By Melissa Camacho,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
1970s slapstick comedy hasn't aged all that well.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
The show features working-class African-American characters who exhibit some stereotypical characteristics. While the main characters aren't necessarily negative role models, they're not empowering figures, either. The messages behind the show aren't really about social commentary, but rather about humor. Raj is a good student, goes to college, and is pursuing a writing career. Dee is often sarcastic to the point of being rude and often tries to blackmail the boys. Bill Spencer isn't an ideal father figure, but he does try to maintain a relationship with his kids.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some dating and discussion of teen boy/girl relationships.
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Products & Purchases
Occasional references to items by product name, such as "Airwick."
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this iconic '70s sitcom focuses on three high schoolers growing up in urban Los Angeles. It hasn't aged as well as some of its sitcom peers: Some of the characters behave in stereotypical ways, and while they're not necessarily bad role models, they aren't exactly the most empowering African-American characters, either, particularly not in a modern context. Sarcastic exchanges between characters (particularly Dee) are frequent and may not set an ideal example for kids. Parents should also know that Raj and Dee's dad isn't an ideal father figure, and his relationship with the family isn't always positive.
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What's the Story?
WHAT'S HAPPENING!! is an iconic sitcom about three urban African-American teens living in L.A.'s working-class Watts community in the late 1970s. The show centers on Roger "Raj" Thomas (Ernest Thomas), who lives with his obnoxious younger sister, Dee (Danielle Spencer), and his mother, Mabel (Mabel King). A good student and aspiring writer, Raj spends his free time hanging out with jovial, beret-sporting Dwayne Nelson (Haywood Nelson) and the pleasant but rather shy Freddy "Rerun" Stubbs (Fred Berry). The three young men are mostly occupied with typical high school problems -- from dealing with teachers to finding dates -- and often wind up getting into mishaps while finding ways to figure things out. Meanwhile, Raj and Dee are also trying to build a positive relationship with their father, Bill Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala), who ran out on them when they were younger.
Is It Any Good?
Unlike its contemporary Good Times, What's Happening!! isn't committed to presenting enlightening social commentary or providing empowering African-American role models. Most of the problems the gang faces here are typical of what kids from any community have to deal with. While the show has its funny moments (especially when Dee offers her strong, often sarcastic opinions), much of the show's humor stems from a slapstick-like comedy style that's reminiscent of the minstrel show stereotypes of the 1930s
But despite their jive-talking (and often silly) banter and somewhat-stereotypical personas, Raj, Dwayne, and Rerun are generally good kids who have supportive, loving families. More importantly, the show highlights the importance of family, friendship, and community. What's Happening!! may not have aged as well as some of its contemporaries, but it could definitely be worse.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the kinds of social messages that TV shows offer their viewers. What are producers trying to achieve by providing social commentaries? Why do some shows seem to offer no social messages at all? Do you think audiences are more likely to notice that kind of message further down the line, when times have changed? Families can also talk about using stereotypes as a form of humor. Is stereotyping ever appropriate?
- Premiere date: August 5, 1976
- Cast: Ernest Thomas, Fred Berry, Haywood Nelson
- Networks: Syndicated, TV Land
- Genre: Comedy
- TV rating: NR
- Last updated: March 3, 2023
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