The ‘70s and ‘80s marked a height in the classic American sitcom with popular shows like “The Cosby Show (1984-1992),” “The Jeffersons (1975-1985)” and “Family Ties (1982-1989).” These shows were fundamental not only in the history of sitcoms, but also in presenting Black families and issues on a major stage. Wanda Sykes and Regina Y. Hicks are bringing a revival to this once popular show dynamic in their new Netflix series, “The Upshaws.”
Starring notable actors such as Sykes and former child star Kim Fields, “The Upshaws” depicts a middle-class Black family in Indianapolis as they navigate through ongoing familial struggles. Bernard “Bennie” Upshaw Sr. (Mike Epps) is the emotionally unintelligent yet comical patriarch of the family who has made too many mistakes to count. He seems to be the main source of much of the family’s problems, as often noted by wife Regina (Fields) and sister-in-law Auntie Lucretia (Sykes). Viewers can laugh seeing Bernard accidentally throw his 13-year-old daughter Aaliyah (Khali Daniya-Renee Spraggins) a stripper-themed birthday party or at the constant banter between Lucretia and Bennie.
The Upshaw family itself is blended. During a break from their marriage, Bennie accidentally impregnated another woman, Tasha (Gabrielle Dennis), resulting in the birth of their son Kelvin (Diamond Lyons). Half-siblings Kelvin and Aaliyah grow close throughout the series, along with their younger sibling Maya (Journey Christine) and oldest sibling Bernard Upshaw Jr. (Jermelle Simon).
Like many of the sitcoms that inspired the show, “The Upshaws” handles serious topics almost as much as it does comedy. For instance, towards the middle of the series, it is revealed that Benard Jr. is gay. Apprehensive about perceived homophobia among Black men, he is cautious about coming out to his father. However, unlike the popular sitcom “Full House (1987-1995)” in which resolutions were neatly reached at the end of each episode, the Upshaw family has issues that are longer lasting, a fact that can connect viewers more with the family, as one wants to see each of them succeed knowing their kind hearts.
Of course, Mike Epps, a well-known stand-up comedian famous for his role as Day-Day Jones in the 2000 film “Next Friday,” is a key factor to the show’s success. However, one of the show’s most well-written characters is Regina. Oftentimes, Black women in the media are represented as strong but unempathetic. This is likely due to the fact that softness and delicacy is often associated with white women, while women of color are often perceived as angry or overly aggressive. Although Regina is no doormat to her mess of a husband, she is also a loving mother to her children — and even to Kelvin who is not her biological child. Moreover, she is also clearly responsible not only for her children, but also for herself as she attempts to get her MBA in order to further her career. In one particular scene, she learns that Bennie has taken her money to fix a car Tasha crashed into. She holds herself together in order to kick him out of their house, only to fall apart after. Having a scene in which she can be so vulnerable is important: not only does this allow Fields to present her abilities as an actor but it also brings Black women into a different light for a larger audience.
The series is incredibly funny, with jokes for both children and adults, but some have critiqued the show for its stereotyping of Black people. As aforementioned, Bennie has his own “baby mama,” Tasha. In addition, one of Bennie’s closest friends, Duck, is fresh out of prison for a crime that Bennie was also involved in. These are not necessarily bad things and do not overtake the personality of any of the characters. However, it is understandable as to why some viewers might find themselves upset or uncomfortable with these aspects of the series. Regardless, the show is meant to be funny, not political, and these stereotypes don’t take away from the show as a whole. In minority communities, people often are expected to be excellent in order to be granted any kind of respect. This however, is just another standard to put minorities up to that isn’t necessary. Sykes and Hicks are simply bringing back the classic American comedy that so many have loved throughout the decades and will continue to love.
Carisa DeSantos is an Entertainment Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.