Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday, on a Wednesday! This week, we’re concluding our coverage on Living Single (1993-1998, FOX), which is currently available on DVD and HBO Max.
Starring QUEEN LATIFAH as Khadijah, KIM FIELDS as Regine, KIM COLES as Synclaire, ERIKA ALEXANDER as Max, JOHN HENTON as Overton, and MEL JACKSON as Trip. With SHAUN BAKER as Russell and T.C. CARSON as Kyle.
Living Single was expected to end with Season Four. But FOX renewed the show for a 13-episode fifth year: a postscript that’s ultimately a blotch on the series’ record, as undesirable cast changes disrupt its consistent quality — and so close to the end too, making everything here feel unnecessary. Indeed, this is easily the worst season — the first half is all about setting up a new and less well-conceived “status quo” following the events of Four’s finale, and the latter is all about working towards the series’ simultaneously sped up and drawn-out endgame, featuring a truncated and unideal configuration of the ensemble. The problem starts at the top of Five with the departure of the great T.C. Carson, who takes with him the possibility of finally exploring motivated growth in Kyle’s on-again/off-again romance with Max, whose confession of love indicated emotional maturation. When he leaves after the opening two-parter, she’s left to flounder until his finale return, giving us yet another season where two well-defined leads who were built to be together don’t get their development examined in story. Meanwhile, with Synclaire and Overton now married and cohabitating, Khadijah and Regine take in a new roommate… and since the cast is down Kyle, the series decides to create a Three’s Company scenario by introducing aspiring songwriter Trip. This is okay in theory, but terrible in execution, for while he’s poised to clash with Regine, he otherwise has no personality — standing out like a sore thumb (along with the recurring and relatively surface Russell, whose usage is also elevated in Kyle’s absence)… As for Regine, Kim Fields also departs — three weeks before the finale! She gets a hasty farewell romance that isn’t buyable because it happens so quick — another indictment on this year’s use of character, which only slightly improves in the actual finale, a half hour that does what it needs to do, but with little of the spark that once existed in this underrated ’90s classic, a formative “Singles in the City” sitcom with strong leads and (until now) fairly solid results. It never quite lived up to its promised potential, but it was always enjoyable… well, until this wasteful final year, which I feature only out of obligation.
01) Episode 106: “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore (I)” (Aired: 09/11/97)
Khadijah searches for a new roommate while Synclaire and Overton are on their honeymoon.
Written by Jim Pond & Bill Fuller | Directed by Ellen Gittelsohn
It wasn’t easy picking five episodes to highlight on this list, but I’m choosing to fill a slot with Part I of this year’s premiere because it does have some interesting character ideas, particularly for Kyle and Max, who are at odds over the fact that her admission of love has created different expectations: she wants him to stay with her, he wants her to go with him. Obviously, it’s all to set up T.C. Carson’s unfortunate departure — which is also made evident by the introduction of Trip as Synclaire’s replacement in the home (but Kyle’s replacement in the ensemble). It’s not a great opener by any means, but its conflict makes sense based on the Kyle and Max characters, and there’s an energy here missing from most of Season Five, including the second half of this two-parter, which is more uneven. (Marsha Warfield and Jazsmin Lewis guest.)
02) Episode 108: “High Anxiety” (Aired: 09/25/97)
Khadijah is accidentally fed tranquilizers before a date with a basketball player.
Written by Chris Sheridan | Directed by Ellen Gittelsohn
Khadijah has another date with a famous basketball player portraying himself — Cedric Ceballos — in this installment that’s probably Season Five’s funniest. It’s clearing a low bar in terms of this year’s standards, but that compliment is meant sincerely, for Queen Latifah is given the chance to play some broader physical comedy when Khadijah is fed tranquilizers before her big dinner. Latifah is always the show’s structural anchor and she’s perfect with pretty much everything she’s tasked at doing — but it’s rare for her to get material as comedically bold, so this is a rare delight. Meanwhile, I wish that the subplot with Synclaire and Overton, back from their honeymoon, was more about adjusting to life in their new apartment than a trivial one-off scenario (with guest Eric Christmas), but such is Living Single (especially this year).
03) Episode 110: “The Best Laid Plans” (Aired: 10/23/97)
Max plans to turn a former professor into a lover; Regine and Trip argue.
Written by Clayvon C. Harris | Directed by Chuck Vinson
This outing leans most into the established tension between Regine and new roommate Trip over the rules of the house, as everyone is adjusting to their still fresh living arrangement. Although he’s criminally under-defined compared to the long-running leads, and we care about him far less than anyone else in the cast because of both his lack of texture and the disparity in accumulated screen time, it’s nevertheless important for the season to find situation comedy related to this new circumstance, so I give this entry credit for trying to make use with what it has… As for the A-story, it’s an average plot where Khadijah worries that Max will find out she once had an affair with Max’s former mentor (whom Max now hopes to date herself). I suppose it puts characters in conflict and flatters their shared history (which Trip, by contrast, lacks), but this is Season Five and nothing is above baseline. (Harry Lennix and Jossie Thacker appear.)
04) Episode 112: “He’s The One” (Aired: 11/06/97)
Regine scrambles to throw an event for an attractive millionaire.
Written by Lisa Michelle Payton | Directed by J.D. Lobue
Regine meets her endgame love interest (Dexter, played by Don Franklin) in this offering, which will culminate during his second appearance with his proposal and her hasty departure. As noted above, it happens too fast to feel fully believable, and even though it’s buyable that a “happy ending” for her character would involve her being swept off her feet by a rich dude, it doesn’t really come from a rich dude who has much personality, or somebody who forces her to change/reflect/grow as a result of the pairing. Accordingly, it’s not a great ending for her, even though it’s logical and, in the case of this script — unlike her true farewell show — there’s some success at keeping identity-affirming comic energy maintained via the episodic story. (Other guests include Camille Saviola, Ralph Manza, and Keyshawn Johnson.)
05) Episode 118: “Let’s Stay Together” (Aired: 01/01/98)
Max and Kyle reunite; Synclaire and Overton plan to move.
Teleplay by Jim Pond & Bill Fuller | Story by Yvette Lee Bowser | Directed by Ellen Gittelsohn
Season Five’s finale — and the series’ last half hour, airing second in an hour-long block — is my choice for this year’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), largely because its endgame maneuverings do the best job of honoring the premise and therefore representing how these characters should be existing in story. As discussed, Regine has already gone off to a quick and only somewhat believable exit — in fact, her absence is probably the most glaring disappointment from the entry itself — but everyone else’s “happy endings” are better rooted in the continuity of their characters. For instance, Overton and Synclaire are moving to California for Synclaire’s burgeoning acting career (which makes sense and is the reason for the group physically busting up), and Khadijah reunites with Scooter (Cress Williams) — her most significant love interest throughout the series. Yes, he’s still undefined, but since these rom-coms often predicate character success on romantic happiness, the easiest way for the audience to feel satisfied with where Khadijah winds up is to have her linked with the recurring partner who’s shared the most screen time with her… Meanwhile, Kyle returns and learns that Max has used his sperm donation to have a baby — the catalyst for their reconciliation in a mostly silly but perfectly “rom-com” fashion, because these two, like Overton/Synclaire, were meant to be together. So, with every member of this “Singles in the City” “hangout” ensemble no longer single and no longer “hanging out” regularly, Living Single officially ends its premise and gives its characters the things they’ve always wanted, rendering this a finale that does what it must do for them and the series at large. Again, it’s not stellar, but it’s really all Five has going for it.
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: the popular “Up The Ladder Through The Roof,” which includes a Dreamgirls-inspired Motown fantasy sequence that I tried to feature above, but there’s just NO value for character or premise; it’s merely one long sketch-like gimmick, with nothing that I could genuinely praise beyond the fact that, hey, I guess the cast is having more fun here than during most of Season Five. I’ll also take this space to cite “Three Men And A Buckeye,” the rushed and comedically subpar entry that gets Regine engaged and sent off, using Chip Fields as her funny mother for one final time.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of Living Single goes to…
“Let’s Stay Together”
Come back next week for a new Sitcom Tuesday and a new Wildcard Wednesday!