Home » Colored But Canceled, Long Live the Colored Race!

Colored But Canceled: On Our Own

2 December 2008 20 Comments

The Premise: The Jericho kids lose their parents in a car accident and the eldest brother, Josh (Ralph Harris) becomes responsible for raising his six siblings (played by Jurnee, Jussie, Jake, Jazz, Jocqui, and Jojo Smollet). Taking the black Party of Five concept one step further, Josh is forced to dress in drag and pose as “Aunt Jelcinda” to maintain custody of the clan for most of the series. Beyond this twist, On Our Own was standard family fare about growing up, family relationships, and of course “missing mom and dad.”

How Did This Get On Television?: Can you imagine being a casting director and having the Smollet kids come into your office looking like a set of Russian Dolls? I’d have to find a way to put all of them in something, and in 1994 networks we’re handing out black sitcom vehicles like America Online was giving out those free subscription CD’s.

Why It Was Good: The Smollets were everything that television needed: sort of black and sort of white, there were older ones and younger ones, some were into music and others were into dancing, they wore hats and vests and all sorts of nutty patterns, and of course they had that hair. While the concept of six near identical mulatto moppets wore thin a little quickly, it was as fun getting to know each of their personalities and there were enough of them to not get sick of the age-specific plot lines.

Why It Was Bad: One of the most irritating aspects of the black family sitcom is when the casting director fails to consider the sheer impossibility of skin color variation among family members. Sure Sondra and Denise Huxtable were improbable, and the Vivian Banks switcheroo on Fresh Prince of Bel Air was a slap in the face, but what were we supposed to do with six biracial look-a-likes and one brown-skinned dude sporting what is clearly a nappy flattop? I’m sure not supposed to believe he’s actually related to them, am I? In this case, we couldn’t help but play “one of these things is not like the other.” If I had Photo Shop skills I would put Barack Obama’s face on top of Ralph Harris’ in the above picture before you could say ‘misecgenation.’ Not only that, but the hair on this show was such an issue, and the Smollet kids were true victims. It was the mid-nineties, and mixed people hadn’t yet found their place in the post-modern black hair spectrum, so as a result, we had to look at ridiculous dreads, mousse-laden puffs, and errant curls on foreheads a la El Debarge.

Best Episode: I can’t call this one, and it’s the fault of the show’s creators. Every other episode had the Aunt Jelcinda sub-plot, and they played too many games with the letter “J”. When Jurnee’s sitcom name is Jordee, Jussie is Jesse, Jazz is Jai, and Jake is Joc, I can’t help but let it all blur together. But I will take the time to proclaim my personal admiration for the introduction of T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh, who played a boarder in the house the second season and mixed things up with storylines that encroached on romance between her and Ralph Harris’s character.

What Happened and Where Are They Now?: Ralph Harris has popped up from time to time, most recently in Dreamgirls. Meanwhile, the Smollet siblings have each gone their own paths. Jurnee Smollet had a fantastic turn in The Great Debaters and her career is always on the verge of really exploding. Check out the photos below for recent photos of (L-R) Jake and Jocqui, Jocqui and Jazz, Jurnee and Jussie, and Jojo, who are all still around and doing “stuff.” Quite young, fly, and flashy, and apparently growing up with just enough good black to not crack.

20 Comments »

  • Antonio said:

    I vaguely remember this show. The only episode I can recall is one where the little boy says a dirty word he heard somewhere else. I completely forgot the part about Aunt Jelcinda, which sounds really bad.

    Jurnee Smollet was in Eve’s Bayou IIRC, which Siskel named his favorite movie of the year.

  • Kim said:

    I watched that show like once or twice when it was on and couldn’t stand those kids. And it was so insulting to me that the white producers would think that those Smollet kids and that Ralph dude could be related in any sort of way. Hollywood kills me with that biologically impossible casting. In fact you should do series of posts on that. There are plenty of shows and movies where they casts black actors as relatives when Stevie Wonder could see there would be no way possible these actors could be in same gene pool.

    You mentioned Sandra and Denise on the Cosby show. They did it on A different World too.

    — Jasmine Guy with Dianne Carroll and Superfly (I forgot his name) as her parents.
    — High yellow Ron with his curly hair and his very dark-skinned dad with nappy hair.

    Hell even on Everybody Hates Chris. Do you really think Tichina Arnold and Terry Crews could have children that look like Tyler Williams??

    And Damon Wayans show “My Wife and Kids”. Remember the daughter in the first few episodes was really dark-skinned then they switched up with Jennifer Freeman who is obviously biracial?

    Girl I could on…..

  • Reginald Dorsey said:

    *hears the clarion call from over the mountain range, responds enthusiastically*

    Okay before I even read this let me say that that older Smollett girl looks like she had a one way ticket to a Ph.D in either Af.Am Studies, Womyn’s Lit., or Bio Chemical Research at either Princeton, Berkeley, Howard, or Cooper Union. I want to take her on a date to see an Alice Smith concert at BAM after she successfully defends her thesis. And you knew I would come in here and say this. That said, I’ll read teh actual post now.

  • Invisible Woman said:

    Not “errant curls”! lol

    Btw, I absolutely loathed that show.

  • justjudith said:

    i couldn’t get over the casting either. it was like they didn’t even try…

  • Kjen said:

    While I my head does do a double take when I see such a large disparity in skin color, it has been known to happen in nature, plus I’m all for giving Black actors jobs so…

    Now on to more important matters. The resume of the Smollet in the photo on the last row to the right. Just the important details, name, age, and phone number. Give me a chance and I’ll turn him single.

  • jazzfan360 said:

    I am considerably with everybody else on the casting thing with black folks…though @ Kim, I never saw anything odd about Diahann Carroll and Ron O’Neil as Jasmine Guy’s parents. Carroll’s a pretty solid cafe au lait, and Guy’s high yellow as was the late O’Neal…that’s entirely within reason.

    Thembi, I don’t know how recently you’ve seen On Our Own, but I ran across an episode on TVOne last year, god bless it, and I’m here to tell you that was a BAD sitcom. It was just so poorly executed, which is a shame because the kids really deserved a better vehicle. And the whole Jelcinda thing was just a massive, massive problem. One episode is one thing, but you can’t sustain a series on that crap. And it was obviously a horrifying precursor for Medea. ::Shudder::

    Jurnee’s doing very well these days, it would seem. She did The Great Debaters last year, and I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy but I heard a lot of talk about her appearance last season. And well, there’s also the fact that the girl is fine as HELL! I mean GOODNESS.

  • Brigitte said:

    Oh my gosh, I had completely blocked this show from my memories!

  • Anonymous said:

    So I guessed you guys missed the episode where they found out the black brother had a different father who died and the white father raised him as his own

  • jazzfan360 said:

    I guess I did. I guess I also missed that entire second season with T’keyah. I was like “…SECOND SEASON???” Swear to god I don’t remember this show lasting past 13 episodes. Second season! ::Throws hands up:: The wonders never end.

  • Dara said:

    jurnee was in roll bounce too…which was surprisingly charming.

  • Kim said:

    I’ve definitely written about this show before.
    ABC in this era was known for taking shows with promise and funking it up. They did it with that show that spun out of Growing Pains , Just the Ten of Us or something like that, and with that other show that had Kenny and Stanley along with Cindy Williams and Aunt Rachel; there was also a show with Flex and Doug E. Doug (girl you’re fixing to have me go write my own post on how ABC destroyed/saved me). Sister Sister started on ABC, ended up on the new WB and succeeded. *(years later The Hughley Show would follow the same trajectory to UPN and crash and burn). I was like 7 or 8 or 9, TGIF was my Friday night.

    Basically after this came out, Party of Five also came out and was wildly successful and Neve Campbell or one of them become a huge star. I don’t know, I didn’t watch…I was like 7 or 8 or 9, sue me.

    But Jurnee Smollet did get her shine on before this. She and Tahj Mowry played Michelle Tanner’s obligatory curly haired black friend on Full House.

    And yea, the oldest brother was extra out of place.

  • bklyn6 said:

    I remember this watching this (at least once) and they showed a photo of the kids’ parents. Their mom was black and their dad was white. Maybe big brother was from another mother?

    This reminds me…. Many, many years ago I remember an interracial family (didn’t realize they were, because I was a kid) in my neighbor. The mom was black, dad white. There were four kids. Three of the kids were tan (in hindsight, obviously biracial), but one was darkskinned (in hindsight, obviously unmixed).

  • jazzfan360 said:

    @Kim, Just the Ten of Us shoulda lasted longer and wasn’t handled as quality as it shoulda been. Getting By was the show with Telma and Cindy…its Wiki page has a lot of interesting info. They apparently cast Merlin and Deon ’cause they loved their chemistry so much on Cosby. The Doug E. Doug/Flex show was…oh hell, I forget the name, but Thembi did an entry on it a while back. That was a fine show. Wish it was on TVOne or something.

  • Thembi said:

    @Kim for one thing, I loooved Just the Ten of Us! jazzfan is right about getting by, too. The Doug E Doug/Flex show was called Where I Live, I did a colored but canceled post on it a while back. TVOne actually owns the rights so maybe they’ll get around to airing the handful of existing episodes…?

  • Reginald Dorsey said:

    Th eldest daughter on Just the Ten of Us was the star of the early Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and the early episodes of JTTOU played off of that, a few times.

  • Old School Friday: The Jackson Family! | What Would Thembi Do? said:

    […] came from, the group consisted of Tito’s three sons Taj, Tarryl, and TJ (if you are feeling a Smollet vibe right now you are not alone). Can you imagine being a mixed Jackson? Their very existence is […]

  • Corporate AfroPuff said:

    What is Hollywood’s obsession with seeing a Black Man in drag? That’s why Aunt Jelcinda kept coming back. Hollywood loves to see a Black Man in drag acting queenie, it’s actually really weird and unsettling to me how much Hollywood enjoys this.

  • LaReina said:

    I have to say, for those of you who think it is impossible to have light and dark people in your family with the same parents, you might want to do a survey of the American Black population with a scientist. It is not only possible but common. We as black people are, for lack of a better word, mutts. We have thousands of other races, sub-races, and colors just swimming in our gene pools. My friend has 6 other brothers and sisters, 3 of them have one dad while the others have another. Those 3 have the same mother (mixed white/black) and father (dark skinned black). Two of them look like stereotypical quadroons with curly hair and very fair skin and the third is dark as night with slightly less curly hair. Even in my family my mom and uncles range the color spectrum with the same parents. Maybe it’s because were in Seattle, one of the most racially mixed cities in the United States, but rainbow children in one family is not uncommon. I think it may be that way in other cities as well.

  • Dawn M. said:

    I watched EVERY episode of this show, as I was about 10 or 11 and TGIF was my big “thing.” Anyway, even at that age I remember thinking “He couldn’t REALLY be their brother.” Just so happens a lot of people must have thought that way, as the producers of the series did an episode touching on the topic. The kids found some old love letters written by another man to their mother. Turned out that the eldest brother, of course played by Harris, had a different father … go figure. Therefore, the “color spectrum” issue was addressed. Just FYI.

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