Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hey Look! A Black Girl on TV! - 80s Edition

The 80s were a lot more fun when it came black girl spotting on TV. The fact that I had graduated from cartoons (well, most of them anyway) and was allowed to stay up past 7:30 had a lot to do with that fact. Sitcoms were by an large the staple of my TV diet but a few variety show personalities managed to make an impression on me as well. The longest lasting of these impressions were made by the following ladies.

Darcel Wynne - Lead Solid Gold dancer
Darcel was the principal dancer on Solid Gold which just happened to be the best show in the world. She effectively replaced Cheryl Song in my heart as long haired dancing machine #1. Sometimes she danced with the group, other times she danced alone but no matter where she appeared in the musical numbers I was right there with her, imitating her steps in my mother's heels while trying not to break my ass or accidentally fall into our plastic covered couch. Darcel was the original Fly Girl.

Kim Fields - Tootie from "The Facts of Life"
Tootie got to live away from her parents AND wear roller skates all the time. If she wasn't living the dream I don't know who was. Also, if the roller set afro was the hair to have of the 70's then surely Tootie's meticulously balanced mushroom took its place in the 80's. The often imitated look was perfected on Kim Fields who displayed just the right length of bumped under bangs to frame her face. In the 90s Brandy would try to revive the look in her short lived sitcome "Thea" but her mushroom was just plain tore up.

Janet Jackson - Charlene DuPrey on "Diff'rent Strokes"/ Cleo Hewitt on "Fame"
Janet always seemed to play the shy but sweet girl on television. She also got credit for adding a bit of flair to the standard mushroom cut by feathering her bangs away from her face on Diff’rent Strokes. I'm starting to realize that Janet Jackson for a time was the black female Ted McGinley, brought in after a show has already debuted in order to breathe new life into the storyline. First "The Jacksons" variety show, then "Good Times" followed by "Diff'rent Strokes" and a stint on "Fame." She was the hardest working teenage in show business but why? My theory is that the first morning Janet woke up, went down to the kitchen and saw big brother Michael having breakfast with Emmanuel Lewis and Bubble the Chimp, she realized that she was going to have to have a nest egg of her own.

Lisa Bonet - Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show
Remember when Denise told Theo she could make a shirt for him just like the one he saw at the store? White folks have the “pirate shirt” episode but I have that one. I love Lisa Bonet for being an unapologetic oddball. She was the role model for every left of center black girl I knew growing up, myself included. Like the rest of the country, I had to get my Cosby Show fix every week so I was surprised when I tried to watch old episodes on cable awhile back and just couldn’t get into it. If I could be a fly on the wall I would have loved to see the look on Bill Cosby’s face when he watched that bloody chicken dance scene in Angel Hart. The Coca-Cola and Jello Pudding pops must have shot right through his nose and onto his expensive African American art.

Diahann Carroll - Dominique Deveraux from “Dynasty”
I remember watching Diahann Caroll on Entertainment Tonight talking about her role on Dynasty. She said then that she wanted to be the first black bitch on TV. At the time, I was surprised they let her say the word “bitch” on TV which kinda made me scared of her. While her character was indeed a piece of work Dynasty never gave Blake’s black half-sister enough to do. You know that if she got into a fight with Joan Collins one of them would have wound up dead at the bottom of the pool. I thought for sure that she would end up dead at the end of that Moldavian terrorist wedding cliffhanger but she survived to star in a few more seasons.

Regina King – Brenda from “227”
Jackee got the lionshare of attention on 227 but for me Brenda, the sulking teenage daughter of Marla Gibbs on 227, was my television doppelganger. Her expertly delivered “Dang!” along with an eye-roll pretty much sums up how I felt from ages 11 to 17. She also rocked a mean mushroom on occasion though she preferred to wear the sides pulled back.

Cast of A Different World
I had a hard time deciding which character was my favorite on this show. Was it the straight talking Jalesa or the free spirit Freddie? Hell, even irritating Whitley had ber moments. In the end it all came down to who had the most memorable scene. Once I figured that out, the choice was clear. Pre-med student Kim (Charnele Brown) definitely had the best scene out of all the women on the show when she pwned green eyed brother Shazza Zulu (Gary Dourdan) for snidely using her has an example in during one of his soap box moments. I didn’t see that brother again until the 90s when he was crying in a Janet Jackson video. Punk.

Honorable Mention

Robin Givens
I watched Robin Givens on “Head of the Class” all the time but back then I didn’t think much of her. She just kind of scared me. Her icy demeanor, crazy sharp cheekbones and bad reputation, made me support Team Kimberly Russell. Looking back I think Robin probably got a bad wrap, after all Mike Tyson is batshit crazy, and for that I’m giving her an honorable mention here.

Dana Plato from Diff’rent Strokes
Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t remember that episode where Kimberly dressed up in blackface for the prom to out her date Roger as a racist.


Kieya said...

omg, I was all about freddie...she was kindred spirit lol

i loved "jackee" lol she was so fly!

lapetitediva said...

When I was 8 or 9, I wanted to be a Solid Gold dancer when I grew up. Obviously, that never happened. **soft laugh**

I LOVED Robin Givens and Lisa Bonet as a teenager! I loved Robin because I thought she was so beautiful, so poised, so intelligent, and so very haughty, and I desperately wanted to be all of those things. Well, I was haughty, but I didn't have the looks or the brains or the wealth to back it up. **another laugh** Plus, I wanted hair like hers--little did I know back then that it was a weave. I thought it was all hers. Still, I thought she was the bomb. And I remember when she briefly dated Brad Pitt. I think he was doing guest spots on TV back then, way before he became famous.

Lisa was an oddball, yes, and that's why I admired her. I wanted to be like her. When Angel Heart came out, I wanted to have a daughter and name her Epiphany, after Lisa's character in the movie. I thought she was so cool. I still do, matter of fact.

**sigh** Thanks for taking me back :)

AJ Plaid said...

Yeah, I loved Lisa Bonet's Black boho woman aethestics, too! She definitely made it cool to be "alternative" w/out feeling a sistah would get her Black card revoked.

And Robin Givens? Serious love for her...people tarred-and-feathered her for telling the truth about Mike Tyson's abusive behavior and tried to paint her as an uppity, over-educated gold digger. But I knew in my heart of hearts she was telling the truth, with her beautiful, poised, intelligent self.

Brooklyn '86 Queen said...

Man people always tried to pin me as Kim, just cus our names were the same (and I was a nerd), but I was definitely a fan of Jada's portrayal of Lena in the later years.

But oh, I love the Gordon Gartrell episode of The Cosby Show. That's soooo classic. Are you going to do a 90s series of this? Please do. But talking about 80s hair, Vanessa's hair definitely went through ups and downs on the Cosby Show. At least for the 80s portion of the sitcom it remained in that roller set with two barettes at the top. That may of been the best look on her for the duration of the show.

Also, theres an article (in the LA Times I think) about the death of the Black Sitcom. It might be worth a look.

Brigitte said...

Gordon Gartrell! How could I have forgotten that name LOL!

ninety9 said...

not gonna lie; that episode when kimberly was in blackface was pretty cool. rest in peace, dana.