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‘A Different World’ Finally Available on Hulu

'A Different World' Finally Available on Hulu

The time has come. We are now devoid of our long television cultural
nightmare.  Yes it’s true, the groundbreaking A Different World, the classic The Cosby Show spinoff  is now available
on the Hulu streaming platform.  Unavailable in syndication or DVD (past season one) for some time now, you can now watch it to your heart, and soul’s, content.

For those unfamiliar with A Different World, it ran on NBC for six seasons from 1987-1993 and
featured the lives of students at Hillman College, a historical Black college
in Virginia, as they struggled to get through their new lives and grow into
adults.  It originally centered on
Cosby-kid Denise Huxtable as she awkwardly adjusted from her family life as a
smart and quirky Brooklyn girl into a bigger world into which she just did not feel as smart or special.  Also starring Dawnn Lewis as Jaleesa and (not yet)
Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei as Maggie, this first season was as weak as
Denise’s adjustment with corny and dry stories that tried to be as ‘everyday’ and ‘inclusionary’ as Cosby but that
did not succeed in the setting of an HBCU. 
The show only thrived based on its Cosby
Show
lead in and because, in my opinion, people felt something potentially special
looming. 

After her controversial turn in Alan Parker’s film Angel Heart, which led to an estrangement
from Bill Cosby, and a pregnancy shortly thereafter with her rocker husband
Lenny Kravitz, Bonet left – or rather it was decided she would leave – A Different World. It was then revamped
by producer/director Debbie Allen to focus squarely on the daily lives of
students as they deal with issues relevant to them not only in the college
world, but the overall changing social stratosphere.  So also out was Marisa Tomei’s character,
though much to her benefit.   But most notably, Allen wisely shifted the
focus to existing co-stars Whitley Gilbert, a pampered southern bell, and
goofy, horny engineering whiz Dwayne Wayne – and then the show truly became remarkable.  The eventual Whitley-Duane romance would have
its ups and downs, but proved tantalizing enough to make actors Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison household names and romantic icons. Suffice it to say,
Twitter would have blown-up at the end of A
Different World
Season 5 had social media existed then (watch it to get what I mean). 

While for some the show at times became laden in
message-heavy topics, the relevancy presented was groundbreaking much in the
way All in the Family was in the 1970’s
for topical issues, if I can correct history. A Black perspective on apartheid,
HIV/AIDS, date rape, sexual discrimination, and more were seen here but nowhere
else.  It also shrewdly focused squarely
on Black female representation, working somewhat off that focus of season one. New
characters like Charnele Brown’s med
student Kim Reese, Cree Summer as
the New Mexico-born hippy Winifred ‘Freddie’ Brooks, Glynn Thurman’s no-nonsense math professor Col. Brad Taylor, and Mary Alice as the wise and worldly house
mother Lettie Bostic helped round out the also newly expanded roles of Sinbad’s real-world grounded grad
student character Walter Oakes, Lewis’ plucky older and ambitious female
student Jaleesa Vinson, and Darryl M.
Bell’
s now less-toady and more so roguishly charming Ron Johnson, best
friend of Dwayne.  Soon thereafter, Lou
Myers
as Mister Gaines would also feed the students bellies and souls with
saintly wisdom.   Later seasons would see the addition of cast
members and recurring characters like homegirl Lena James, which marked Jada
Pinkett’
s debut to the world-at-large, and Cory Tyler (son of famous  ventriloquist Willie Tyler of ‘Willie Tyler and Lester’) as Col. Taylor’s son
Terrence. 

There is so much more to say about A Different World (and I will eventually) yet the show should also
be recognized at spurring the influx of students to more colleges, especially higher
numbers of Black women to higher education, which reflects today’s expanded role
of Black women in even more aspects of industry.  While there are also other contributing
factors to that, this fact cannot be denied, and puts A Different World past the point of providing funny and engaging television
into one where it made the world a bigger place for so many in the Black
community. 

Watch it now (though I don’t have to tell you that!), but
feel free to skip most of season one to enjoy seasons two through six (even though season six is wanting).  I should also note that other Carsey-Warner
shows like Bill Cosby’s follow-up CBS sitcom Cosby, Grace Under Fire, and Cybil
starring Cybil Shepherd and a then unknown-to-TV Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), are also now available
on Hulu.  

Curtis Caesar John is the Film Editor for Bold As Love Magazine. He also covers film and culture for Limité Magazine and does film programming of Black and multi-cultural cinema.  He is born, raised and resides in Brooklyn, NY, of course. Follow him on Twitter at @MediaManWatch

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