Tele(di)vision: Living Single vs. Friends – Karoline Summerville


It seems for every predominantly black sitcom, you can find its white equivalent that has either a similar character make-up or plot line. Some examples are:

  • The Cosby Show = Full House
  • Girlfriends Sex and the City
  • A Different World = Boy Meets World 
  • The Cleveland Show Family Guy

And the list goes on. In this post, I will be focusing on similarities between Living Single and Friends. According to Queen Latifah, Friends was inspired by Living Single but since Friends was promoted much more than Living Single, for reasons that can pretty much be inferred, Friends became more popular and remains that way today.

Both shows are about a group of six friends living in New York, more specifically, Brooklyn in Living Single and Manhattan in Friends. In her blog, Abbie Hollow Days outlines how the characters represent similar prototypes in each show:

Rachel = Regine: Both are obsessed with fashion, carry themselves seductively and openly make sexual comments and jokes. They both are willing to spend the last of their paycheck on the latest clothing items and depend on their friends to guide their logic as far as responsibility is concerned.

Joey = Overton: Both are considered less intellectual than all of the group members, are considered easy to manipulate, which also makes them the first friend everyone goes to when they have a secret they have to tell. Also, they both hold occupations that are not very stable: Joey is an actor while Overton is a handy man.

Chandler = Kyle: Both of these characters are successful. Chandler holds jobs in IT and later, advertising – both of which he is good at. Kyle is a stockbroker who flaunts his wealth to his friends. Chandler is a little more humble about his salary but also thinks money can fix all of his problems.

Monica = Khadijah: Monica is more feminine than Khadijah but their role in the group is pretty much the same. They each are the thought leaders of the group who try to convince their friends to always do the right thing in different situations. Both are trying to become successful in their respective careers and work hard to get there.

Ross = Maxine: Although these two characters represent different genders. Both are well educated and are successful in their respective careers: Maxine is an attorney and Ross is a professor at NYU. Also, both are involved in an on-off relationship with one of the other characters. The playful banter between the couples about their relationship issues around friends is another commonality between the two shows – Ross and Rachel always joke about being “on a break” and Maxine and Kyle always joke about their sex life, claiming the other person can’t perform as well as them or other people they have been with – yet the lustful attraction between them is obvious to everyone.

Phoebe = Synclair: These characters are probably the most similar as they are both ditsy yet wise at the same time. They are the gypsies of their group. They follow their heart in every situation and are overly sincere and loyal to their friends. Also, they both have daring fashion tendencies.

The similarities between these two shows makes me wonder about the true goals of the networks and what their treatment of these two shows reveals about our society. It seems that although the shows were the same, America would rather watch a group of white friends in New York rather than a group of black friends. Also, It is important to think about the way television portrays blackness versus whiteness. Black and white sitcoms can either show us how behave as a black person or a white person in various situations. Or do they actually show us how African Americans and whites are similar?



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3 Responses to Tele(di)vision: Living Single vs. Friends – Karoline Summerville

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I’ve never heard of the show Living Single (which I think attests to the fact that it wasn’t promoted nearly as much as Friends). I also find those similarities between the shows intriguing. America, it seems, most often prefers to watch a white cast because that’s what TV networks have promoted as the “norm”. I would be interested to watch an episode of Living Single and see the similarities for myself. -Valerie Medoff

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I watch them both, and like them both equally. They are pretty much the same show – different cast, different jokes, etc.

  3. marymdalton says:

    This is an EXCELLENT post! I really appreciate your analysis. I have only seen a few episodes of Living Single and a few more of Girlfriends, and your discussion is informative and important.

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