A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
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