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A Different World



Cosby Show spin-off showcases college life.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Though varied, all of the main characters are passionate about their beliefs and driven toward their goals. The show offers a unique look at life at an African-American college. Strong cast diversity, with a thoughtful approach to mature themes dealing with race and other issues.


Some episodes deal with violence-related themes, such as date rape.


Some scenes involve kissing, and topics sometimes revolve around sex, but the overall tone is light and innocuous. Episodes sometimes deal with issues like unplanned pregnancy.


Mild: "Damn," "oh my god," etc.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some party scenes include alcohol, and while viewers doing the math may notice that underclassmen likely aren't yet 21, nobody draws attention to the fact.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this show features strong, well-educated African-American characters at a historically black college working toward careers in medicine, politics, and the humanities. Viewers are exposed to black history, dance, and music, as well as political issues and then-current events, such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The show thoughtfully touches on mature subject matter like unplanned pregnancy, discrimination, and date rape.

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What's the story?

Spun off of the classic family sitcom The Cosby Show, which broke down color barriers on TV in the 1980s, A DIFFERENT WORLD continued in its parent show's footsteps and opened America's eyes to another world it hadn't yet seen -- African-American collegiate life. The series, which is set at Hillman College -- a fictitious, historically black school in the South -- originally focused on the experiences of student Denise Huxtable (former Cosby kid Lisa Bonet) and her friends. But Denise (and Bonet) left the show after the first season, and the cast underwent some changes under new producer-director Debbie Allen, who drew on her own experiences as a student at Howard University to set the tone for social life on an African-American campus. Main characters include often-snooty Southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy); studio?s Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) of the famous flip-up sunglasses; wisecracking, fun-loving Ron Johnson (Darryl Bell); hardworking and focused pre-med student Kim Reese (Charnele Brown); and everybody's favorite cafeteria cook, Mr. Gaines (Lou Myers), who doubled as the students' confidante and gave the show southern spice. Comedian Sinbad was part of the cast from 1998-1991 as Coach Walter Oakes, and Marisa Tomei graced Hillman with her presence in the first season as Maggie Lauten.

Is it any good?


A Different World succeeds thanks to great casting, rich characters, and the interactions of the classmates' unique personalities; all hail from backgrounds as diverse as the list of their hometowns. In particular, Whitley and Dwayne's intense love-hate relationship offers lots of laughs as the two alternate between passion and antagonism.

Teens will enjoy getting a glimpse of the social workings of college life, and, despite the show's age, its celebration of strong African-American people and culture still has the potential to be eye-opening. A Different World also shows a commendable willingness to take on tough subjects like politics, AIDS, and racial discrimination, although -- falling into the sitcom trap -- even the biggest problems are solved in the course of a 30-minute episode.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about college life. What challenges do college students face? How do they learn to prioritize their goals and their time? How does college help prepare you for the real world? Families also can talk about race. Why is race such a touchy subject in America? How does this show highlight the similarities among different races? The differences?

TV details

Cast:Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Lisa Bonet
Networks:Nickelodeon, Oxygen
TV rating:TV-G
Available on:DVD

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written bylenard1 June 25, 2010

My view

One of the best T.V. sitcoms ever produced. Why? The show definately teaches diversity in African- Americans. That its not all about baggy pants and street slang and that African- Americans go through the same things other race may tend to judge.
What other families should know
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