The late 8os-mid 90s was the era for Black American sitcoms. This isn’t up for debate; don’t argue facts. But for many Black children, especially young Black girls, no other show was as relatable and relevant as Moesha. A family sitcom, Moesha took the focus off of the macrocosm of the family unit, to the microcosm of being a Black teenage girl. In this groundbreaking sitcom, the title character, Moesha Mitchell (Brandy Norwood), takes the audience through a first-person narrative of the her life as the eldest child and only daughter in her upper middle-class Black family, comprised of her previously widowed father, her younger brother, and her new stepmother. As Moesha navigated her new family dynamic, and the usual stress of high school, Black audiences got a fictionalized version of being an American teenager that was actually centered on an entire cast that resembled us.
The series opens and introduces us to Moesha, her father, Frank (William Allen Young), a car salesman, her little brother, Miles (Marcus T. Paulk), and Frank’s new wife, Dee (Sheryl Lee Ralph). Besides not wanting the stepmother whom she sees as an interloper joining the family, Moesha must also contend with the fact that Dee is the vice-principal at her high school. And of course, like all younger siblings, Miles serves as a sources of mild but constant annoyance for his sister. Frank is tough and prone to hot-headedness, Miles is lovably irritating, and Dee is firm, but fair, while Moesha is just eager to live life on her own terms.
This dynamic is interesting enough, but the cast also includes Moesha’s best friends, Kim (Countess Vaughn), Niecey (Shar Jackson), and Hakeem (Lamont Bentley), the funny, fat friend, the dumb, hot friend, and the Nice Guy™ waiting in the wings to finally date her, respectively. Though Moesha was dramatically different from other family sitcoms (even Black family sitcoms) in so many ways, the use of these tropes as Moesha’s closest friends, whom also received very little character development over the course of 5 seasons and only existed to supplement the titular character’s life, was a very unoriginal venture which only proved that fatphobia, misogyny, and the inherent toxicity of even the smallest cliques is something which crosses all racial boundaries.
Though Moesha did get this aspect of the auxilary cast wrong, it got so many things right. Moesha expertly carved out the relationships of the Mitchell family as a unit as well as those between two individuals. This was no Brady Bunch, where two pieces of a former family could come together seamlessly with little to no effort. As Moesha grew older, her father saw her yearning for independence as rebellion, and though she loves Frank and his children dearly, Moesha’s thinly-veiled animosity towards Dee is something which affects both their relationship, as well as that between her and her father. Moesha brings both the comedy and the drama and we watch her try to juggle being an obedient daughter, a reliable sister, a good girlfriend, and a fun friend.
It wasn’t until well after the ending of a series that I used to race home to see every day after school as a child that I realized just how vital such a show was, for the psychological growth and emotional well-being of little Black girls who didn’t just want to see a Black girl on television, but one who was smart, interesting, talented, flawed, messy, and growing as a person, all at the same time. Moesha as a character was not the stereotype of the Black girl living in the ghetto, with dysfunctional and/or absent parents. Neither was she the Black girl Super Negro™ whose sole reason for doing anything was to prove how well she could exist within the White gaze™. Moesha showed us a girl who existed for herself, and that alone was powerful, because she was actually allowed to be a human being; not inferior, not magical, just real, and that realness made the show so addictive, and so memorable, for young Black girls everywhere.
I give this one 4.75 stars.