As the lily-white HBO series “Girls” continues to be praised for its narrow portrayal of the “real woman,” looks back on shows that not only represented a wider assortment of female characters, but were, more importantly, better shows.

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Although they’ve since gone off the air, these five shows—once helmed by talented black women—have not left our hearts:

“Girlfriends”. The show that became the preeminent half hour hangout spot for women of color everywhere, Girlfriends, was arguably the last show we had where sisters would get together the morning after at the water cooler to discuss Joan’s latest dating or professional debacle. We saw ourselves so well in each character—Joan, Maya, Lynn and Toni—that we would each identify ourselves as one of them. The foursome had triumphs we praised and troubles with which we empathized, on a show co-executive produced by Mara Brock Akil.

“227”: The premise was clear enough—four very different working class women commiserate about life, money and parenting on the stoop of their D.C. brownstone. While the basis wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, the show gave voices to black women who were neither flashy nor simple, neither rich nor poor. Each actress, from headliner Marla Gibbs (who also wrote a few of the show’s funniest episodes) to the late great Alaina Reed-Hall and Helen Martin, and Emmy winner Jackée Harry—had the audience in stitches weekday nights with everything from Mary’s hilarious backtalk to Sandra’s affectionate whine.

“A Different World”: Who could forget Whitley Gilbert’s nasal yet eloquent accent filling the halls of Hillman College, and whispering sweet nothings in Dwayne Wayne’s ear? A Different World was one of the few shows that gave mainstream audiences a bird’s eye view into black college life. Like a half hour version of School Daze, the show featured realistic situations and a great female cast (including Jasmine Guy, Cree Summer, Charnele Brown and Dawnn Lewis), whose most famous hijinks were directed by Debbie Allen.

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“Sister, Sister“: The Olsen twins weren’t the only adorable troublemakers to grace the small screen. We watched Tia and Tamera Mowry grow from awkward teens to stylish and intelligent young adults when they first burst onto the tube in a family sitcom many of us were happy to sit down and watch. They went through relatable teenage drama, executive produced by Suzanne de Passe.

“Living Single“: We knew them on a first name basis, as if they were our own friends, and welcomed them into our homes each week. Khadijah, Synclaire, Maxine and Regine (played by Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Erika Alexander and Kim Fields, respectively) represented the everyday working black woman. They went through the same strife that many of us do, and hilarity ensued. The show comes from the visionary mind of its creator, Yvette Lee Bowser, (who previously produced and wrote many episodes of A Different World).

Candice Frederick is an NABJ award-winning journalist, movie contributor for Bitch Flicks, and film blogger for Reel Talk. Follow her on twitter.


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