In the 90s, there was an incredibly well-received series called Living Single. It aired on Fox for five years and starred Kim Coles, Erika Alexander, Kim Fields, and the one and only, Queen Latifah. It followed the story of a group of friends and the trials and tribulations of their careers and love lives as they navigated a world not really accepting of strong Black women. It won four Emmys and, as fans watched Friends essentially Wally Pipp the premise and splash a fresh white paint on it, there has always been a clamoring for a revival or reboot.
Well, friends, that reboot/revival has arrived on Amazon with Harlem. Created by Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver, the 10-episode series stars Meagan Good, Jerrie Johnson, Grace Byers, and Shoniqua Shandai as four girlfriends who now have to navigate a world that doesn’t particularly care for strong Black women. Does that sound familiar? Harlem gets kudos for showing all different kinds of Black love, too, whether it is Black queer love or strong, independent love. Even in the way it depicts Black vulnerability, Harlem hits the right notes, and it’s no surprise given how Oliver carefully simultaneously handled the comedic and serious moments of Girls Trip.
While the four ladies are vital to the heart of Harlem, there is undoubtedly a fifth main character in the show: Harlem, the mecca of Black culture in New York. As a New York resident for most of my life, Harlem has always been a mythical place to me. However, having worked on 140th Street and 8th Avenue for a long time, I saw firsthand the impact Harlem had on its residents. By extension, I saw the pain when gentrification came to take away what was theirs. Harlem captures that essence through introspection and funny moments. Meagan Good’s character, for example, is an anthropology professor at Columbia University, and so she’s teaching in an area already gentrified while living in an area that hasn’t been claimed yet. As the season goes on, her character, Camille, is forced to accept that Harlem as she’s known it is changing – for better or worse, and the only way her voice will be hard is if she lets it.
Harlem is a celebration of Black culture, what it means to be a Black woman, and how success is defined for them. Like Living Single before it, Harlem is not hesitant to break the stereotypes that are often associated with its leads, but what makes it work is its willingness to address them head-on when they’re hinted at. It is incredible television with a cast that brings it every scene.