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Most people remember this show as the spinoff of The Cosby Show built around Lisa Bonet's Denise character. After she (and Marisa Tomei) left the show, it was generally dismissed as a failure that was left on the air because of Cosby's influence. Oddly enough, it was at that point that this series got interesting. The "traditionally black college" setting provided a unique forum for exploring the topics that have arisen at the cultural crossroads that is Modern America. Metaracial politics informed both explicitly sociological stories and more traditional sitcom plots. It finally became the show they had probably intended to produce in the first place. That's not to say that "A Different World" became the greatest show in the history of Television. It never managed to settle on who the main characters were. The romance of Whitley and Dwayne was probably most prominent, but Ron, Freddie, Jaleesa, Kimberly, and, eventually, another generation of students took center stage from time to time too. I think medical student Kimberly best embodied the "entry point" or audience viewpoint. She was the character most likely to balance the materialism of Whitley, activist politics of Freddie, and more personal concerns of the other characters and achieve some kind of moral synthesis which the producers seemed to be aiming for.
The early episodes of this sitcom were bland, as they focused on Denise
Huxtable's (Lisa Bonet) experiences at Hillman College. The show only took
off after Denise dropped out of school. The show then focused on the more
interesting cast members, most notably, brainy student Dwayne (Kadeem
Hardison) and snooty Southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy). I liked
that they also had Jalessa, a divorced adult student trying to rebuild her
NBC made a mistake during the last season of the show by confusing the audience. They ran a highly touted "series finale" showing the now-married and expectant parents Dwayne and Whitley going off to Japan, where Dwayne had gotten a high-tech job. The network then turned around and aired several more new episodes that focused on newer cast members including Charmaine (Karen Malinka White). They brought in Billy Dee Williams and Leslie Uggams as a landlord, and a college professor, respectively. It appeared that NBC cancelled the show, then made a last-minute effort to revive it.
Jada Pinkett Smith ("Set It Off"), comedian Sinbad and Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei ("My Cousin Vinny"), were three cast members who went on to bigger success.
After a very rocky first season, this show not only went on to become an
accurate portrayal of the Black college experience, it was also an accurate
portrayal of college life in general. This show is one of the exceptions to
the rule that drastic changes ruin great series. During the first season,
it became obvious that Lisa Bonet couldn't carry the show and that the real
star of the show was Jasmine Guy, whose character of Whitley Gilbert will
always be remembered as one of the all time greats. Also, even though the
show was set in a college, you never saw the kids actually attending class.
All this changed during the second season when both Bonet's character of
Denise Huxtable and Marissa Tomei's character of Maggie were written off
the show and were replaced by Freddie, played by Cree Summer, and Kim,
played by Charnele Brown. But perhaps the big change was that not only did
you see the kids attending classes, but the show became more issue oriented.
Issues like date rape, AIDS, domestic violence, apartheid and teen
pregnancy were all covered in this show and helped to make it more than a
"Cosby Show" spin-off. Also, besides the above mentioned characters, Kadeem
Hardison's portrayal of Dwayne Wayne helped make this show great.
Growing up I always thought that colleage would be similar to this show . Every Thrusday I tuned in to watch the show, my favorite charcter was Dwayne Wayne and I was so happy when he married Whitley. This show made colleage real on some levels and fake on some but it's still one of my favorite shows and always be.
This was not just one of the few shows that depicted college life, It was the only show that showed life at a Black College. From exam craziness, relationships, and finding part-time jobs to interracial dating, Step shows, and hate crimes, This show handled it all and with style. Even difficult topics (HIV/AIDS, going to war, ex-prisoners)were addressed in the way would make you laugh and think. An amazing number of famous Black Actors and Actresses passed through Hillman halls (even Whoopi Goldberg was a professor on an episode). What was originally just a Cosby spin-off proved to be truly a force of it's own. (Although you didn't really see them study after Junior Year)
I watched this show once by accident and couldn't stop. It's one of the best shows on television, it allows you to grow with the characters! Dawnn Lewis, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, and Charnele Brown are unforgettable characters! Great show!
"A, Different World" a spin-off from the smash hit "Cosby Show" which had Huxtable daughter Denise (Lisa Bonet) off to college to find out a different world laid ahead. Denise dropped out of the mostly black college only to have the series improve and become a hit with other cast members. The best characters had to be the uppity Whitley (Jasmine Guy), and the well liked and super-cool math major Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) along with his best friend Ron (Darryl M. Bell). The pit was the place the gang hung out for everything from meals to talk. The theme song sung by Phoebe Snow really is the truth once you leave home from your parents it really is a different world.
A Different World was a great show. I should have known the first episode that Whitley and Dwayne Wayne were going to get married! Each episode taught me something new about college. This show actually prepared me for college. But everything seemed so fun at Hillman College. Imagine how the show would have been if Lisa Bonet and Marisa Tomei wouldn't have left after the first season. Hillman college is a college that anyone would have wanted to go to. Halle Berry and Jada Pinkett were students there. And David Alan Grier and Whoopi Goldberg were teachers there.
I must admit that A DIFFERENT WORLD started relatively bland and
mainly because the producers were trying to make a predominantly black
college experience acceptable to a "mainstream" audience.
After the first year when Lisa Bonet left and Debbie Allen came along and took over the producing duties, A DIFFERENT WORLD changed to become a lot more timely and much more relevant for the time -- especially dealing with subjects like sexism, rape, South Africa, drug abuse, and all of the other issues faced on college campuses. In later seasons, when the original cast grew up, did we see a lot of long term character development and the show has never been properly credited for being what it was: the first and only show ever to deal with black people in college. A DIFFERENT WORLD isn't always uproaringly funny, but watching it in repeats as an adult, I can see what the show was going for, it was literally a slice of life show, not really fulfilling the sit-com requirement of a joke a minute. You had characters who dealt with being young adults and made bad decisions and then sometimes dealt with the consequences. It was a good show that requires frequent viewings. Those who remember a classic episode where Dean Cain plays a racist will know how good of an actor he can be.
When the show first began, it appeared to focus on appealing to a broad audience. However, having attended a Black College, I can attest that there are not that many White students there, which made the initial settings unrealistic. I also felt that the portrayal of Denise Huxtable was inconsistent with her character from The Cosby Show. There she was a good student and was noted as considering multiple colleges including some Ivy Leagues. How do you go from an Ivy League contender to academic probation? Beats me! In spite of that, the show was always very timely and approached many real issues such as racism, AIDS, domestic violence, constitutional rights, war, and Black History. So regardless to what awards the show or its stars may or may not have won, hats off to Debbie Allen and the entire staff for giving America a glimpse into life at a Black College!
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