What’s Wrong With Inspirational Black TV?

It's OK that Reed Between the Lines is an idealized depiction of black life.


BET’s new show Reed Between the Lines really wants to be The Cosby Show for a new generation. 

I, for one, am OK with that.

After all, The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992, was a groundbreaking series that changed the face of television. It opened the door for other shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Family Matters. More important, it showed America another side of the black experience that wasn’t commonly seen on TV: an affluent African-American family, the Huxtables, living and loving just like everybody else. The show explored universal themes yet it didn’t shy away from embracing black culture. 

While I don’t believe Reed Between the Lines will have anywhere near the same impact as The Cosby Show, I think its attempt at universality is admirable. The series, which stars Cosby alum Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Girlfriends‘ Tracee Ellis Ross, clearly borrows heavily from its predecessor’s playbook. Ross plays a psychologist, Carla, married to Warner’s Alex, an English professor at NYU. They’re raising three kids — twins Kaci and Keenan (from Carla’s previous marriage) and their daughter, Alexis. They live in a two-story house in New York City. Carla has a successful practice, and Alex teaches an online course while homeschooling their youngest child.

Some would argue that Reed Between the Lineslike The Cosby Show — doesn’t reflect the reality of most African Americans. The charge may be valid but misses the point. The black experience isn’t confined to being about the struggle. Our lives are as vast and varied as white America. We exist across a wide economic spectrum — from the poor house to the White House. Programs like Reed Between the Lines don’t show us just the possibility of what we can be; they also show us who we are.