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Colored But Canceled: South Central

1 July 2008 15 Comments


After spending months combing the internet for a short clip or photo, all I turned up was this measly title screen shot. So I’m going to talk about South Central as best as I can and hope that you all help fill in the blanks with your memories in the comments section (yes, Malcolm and jazzfan360 I am talking to you)!

The Premise: Joan Mosely (Tina Lifford) is a single mother struggling to make ends meet and raise her children Andre (played by a tenderoni Larenz Tate), Tasha (Tasha Scott), and Deion, a foster child born addicted to crack who never speaks because of the things he’s seen as a child (you know this is a realistic depiction of black folks right off the bat when a woman who is just getting by takes on an extra mouth to feed). The entire series was set in the shadow of the death of an older brother Marcus, who’d been killed years earlier livin’ that gangsta life.

How Did This Get On Television?:
Remember when South Central Los Angeles was the template for exposing the realities of black urban life? Between Menace II Society, Boyz N’ The Hood, South Central the movie, and the deluge of West Coast hip-hop, you’d have to be living under a rock to be clueless about life in the streets of Compton. Think about it: there are only a few black spoof movies, and Don’t Be a Menace While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood is up there with I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in it’s accessibility and accuracy in poking fun of black cinematic tropes. But I digress. The bottom line is that in 1994 South Central LA was the place to be, the cast was credible, and Fox hoped that placing this show in the Tuesday night lineup with Roc would lead to success.

Why It Was Good: Tina Lifford played the mother figure with a gentle, cliché-free approach, a performance that was often overshadowed by the danger surrounding every plot-twist in the series. The subplot about Deion, the mute crackbaby, was a mystery just begging to be unraveled. The love story between Andre and the siditty Nicole, played by Maia Campbell, was a latter day Romeo and Juliet throwback. South Central was chock full o’ black C-listers (Glenn Plummer, Clifton Powell, Earl Billings, Shar Jackson, Lamont Bentley…) and Jennifer Lopez had a small recurring role. And most importantly for me, the dialogue was authentically black.

Why It Was Bad: I don’t have an answer for this in the literal sense, but maybe the reasons that this show was good are the same as the reasons that it was bad – white people did not want to see a show about struggling black folks during the booming Clinton years. Maybe South Central was too real and scary to attract that necessary handful of white viewers that Living Single and Martin could, and since Fox was already doing well with those shows on Thursdays they reached for higher ground by replacing Roc and South Central with the inevitably weak but dependable “Tuesday Night Movie.”

Best Episode: I distinctly remember the episode “Dad.” Andre and Tasha’s father, played by Vondie Curtis Hall, breezes into town a la Raj’s pop on What’s Happening? – giving gifts, making promises, the whole deadbeat dad nine yards. Although Andre’s anger at his father’s drop-in is predictable, the real tastiness of this episode is in the love story subplot. At this point in the series Nicole has stopped speaking to Andre because her parents have forbidden it, and a new girl, Candi (played by Malinda Williams), tries to push up on him, saying “I’ll make you forget all about that bougie girl.” This was the first time I’d ever heard that word used on television, and the first time I realized that there is a black vernacular outside of slang that thrives well beyond the quips of my down-south grandparents, considering that Indian-haired Maia Campbell was the epitome of what I took the word “bougie” to mean. I credit moments like these for making me so stuck on black language.

What Happened and Where Are They Now?:
South Central only made it through 10 episodes from April 5, 1994 to June 4, 1994, yet because of its very recognizable cast, groundbreaking subject matter, and fairly entertaining content, most of us remember it at least a little bit. Airing right after Roc on Fox Tuesday nights, both shows were canceled when ratings started to drop (if you ask me, it never had a fair chance, but that’s a rant for a different day), and South Central was gone faster than you can say “crossover vehicle”.

Larenz Tate got cuter and more famous but not much taller. Maia Campbell kept working but I’m kind of worried about her these days especially since she’s from Philly so I hear some pretty nasty rumors about homegirl. We know what became of Jennifer Lopez. Vondie Curtis Hall, Glenn Plummer, Malinda Williams, and Earl Billings are still acting. Lamont Bentley and Shar Jackson went on to Moesha before he died tragically and she became the poster-girl for miscegenationistic babymomma-hood. The child actors playing Tasha and Deion have now all but disappeared, but Tina Lifford still has a lo-key career and a personal development business called “Totally Fabulous Woman.” Of course, not one episode is available on DVD, so maybe we’ll have to just remember it as a great career venue for some of our most dependable actors.

15 Comments »

  • Malcolm said:

    I’m glad to see the return of Colored But Cancelled. My memories of South Central are almost nil because I haven’t seen it since it left the air back in 1994. The only thing I can add is that Earl Billings and Jennifer Lopez played co-workers of Tina Lifford’s character. They all worked at the neighborhood grocery co-op that was owned by Clifton Powell’s character.

    Back when South Central was on, I knew it was too good to last long. FOX basically killed two birds with one stone by moving ROC from it’s established Sunday timeslot to Tuesday.

    Considering South Central’s quality and the fact that many of the cast members went on to have success after the show ended, it’s surprising that it hasn’t turned up on DVD… then again, it isn’t. Since my sorry ass cable company doesn’t get TV One, I’m not sure if it has ever turned up there.

    I did go to tvshowsondvd.com and submitted a vote stating that I would buy South Central on DVD. If anyone else would like to see this show on DVD, just go to the site and click on the “TV Show Voting/Info” link on the left side of the page. You do have to be a registered member in order to vote. If you aren’t a member, becoming one is fairly easy.

  • jazzfan360 said:

    Lord, you done called me out and I can’t even help this time. I remember absolutely nothing beyond the very main cast members, and that I would watch it during dinner after I came in from playing around dusk. ::Shrug:: And that it was gone before it really even got there.

  • blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said:

    Hey Thembi!! {waves}

    I have not owned a telly in at least ten years….and I had never heard of this show AT ALL until just now….

    No, I am not kidding….

    {shrugs}
    Lisa

  • pjazzypar said:

    It was such a good show for those ten episodes. I remember Paula Kelly (from 70’s films) playing the Joan’s (Tina Lifford) best friend “Sweets” and Michael Beach playing her boyfriend on a couple of episodes. I saw Tasha Scott (the daughter) on another Colored, But Canceled show “Under One Roof” as the friend of the character portrayed by Essence Atkins. FOX is a strange network, it wouldn’t allow “South Central” 11 weeks, yet the network left “Married with Children” on for 11 years. Go figure!

  • dara said:

    I remember Tasha vividly…didn’t she have a recurring role on Robert Townsend’s “Parenthood?”

    They didn’t even give this show a chance! Another show I liked but barely made it thru a few episodes, was “Under One Roof.” Do you remember that?

  • dara said:

    LOL! I just realized the person above me left a comment about “Under One Roof.” That was a promising show, I hate they canceled it!

  • Yobachi said:

    For the 6 episods or so that it was on, that was a great show. I loved it.

    Anyway Thembi, would you be intersted in participating in a bloggers confrence call with olympic athletes about Darfur, next week.

    Email me at lionrunner777@yahoo.com and let me know. I’ll hit you back with the details if you interested.

  • Missy said:

    Wow…never heard of this show…

  • Anonymiss said:

    Oooh Thembi! You took me back with this one. South Central was my show. It was an honest look at an American family.

    My friends and I were highly pissed when Fox yanked it off the air.

    What was the last episode? I think it was the episode when Andre brought a gun to a party and threatened some knucklehead with it. Then after that, Nicole dumped him and he was tryna get back with her.

    I couldn’t stand J. Lo’s character. She reminded me of those big-mouth chicks from around my way, LOL!

  • ginnysthoughts said:

    Greetings, I must have been one of the few white people who watched Roc and South Central lol, and I do remember it coming on on Tuesday nights I think, remember a couple of the episodes, one episode was where Andre wanted to get a pager or phone or something? Think it was a pager back then lol, and his mother didn’t want him to, because she thought it would like to other things like drug dealing etc., I remember one scene where she accidentally called him by the older brother Marcus’s name.

    I don’t know why I even remember that episode. Bt for some reason, I can rmeember the TV, the living room I was in, everything, and I was upset when the show was cancelled (I remember Rush Limbaugh was talking about how people were upset about the cancellation of the show, and don’t ask me why I remember that either). 1994 was the year I graduated from high school and was also the year I began to lose what little remaining eye sight that I had which really wasn’t much to begin with, but maybe that’s why some things were so clear to me.

  • Q said:

    I loved this show. And tryed to write to the studios to keep it on. I am actually now watching it on reruns that are now playing on TV1 network!!!

  • Q said:

    And Ginnysthoughts, if you ever come to this site again, I wanted to tell you that I reallyyy feel for you and losing your site. Wow. That is soo major that you are still able to be on the computer. How do you do that? That’s incredible. I commend you for still just doing your thang and not letting it get you down, what an inspiration for me!

  • Meander said:

    I remember an episode where Tasha sings. I remember the song sounding eerily similar to Brandy’s “I wanna be down”

  • mZ. mOODY said:

    Wow, I never knew Lamont Bentley had died. Where have I been the last couple of years? They play this show on TV One every Saturday now. The run through about 5 episodes, I dont know why they dont play all ten of them.

  • Anna said:

    South Central repeats comes on TV One which is a black station that shows a lot of black sitcom’s that haven’t been on television for years including “On Our Own.”

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