Fifteen years ago, we all adored the “Fab Four.” They came at a time that is barely recognizable today. Before Carrie and her crew, before Joan and ’em even stepped on the scene, nearly every black female in America had another set of friends to flock to—Khadijah, Synclaire, Max and Regine. Living Single was the ‘ish. And on Monday night, TV One resurrected it. Its Living Single reunion special kicked off the show’s syndication switch from the Oxygen network to everyone’s favorite, but forgettable channel.
In its time, Living Single was one of the highest rated FOX shows in black households. It was lightning in a bottle—a positive portrayal of black women. Four everyday women: strong, career-minded and fiercely independent, conquering New York City and confiding in each another. In their roles, Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Erika Alexander and Kim Fields seemed to effortlessly blend funny with real.
The eccentricities of their characters—Max and her mooching, Synclaire and her “woo-woo-woos”—were complemented by elements that felt honest and organic. The characters were not mere postures, a refreshingly new concept in black situation comedies. Yes, The Cosby Show had ended only a year before Living Single premiered. But the Huxtables were family. Khadijah and the rest of the gang were single friends in a “’90s kinda world.”
“We had chemistry,” says Kim Fields. Lounging on the set of the reunion special with her former cast mates, blonde locks of hair under a bandana, she is far from any semblance of Regine. Yet, there’s something about her off-screen, down-to-earth aura that still channels the image-conscious, man-hungry, fashion maven. Sandwiched between Fields and co-star John Henton (Overton), Kim Coles explains that both the actress and character display a certain worldliness, a sense of always being in control. Fields then raves about Coles’ depiction of naïve, troll-loving Synclaire.
The trio recalled the show’s off-screen hilarity, as well as some of their favorite scenes. They took turns complimenting each other’s acting and clowning with one another. We learn that Fields and Henton shared an off-screen romance during the first season and that Coles’ signature “woo-woo-woos” were actually inspired by her mother.
By the time T.C. Carson and Erika Alexander join the discussion, the vibes confirm the deep respect the cast members have for each other. “When you have somebody you can trust, you’re not afraid to try new things,” says Carson, referring to the continuous verbal sparring between Kyle and Max. She, too, admits to having found her perfect on-screen match, a love-hate relationship that viewers couldn’t stop watching.
It’s even more captivating to watch them all now. No one looks quite the same. Braid-wearing, scene-stealing Max has been replaced with a straight-haired and straight-laced Alexander. Henton still rocks the shaved head, but his mannerisms are more relaxed than Overton. The cheesy TV One setup of the cast on a tacky couch and awkward one-on-one commentary in front of a vanity mirror are unable to steal the magic of the moment, of stars re-aligning and reminding us all of how good it used to be.
The missing ingredient was Queen Latifah, whose absence was not explained. Maybe she was promoting for her upcoming film, The Secret Life of Bees, but it was odd not to have her at the celebration of the very show that launched her acting career. (“Khadijah don’t need ya,” indeed.) Still, sans Khadijah, the gang was still able to hold their own.
I guess, like any real friendship, there are highs and lows. The show itself was a high for black viewers to ride throughout much of the ’90s. The series was the first to portray black females as “the subject rather than the object,” Alexander said. And the Living Single reunion reminded us of what authenticity looks like. Syndication lets us reconnect. And now, whenever we need them, our old friends will be there to keep it real.