Kim Coles on why Living Single shouldn’t just be labeled a 'Black show'
Coles tells EW the story of when she realized Living Single transcended racial boundaries.
Kim Coles is in line at the bank after her legendary run on FOX's Living Single when an old white man comes walking by. Living Single (1993-1998) was always labeled a 'black show,' so why expect something to come out of this situation she's in?
"It was understood we had a Black audience and marketed to Black people," Coles, who is currently starring in Bounce's In the Cut, tells EW in a recent interview. "Well, this cute little Jewish man came to me and started squeezing my arm. He was like 'Hey beautiful, how are ya? I'm from New York and you girls remind me of my time in Brooklyn.' I know who that man was. I lived in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood that was predominantly Jewish. He knew who I was; I knew who he was. I remember telling my friends, this Black show resonated with this man. So that really opened up my eyes. I would say to anyone, if you want to laugh, you'll laugh."
In July, as one of the several changes made across the entertainment industry in wake of the current Black Lives Matter movement, the streaming giant Netflix announced it had acquired the rights to seven classic black sitcoms, including Moesha, Girlfriends, Sister, Sister, The Game, The Parkers, Half & Half, and One on One. Coles starred and guest-starred in several of the shows of the era, including The Parkers and Martin.
Coles sees the revival of the classic Black sitcoms in 2o20 as a much-needed movement for the next generation of TV viewers and creators. "It's going to be refreshing to see what gets created as a result of this," Coles says. "We have a generation of people who have listened to us, saying we need more shows that represent all of us. Now, people have the ability to see what's come before to spark something anew."
Living Single can be binged on the streaming rival Hulu right now. Living Single stars Queen Latifah as magazine editor Khadijah James, Kim Fields as Khadija's childhood friend Regina "Regine" Hunter, Erika Alexander as attorney Maxine "Max" Felice Shaw, and Coles as aspiring actress Synclaire James-Jones all living in New York and not taking any BS from anyone of the male species.
Living Single was a sitcom that tackled the hot-topic issues surrounding male toxicity at the time (remember The Man Show?). Through its hilarious performances and kinetic dialogue, led by scribe and creator Yvette Lee Bowser, Black women were portrayed as multi-dimensional, sex-positive professionals who had the power to take men down a peg. Of note: With Living Single, Bowser became the first African-American woman to develop her own prime-time series. We must stan.
"Listen, men can be bad, men can be good. Women can be bad, women can be good," Coles says. "I think there's there's a typical caricature of the bumbling husband who knows nothing. Then there's the caricature of the silly, goofy wife. On a sitcom, you need human characteristics that you can believe in."
Synclaire is a prime example. While a bubbly character who was the subject of affection of a lowly repairman Overton (actor John Henton), Synclaire learned throughout the show to take matters in her own hands through the guidance of her friends.
"Sure. I get it. In today's time, you would say, could anybody be that innocent? She was daffy. I didn't like it when people called her dumb. But in the world that we live in now, maybe a little innocence would be refreshing," she adds.
Coles also lauds Living Single's intimate connection with its live audience, a concept in live television that Coles admits may become a relic amid changes during the pandemic. To this day, Coles says she gets a warm, fuzzy feeling thinking about rehearsing Living Single once upon a time in front of that audience, an evolving but core group they saw every Tuesday while in production for two episodes at 6 p.m. and one at 9 p.m.
"There was another level that would pop when we had an audience in front of us," Coles remembers. "It was special. It was magical. The live audience was truly part of the show. But I don't know what's going to happen with the live audience. I haven't even thought that far ahead."
What Coles is busy thinking about is her current role on In the Cut, an opportunity for Coles to star with Black sitcom favorites like series stars Dorien Wilson (The Parkers), Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), and most recently, Mark Curry (Hanging With Mr. Cooper).
Being back on set with classic Black sitcom stars gives Coles flashbacks to the Living Single days, and she loves every second of it. "We had a lot of folks who came and played with us on Living Single. I think back to Morris Chestnut, Nina Long and I want to say Kellita [Smith] did an episode too. It was fun to work with them. It was a delight," she says.
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