the way she did things was the best way to do things. She had the tendency to think she was smarter than her classmates. But in the end, she forges a strong bond with both Lena and Gina.
- Lena James – Portrayed by Jada Pinkett. She arrives at Hillman on an Engineering scholarship. She switches to English when she learns that she has an affinity for and is passionate about writing and realizes that the only thing she was passionate about when it came to engineering was her scholarship. I liked her ingenuity. She tried to make money by selling Gumbo in her dorm room. (I will leave out the fact that she almost burned the building down.) She was the first to notice Gina was in an abusive relationship and tried to talk her out of it. She forges a friendship with Gina and Charmaine.
- Dorian Heywood – Portrayed by Bumper Robinson. He is a born again Christain and the object of a lot of the girl’s affection. He was the star basketball player for Hillman. And he starts a relationship with Lena James (albeit celibate). When Lena’s ex Piccolo (Tupac) shows up… Dorian’s jealous side comes out and they end up in a fight. He rooms with Terrell Walker and these two remind me of a young Dwayne and Ron. But there’s was a close friendship as well.
- Terrell Walker – Portrayed by Patrick Malone. Despite outwards appearances, Terrell was a highly intelligent character scoring 1500 (out of 1600) on his SAT’s. He has a somewhat antagonistic relationship with Gina and Charmaine, this is to mirror the relationship Ron had with women on campus. He is accused of sexual harassment… since he is the easy scapegoat… (SMH at Gina.) And feeling inferior when he and Charmaine are attacked decides to get a gun which almost gets him expelled.
A Different world tackled serious issues such as date rape, colorism, racism, domestic abuse, and HIV infection. Interestingly, I remember watching these episodes as a child… and I feel like I was better equipped for the world around me because I knew about date rape or HIV at an earlier age than most may have been comfortable with. It was fun to watch college students think critically, find their identities as well as challenge their world views, and find new ways of looking at life. It is in fact a different world than where you come from.
So let’s take a look at some of my favorite hard-hitting episodes.
- “No Means No” (season 2, episode 20): Freddie’s character at the beginning of the series reminded me a lot of myself… so that is probably why this episode stands out in my mind. She believes that because she doesn’t have any ill will towards others that no one will have ill will towards her. And that is not the case. Because she is so inexperienced with those of the opposite sex, she wants to believe the best about her new beau… Garth. But it is Dwayne who notices that Garth is a bit too aggressive. Dwayne and Garth have a conversation where Garth flat out states that when a woman says no… she doesn’t mean it… She just needs a little persuasion and to be let off the hook. Dwayne fears that Freddie is putting herself in a dangerous situation but his fears fall on deaf ears with Freddie. When Dwayne goes to talk to Walter about it… Walter lays down the law.
Dwayne manages to protect Freddie from Garth’s advances. (Protect Black Women.) But the episode stayed with me because it could be me at any time.
- “Mr. Hillman” (season 1 episode 17): In the name of sexual equality, Denise convinces Dwayne to run in the Miss Hillman Beauty Pageant against Whitley. Denise is not happy with the sexism of the pageant. But it is Dwayne that is in for a rude awakening when he gets a taste of what not only women on campus have to endure but also women in life. The women on campus begin looking at him as an object. While this is not the first time the Hillman alum tackle sexism, it is what I remember to this day. I am not a fan of pageants of any kind but it was weird watching Whitley’s attitude at the prospect of not winning.
- “Pride And Prejudice” (season 3, episode 14): Oh Whitley had a lot to learn about life outside her bubble. It took her a while to see that she could learn from others… (Freddie, mostly.) She was the daughter of rich black parents, who honestly believed that her privileged upbringing shielded her from racism. Whitley was so hung up on being one of the better black people that she doesn’t see the clerk at the jewelry store is being racist and discriminatory towards her. No matter how much Freddie tries to convince her otherwise, Whitley still purchases the jewelry (a present for her father.) and thinks she is going to punish the woman’s ideologies by handing her a fat commission. What was worse was watching Whitley try and justify the clerk’s behavior instead of assessing the issue and her role in it. Namely her superiority complex and acknowledge that Freddie… not matter how different she maybe was right.
- “Ms. Understanding” (season 4, episode 17): Now I am not sure that I understood the gravity of this episode right away. But now that I am of marrying age… out of college and all that jazz… I have several thoughts on it. Learning the inspiration for the episode is what brings me to cringes every time I watch it now. It’s inspiration being Shahrazad Ali’s The Blackman’s Guide To Understanding The Blackwoman. It was a misogynistic, weird drabble about how the all problems with the black community were all rooted in black women. Shazza Zulu writes a book to help the Hillman woman understand the Hillman man. (Ms. Understanding: Her Guide to Understanding the Hillman Man.) The students descend into chaos as they resort to childish battles of the sexes. Before they turn on the writer… Shazza and realized this childish battle serves no one. I mean they should have turned on Shazza… because according to Shazza, the Hillman woman should be confident, know her self-worth and be treated like a “queen” (I will leave out my circle of friends hatred for the word queen.) but only if she adheres to stereotypical and dated gender norms and roles.
This brings me to the character of Shazza who I used to love as a kid. I thought he was a fine specimen of man. But I am an adult now… and I can see him for what he is. Even as a kid though, I did not appreciate how he tried to throw Kim’s interracial relationship with Matthew under the bus to save his drowning self. But even when he hooks up with Freddie, he did nothing for me. He talks a good game about wanting to help his people… but you never see him actually do it. (Aside from organizing a rally for the Haitians.) He plays a role more of tearing down and creating discord rather than helping. He took 6 years to graduate Hillman… he doesn’t have a job… and when Freddie gets into Law school he belittles her every chance he gets…from the changing of her hair to not being able to spend time with her how he wants. It is easy to have time on your hands when you don’t do anything all day.
- “Cat’s In The Cradle” (season 5, episode 14): Dwayne and Ron get in a fight with racists students from a nearby white college. It begins with a bet on a Hillman football game between Ron and the racist students. When Ron wins the bet all hell breaks loose. The rivals aren’t happy to have to pay up and then try to spray paint the n-word on his car. When all are arrested and taken to the jail, they are given the opportunity to tell their side of the story… We get to see embellishments on each side. Dean Cain plays the ringleader and words are exchanged. As an older person, I can see the issue with Black men and the trust issues they have with cops. They are the victims here… but they’ve been handcuffed and made to tell their story. And in the end, they know no matter what they say… It won’t necessarily help them. This episode is 30 years old… and it is just as poignant today as it was when it was aired. Probably more.
- “If I Should Die Before I Wake” (season 4, episode 23): I am 1000% sure that I did not understand the significance of this episode until later in life. So in this episode Whoopi Goldberg plays a professor that assigns her class a speech where they would be delivering their own eulogy. I am sure that it was supposed to slide into focus what everyone wanted out of their lives. Tisha Campbell plays Josie… a character who has a bleak outlook on life since she’s contracted HIV. Now here in 2020… HIV is not the death sentence it once was. But at the time this aired in 1991 (29 years ago.) people were dropping dead at a high rate. There were no commercials about a new drug to keep your levels undetectable and no PREP drug that help keep you from getting it. What stood out to me in this episode was the fact that ignorance always gives way to prejudice no matter what the topic. Once the student body figured out Josie has HIV… they start treating her differently… not wanting her to serve their food, or wearing a mask to talk to her. It is Mr. Gaines… the owner of the Pitt… who brings the bunch under control.
- “Mammy Dearest” (season 5, episode 11): It is Kim’s turn to confront a serious theme. Kim confronts the complicated history of black women in America. I have to appreciate A Different World for tackling colorism. For the upcoming dorm dedication ceremony, Whitley wants to include the Mammy image with other historical images which throws Kim into a tizzy. Kim, who has darker skin, talks about the the teasing that she has endured because of it. Whitley doesn’t get why Kim is reacting the way that she does, but Whitley is the one with the fair skin. Whitley is the one deemed desirable by men and so on and so forth. This hit home for me… because my sister is also has fair skin… I remember snippets of conversations that older adults had with my mom… where she was told to keep her out the sun… Don’t want her getting too dark. (My sister and I are closer than any two people can be. Which is great… because I know that sort of thing can cause misplaced anger and ruin relationship.) Kim becomes the star of the show… and gives an awesome performance where she acknowledges Mammy’s role in Black Women’s history.
- “It Happened One Night” (Season 2, Episode 11): Kim wasn’t the only one to have to make an adjustment when rooming with Whitley. Ah to be young and in love right? Well… sure… Kim and her boyfriend Rob use the dorm room as their own sexual romper room leaving Whitley out in the common area. Whitley’s protest about it fall on deaf ears. But it isn’t until Kim thinks she might be pregnant that the real world comes crashing in. It is only a scare, but it is enough for Kim to think about the decisions that she had been making and how those decisions could affect her life in the long run.
- “Love Taps” (season 5, episode 22): Gina Deveaux gets into a relationship with a local rapper. (I’m down Dion.) When Dion becomes abusive, she spends her time trying to cover up bruises to fool her friends. What I noticed though, was that she really was mistaking her relationship with Dion as true love and blaming herself for making him angry. Her friends, being who they are, are not fooled. They see that Gina needs help escaping this cycle of abuse. Once the fact that Gina is being abused spreads around campus… everyone comes out of the woodwork to protect her. What stood out in my mind was Dion’s recounting of the abuse his mother suffered from by his father… and how he thought that was just how relationships work.
- “Blue’s for Nobody’s Child” (season 4, episode 3): A glaring look at adoption and especially that of Black children. Freddie meets young Alex through Walter’s Operation Outreach program. Alex is the face of so many children waiting to be adopted but the sad reality is that may never happen. Alex’s adoption agency put on a carnival where the kids are on display for potential parents and Freddie decides to try and fight Alex’s behalf. However, when Alex runs away to be with Freddie… It is Freddie’s outrage that causes the older adults to step in. I remember Freddie lashing out at her Professor because she saw his wanting a newborn baby as part of the problem.
- “Bedroom at the Top” (season 5 episode 16): I am pretty sure that this was a good episode to see for my young mind because… I needed to know what I was going to be in store for when the time came to join the working class. Whitley is promoted at E.H. Wright, but her new boss is crude and obnoxious towards her. When she threatens to expose him, he turns the tables and accuses her of throwing herself at him. Her claims fall on deaf ears. Whitley turns to another woman in the office for support, but she refuses to go on record even though she’s experienced the same thing. Whitley manages to have upper management look into her boss’s past… seems he has been transferred three times for the same accusations. In the end though, after an investigation is finally done, her manager keeps his job, gets a slap on the wrist and she still has to report to him. At a young age, it was interesting to me that so many people could have complained and the only thing he got was a slap on the wrist and to continue on with the company. It also shocked me when the women wouldn’t even stand together to take this clown down. Whitely’s thought that dressing down would do her some good saddens me because it never has anything to do with that. We got to see that in her case because the abuse didn’t stop. However, now in the age of Weinstein… I get it much more. But it remains unsettling to me.
- “Lean on Me” (season 6, episode 19): Dwayne applies for a summer job at Kinishewa. Dwayne and Whitley are surprised when the interviewer turns out to be his ex Kinu. (who he left for Whitley.) The dinner goes well but at the interview the next day it is revealed that Kinishewa went with another more experienced candidate. Dwayne initially accuses Kinu of sabotaging him to get back at him for choosing Whitely over her. (That was cringeworthy.) Kinu sets him straight telling him that she was pulling for him but lets him know what he is lacking. It is hard for Dwayne… who has things come easy to him… struggle with not being the best. It’s a hard pill for Dwayne to swallow, but Whitley helps him through it.
As a now college graduate, I appreciated was the fact that when the gang started graduating… they suffered from what we all suffer from. Trying to land a job. I remember feeding into the idea that once you graduated that jobs would fall into your lap… nothing can be further from the truth. We watch Dwayne and Whitley go on interviews… In Whitley’s case, she learned that she was not yet equipped for the job market and stayed at Hillman to get the business course that she didn’t know she would need. In Dwayne’s case… He determined that he should get his PH. D. in order to give himself a competitive edge. However, he still doesn’t get the job at Kineshewa… (which is heartbreaking.) Ron is trying not to work at his father’s dealership. He puts everything into his band… because that is his first love… but he finds out quickly that loving something doesn’t mean it will pay the bills.
Alright… now that I have gone over some of the episodes that stand out in my mind… The fun part begins… Recounting my favorite love connections made on the show… Romantic relationships were the second part of the show that kept me fascinated.
- Dwayne and Whitley: Are there enough words to say about the saga that is Dwayne and Whitley? Sure. They became the secondary story for the show. The whole will they? Won’t they? had me on the edge of my seat. Dwayne (who started out being in love with Denise) came from a working-class family in Brooklyn, New York. Whitley was opposite from him in every way. She was spoiled and somewhat stuck up. But what I appreciate about their relationship was how they both evolved as young individuals to adults with adults issues and an adult relationship. They both had growing to do… I would say Whitley more than Dwayne. Now, you may feel differently and that’s fine… But Whitley’s parents… mostly her mother… instilled in her that her success in life would come from the type of man should would marry. (We all know a person like that.) She was not told that her success would come from her own doing and she wasn’t expected to do much but be a wife… the arm candy if you will. What was great about her growth was that through Hillman, she learned hard work and that she didn’t need a man to do for her… which gave way to her choosing someone that she wanted. What we got from both Dwayne and Whitley was a relationship that ages in realtime. From acquaintances to friends to lovers. They took the time to get to know each other and get over their misconceptions about each other. From bumping into each other on the plane on the way to Hillman from summer vacation,
to their first actual kiss at Walter and Jalissa’s would-be wedding. (Now, I had a friend that sent me an article about how these two are not relationship goals… and I was wondering what show this person actually watched.) Whitley was there when Dwayne gets the news that Denise has gotten married. Dwayne helps Whitley get past the fact that her father is marrying a younger woman.
Jalissa’s would-be wedding was fun because Whitley was running from Dwayne every chance she got. She finally tells him she is not ready for a real relationship with him yet and doesn’t wait for him to wait on her… (He hadn’t planned to do so.)
What is interesting… Dwayne doesn’t try to change Whitley… or belittle her. Whitley starts dating Julian, who by all accounts, is supposed to be perfect for her. He was good-looking and had charm, class and was going to take the world by storm. (And while I like Julian, he didn’t really get to know Whitley. He seemed to write her off as a bougie princess. (His words.) and just before they broke up Julian proved that he didn’t really care about Whitley’s dreams or her career. He wanted her to give up her internship at E. H. Wright to follow him around to his internship and live with him. When she said no… He pretty much called her pampered and unprepared for the real world. There was no give and take here. He wanted to pursue his own professional plan and was dismissive of Whitley’s. Summer takes Dwayne to Tokyo… and he was writing her long passionate letters. You think she did what a sensible woman would do and write him back. No. Whitley wanted to play games… I chalk that up to her parents and how her mother showed her how love was supposed to work. I mean, what I wouldn’t give to have a man write to me. But she was also young. Not everything you did when you were young and in love made sense. Her cross to bear was Kinu. Everything that she did to break up Dwayne and Kinu had to be a result of knowing deep down that if she had just communicated effectively that she things would have turned out differently. (She even went out with Ron.)
It is Dwayne that is there to help her navigate new territory in her life. (When Whitley’s father cuts her off… ) When they do get together, they stumble through communication issues, jealousy (when Julian comes to town, or when Dwayne has to tutor women.) Whitley’s financial situation that she continued to make worse. But in the end, they were able to grow together and learn from each other. Whitley was able to motivate Dwayne and push him forward. Tensions arose when Dwayne went to dinner with another woman after asking Whitley to marry him. He was feeling pressure and cold feet but it ended up being the demise of their relationship. Dwayne wonders if he is making the right decision about getting married and while his decision to see someone else was not the best one… he has a hard time once the relationship is over. They manage to make it back to each other. (We all remember him crashing her wedding… “Please baby, Please.” Ah… my heart.) They fought the trials and tribulations of married life together (Being robbed, the job search, financial stability.) Dwayne and Whitley were the first black couple that I saw on TV and my young heart was invested in them. They were opposites but they proved that in a relationship that was okay. They showed that disagreements didn’t mean it was over. And I am glad I have that in my life. They were the role models I didn’t know I needed when it came to love.
There are people that will say… No one really marries their college sweetheart… (Untrue, I have several friends that have done so and are still happily married.) But when you watch the show you see that they are willing to meet each other halfway… work out communications and strive hard for their relationship… The great part about Dwayne and Whitley wasn’t that they were college sweethearts… but that they were realistic.
- Kim and Matthew – I was sad that Matthew went away… Matthew was as quirky and fun as Kim was straightlaced but he managed not to annoy everyone like Freddie used to. He was a visiting student from Avery and Freddie’s cousin. He wore his heart on his sleeve and was the exact opposite of Kim. She was tense and uptight… this comes from trying to be a doctor and being her best all the time. Matthew showed friend there was more to life than work and school… and being a doctor. She was able to relax and learn something new. Kim’s hesitation to date Matthew… probably had more to do with how it was eventually received. There was a lot of criticism of Kim for her choice in man from Shazza and even Ron. This was interesting because neither showed any interest in Kim or her affairs prior to her dating Matthew. (Ron later admits he was jealous.) This was my first time seeing that love can come in many forms… and sometimes who you love doesn’t conform to other people’s ideas.
- Ron and Freddie -Now before everyone starts throwing tomatoes… I am not saying running around behind your friend’s (or girlfriend’s) back is the way to go. (Now everyone loves Dwayne even though he stumbled a bit and went out with another person… just before his engagement party after making sure Whitley didn’t leave for her career by asking her to marry him. Keep in mind… Ron is totally against it. He tells Dwayne that is not a good idea and to just forget about it.) Ron’s journey was a bit different… he is not a bad guy because he is not a serial monogamous like Dwayne. Part of Ron’s journey was discovering how unfulfilling it was to just have sex and no real connection with the fairer sex. And subsequently not to be taken seriously by women once he decides he wants to turn over a new leaf. (The episode about the 3 dates on Valentine’s Day is sad for him. It ALWAYS blows up in his face.) Freddie and Ron an had antagonistic relationship. Mostly because Freddie spoke the truth about Ron and was not with his nonsense. She called him out. Ron didn’t start out as a womanizer… He was in a committed relationship with Millie in Season 1. He does state at the start of season 2 though… that is not looking to be tied down like that again. Ron did have some goofy tendencies, but as time went on, he showed himself to be sincere, thoughtful, innovative, and genuine. Sure he was greedy, but given that his father was a used car salesman, he could have turned out a LOT worse. He helps Dwayne and Whitley get together… in his own way… and pushes Dwayne to get his girl back when she tries marrying the senator. Usually when the pseudo ladies man facade falls he is not a bad guy. (The episode where he is helping his marketing partner with her baby comes to mind.)
I usually enjoy an antagonistic relationship, mostly because it usually masks a mutual respect and adoration. (Max and Kyle anyone? What’s interesting is when talking about Max and Kyle from Living Single people love them… but it is the same dynamic as Freddie and Ron.) Freddie and Ron had a similar goal but opposite way of thinking which is why they usually were each other’s sparing partners. Freddie and Ron were another example of people with two different upbringings and outlooks on life. In the first episode of season 2… Ron seems interested in getting to know Freddie (who only has eyes for Dwayne. Dwayne is swimming in feelings for Denise doesn’t notice much.)
In season 3, when Ernest has his eye one Freddie, he is bouncing the idea off of Ron. Ron makes no derogatory comments about Freddie… (Which you would expect if he actually hated her.) He would call Freddie “something not nothing.” And that he will have some competition for her heart. (In the form of a artist that uses things that have been recycled.) Not once does he laugh at Ernest for choosing Freddie… He knows what Ernest appreciates about her… because he appreciates those things too. In the episode, Time Keeps on Slipping, Freddie scolds Ron for his contribution to the time capsule (a condom). She thinks he’s joking. Ron is told that it wasn’t a sex education video or a joke, and he responds that neither is AIDS or unintended teenage pregnancy or anything else a condom helps prevent. “My message is responsibility; You want to preserve the planet; I want to protect it.” Now… it is Freddie’s turn to appreciate Ron.
In season 5, it is the storm that has them stuck together in an interesting fashion. Arguing back and forth over playing his band over the airwaves during her campus radio show.
When the storm heads their way and they can’t leave the station… they seem to come together eventually comforting one another in the dark. Ron is clearly okay with trading insults if that is what she wants… but he is the first to ask if she is okay because he does in fact care about her. Not something you do if this is a person you hate. Even when she is a bit out there… he doesn’t take the opportunity to make fun or tease her for that. (She even admits to him that she is virgin… which he is surprised by but doesn’t say much else. TO ANYONE) Even when the lights come on… Freddie makes the comment that they shouldn’t tell everyone… and he agrees… (What I found interesting is that he actually keeps that promise. I would think that if he actually hated her and was as bad of a guy as people say… He would have loved to humiliate her… but he doesn’t.)
Eventually… Kim takes a shining to Ron (The comments online state that this Ron and Freddie thing came out of nowhere. But I have to say… I didn’t understand where Kim’s attraction to Ron came from.) Kim plays the long game when she starts dating Ron. Poor Ron doesn’t even know how to date someone seriously at this point. We all remember when he took Kim on that disastrous date where he had been with everyone and their mom… and those women keep interrupting his time with Kim. (Ugh it is so cringeworthy.) Kim rightfully keeps him at arm’s length. He tries to show her that he is serious (with his new for ’92 quality or quantity clause.) by buying her a stethoscope for med school… (This is a cute scene.) But for some reason it seemed like she became less interested at that point and held on for whatever reason. There was no chemistry between them. But that doesn’t make what happens next okay. (If online comments are any indication… people are still salty on Kim’s behalf… 28 years later.) After Dwayne and Whitley return from their honeymoon, (during the 1992 LA riots.) Freddie makes a statement by showing up with a different look… She has been accepted into law school. (Now I have seen people complaining that this makes no sense but I saw this as the natural next step. She wanted to change the world and helping those in need with her legal expertise makes perfect sense. At least for me). This spurs Ron into action… kissing Freddie while attempting to pursue Kim. (Not a good look broski.)
Freddie is supposed to hate him… But she quickly has a hard time getting the kiss (and Ron) off of her mind. And even though Ron is with Kim… and she is with Shazza… (Here is where you really see Shazza get pretty rude with Freddie… she is not allowed to cross him. Insert eyeroll.) Both parties try to make things work with their respective significant other… (jealousy is a real thing… It was funny to watch because neither of them can understand why they are so jealous…) While the tension is so thick between Ron and Freddie… but Kim and Ron are the first to call it quits… Kim tells Whitley that when she is with Ron she finds herself thinking about her cadaver… damn son… Freddie tries to pretend that there is nothing going on between her and Ron. (The fact of the matter is she’s confused and upset about actually liking him. She feels like she shouldn’t.) She does what I would do in this situation and pretend like Ron doesn’t exist. (That never works, but I would do it anyway… because I love to run away from any romance issue.) Ron… doesn’t let this happen. (The Jerk.) Now I also found this interesting because… instead of looking for other women… he wants to talk to Freddie. So what does he do… He makes a large sign that says just that: FREDDIE, WE NEED TO TALK. The other side saying No Justice No Peace. (He is trying to get her attention while Shazza is planning a peaceful protest for the Haitians. Okay sir… no one saw that… sure, sure.) However, he’s antics put Freddie on the spot. Another thing I found interesting is that when Freddie tells Ron to stop being difficult… he does. (He starts a dust up with Shazza and when Freddie steps in… Ron sits down quietly… I always laugh at this.) However, when the group disperse… Ron doesn’t let her run away. He tries to convince her to give him a chance.
The rift between Freddie and Shazza grows… (I didn’t shed a tear about this.) It was sad that it went down on Thanksgiving… but Shazza basically called her out for her feelings for Ron. “I guess you’re gonna tell me that you were hanging out with one of your professors, and not Ron… RON HONEY! I mean, come on.” (The ego had to hurt that it was Ron of all people. He had this sense of superiority when it came to Ron. Ron being the biggest opposition to his crappy book back in season 4.) Freddie starts seeing Ron in secret because she doesn’t want Kim to know about the kiss in Height Hall. (A moot point because she admits it to Kim later.)
Ron and Freddie have a bit of a dust up when her mother shows up and admits that she doesn’t like Ron. Shazza kisses Freddie in an attempt to steal her back. (Ron sees it and is genuinely hurt but takes it in stride given the destruction he caused for both Kim and Shazza.) He tells Dwayne that he wants Freddie. They manage to stay together… oddly, they argue but work through the issues they have.
Many people would call this jumping the shark, the issue is that because characters are changing or doing things you may not agree with doesn’t mean it is jumping the shark. Do I feel there was evidence that this pairing didn’t appear out of nowhere? Yes. Do I condone cheating? Absolutely not. (Ugh. Comments on people who like their pairing usually come in the form of… “You must have no problem cheating on your significant other then.” Calm down and put your torches away… These fictional characters from about 30 years ago.) A person can think these two had more chemistry than Ron and Kim without giving the greenlight to cheating and keeping secrets.
I have told you guys the about the heavy hitting episodes that stick with me. But I can’t close out this post without talking about some of the episodes that just entertain me to no end. Let’s get to it:
- “Dream Lover” (season 2, episode 4): Whitley has erotic dreams about Dwayne. (It starts…) I laughed so hard watching this the other day
- “Three Girl Three” (season 2, episode 5): THE GLADYS KNIGHT EPISODE. There is a contest on campus to become Gladys’ backup singers. Whitley and Jaleesa perform Love Overboard with Gladys Knight. Still great after 31 years.
- “Delusions of Daddyhood” (season 3, episode 6): While Ron meets a woman who has a child… Heavy D is commissioned to perform at a charity event. Whitley is against it because she doesn’t like rap music. The exchange between Whitley and Heavy D is priceless.
- “Wedding Bells from Hell” (season 3, episode 7): Walter and Jaleesa would be wedding. This is one is mostly because of Dwayne and Whitley. You guys ever see two people object to their own wedding?
- “The Power of the Pen” (season 3, episode 13): Dwayne, a mathematician, has a hard time with his poetry writing class. There is a bit of a debate about why poetry is important and what Dwayne’s poem is actually about.
- “Whitley’s Last Supper” (season 4, episode 4): Poor Whitley. She was living in the clouds. Her father appears to confiscate her credit cards and curb her exorbitant spending. She is going to have to learn to budget.
- “The Goodwill Games” (season 4, episode 5): Dwayne and Whitley are paired together in a college bowl competition. This was fun… because Dwayne and Ron tried to call Whitley dumb… but she definitely showed them.
- “Ex-Communication” (season 4, episode 13): After Whitley and Dwayne start dating, issues arise in the form of Whitley’s ex returning and wanting to take her out on a date. But things end a bit differently for Whitley.
- “Rule Number One” (season 5, episode 6): Lena is getting tutored by Professor Wayne but she develops a crush on him. Interesting episode.
- “Baby, I’m a Star” (season 5, episode 7): Kim sings with Ron’s band to help him out. But she ends up with a big head. Kim has such a great singing voice too.
- “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (season 6, episode 8): Whitley calls the Montell Williams show because she isn’t getting any loving from Dwayne. (DON’T ASK ME WHY?) Dwayne is just stressed out from working and bills.
One last thing about the show that I loved was the friendships. Ron and Dwayne had a close friendship where they actually got candid about how they were feeling, what they were thinking. The other would listen and respond and give his thoughts on the matter. It was great to see.
I felt the same about the female characters. Whitley starts out as an ice queen but she is there for Kim when she is overworking herself, when Kim’s dad gets shot, when Kim thinks she may be pregnant and even lies to Kim’s dad to help her friend out. They also share feelings candidly. One such event was when Whitley tells Kim… that she wishes her own parents were as overprotective as Kim’s father. “I had to set my nanny on fire to get their attention.”
Or when she had Kim’s back against Dwayne and Ron. Good times.
Freddie was added to the mix… and even though she was our resident flower child she was able fit in and help out where she could offer sound insight and a differing point of view.
I am going to close my very long blog post here by saying I wish we had more coming of age black sitcoms like we used to have in the ’90s. More black shows not afraid to talk real issues while showing us in positive light. A Different World is now on Amazon Prime for free. That is so cool because Amazon has the versions that have not been edited for television. So even after watching this show for a good 20 years at least… there was still scene I had never laid my eyes on. Definitely leave comments if you love my takes, or even if you hate them. (I’m cool either way.) I just knew I was going to Hillman College. In the end, this show was the reason I became interested in going to college… and it is still the reason a lot of black kids are heading to college now. That is all for now.. In the meantime, remember that is A Different World than where you come from.