Top 5 Black TV Shows You Can Invest In 

Harlem on Prime

So this list could be fairly controversial, because it requires a lot of assumptions, a lot of trust, and very little fact to back it up!

But it wouldn’t be a great blog post without any of that, right?!?!?!

Let’s face it, there is too much stuff to watch on TV. And even when you whittle it down to watching Black TV shows featuring the Black experience, there’s still a lot of crap that you have to wade through in order to get to the good stuff that’s worth your time, and more particularly, your investment. 

After all, committing to a new TV show is an investment, because ultimately, you’re deciding to put a portion of your brain power to learning new characters, new names, their personalities, their nuances, their backstories, and their current environments. I don’t even know the names of my best friends kids, so committing to all of that is a lot coming from me. 

For a Black TV show, the investment is even more real, because as we know, our shows aren’t given the time and grace necessary to grow, so often times, we can find ourselves investing in a show like “The Sinbad Show” (1993), “Between Brothers” (1997), or more recently, “Marlon” only for them to get one or two seasons before being canceled. So in today’s world of streaming, when you Netflix can cancel a show just as quickly as you can start one, we have to be more judicious about the shows we give our time to. 

That’s why, here at the midway beginning of 2023, I want to give you five shows that you can invest in that not only have they been excellent shows to date, but they also have enough support from their audience, distributors and creators to go at least another 3 seasons, so that you aren’t left with all of this useless knowledge about how Sinbad became a foster dad to 2 fictional pre-adolescent children. 

Let me stress, this list is not simply trying to give you the best Black TV shows out there. If that were the case, you’d obviously watch something like Snowfall. However, that’s not on the list, because it will end later this year, and your investment will have short-lived ROI. This list also won’t include something like “Godfather of Harlem”, because while it’s excellent, and the creator, Chris Brancato, seems to have the creative energy to keep it going, how much stock can we put in a Epix (now MGM+?) to keep this show going if the ratings tumble or the cost per episode to keep Forest Whitaker gets too high? And then take a show like “Bel-Air”, in which NBC backed up the Brinks truck to market to the masses, only for it to get critically slammed. Sure, it will be back for a second season, mostly because NBC almost has to see it through, but if the creators can’t come back from that, it’s almost sure to get the boot. 

So before you come at me with the pitchforks because your favorite Black TV show isn’t on the list, please make sure you’ve taken everything into account. We’re just trying to give you best of what’s out there, that will remain out there, so that your TV time investment doesn’t end looking like the 2022 stock market. 

Sorted for shortest shelf-life to longest: 

#5. The Upshaws

  • Strong Ratings/Critical Acclaim: 3
  • Strength of Network: 3
  • Status of Plot / Showrunner: 4

I’m not going to lie, it was hard getting to five Black TV shows that would likely be around for another 3 seasons, given that this is in fifth place, you won’t be surprised that I don’t have 100% confidence in this being around for that long. After all, Netflix is already historically known to give shows the ax after the second or third season if the show doesn’t meet their expectations. However, I know that Ted Sarandos (the CEO of Netflix) is very supportive of “The Upshaws”, as he has touted it as a key symbol of their Strong Black Lead initiative given the show’s Black cast, Black writers room, and Black creators (Wanda Sykes, Regina Y. Hicks). So I suspect that Netflix will keep the show going as long as it can continue to get positive reviews. Not that the acclaim has been 100% positive, as more general sites have generally given it mixed reviews, often knocking it for resembling an old-school sitcom. But the Black vloggers on YouTube and TikTok have largely been fans, and that sort of online buzz is likely to keep it going. We know the creators are all-in, as they gleefully promoted season 2. So this show should be able to go the distance and get you from its recently released second season to a fifth season, with little to no problem–unless those quick trigger fingers from the Netflix cancelation team come going. 

#4: Harlem 

  • Strong Ratings/Critical Acclaim: 4
  • Strength of Network: 2
  • Status of Plot / Showrunner: 5

Harlem was kind of a surprising hit. We had known it was coming for a long-time, and when it dropped, it wasn’t extremely obvious that everyone was going to be talking about it–but for some reason, they were. Part of me thinks folks were really searching for an answer to “Insecure” going off the air, but ultimately, the writing by the amazing Tracy Oliver was too strong to let what were maybe somewhat less than stellar acting performances take down the entire show. Thus, it ended up with a whopping 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is rare air for a Black TV show. It also got nominated for 2 NAACP Image awards. It suffices to say, the show has staying power from a viewership perspective. 

However, the network backing, despite its financial might, isn’t necessarily the best track record for letting their shows go the distance. By my count, Amazon Prime Video only has four original English shows that have gone past the 40-episode mark. And in case you were thinking it: you’re correct! None of those 4 shows were Black TV shows. However, I think the super strong affinity for this show, its salute to Black women, and most importantly, the ties to Tracy Oliver are what keep this show a long-lasting one. It’s not everyday that there’s a show that captures the zeitgeist of the Black female audience. Before “Insecure”, it was maybe “Scandal”…? Before that, it was “Girlfriends”. I don’t know that there is anything of note in between. I have an inkling that the critical acclaim of the show and Amazon wanting to hold on to its first and only show to capture Black viewers in this way is probably too strategic of an opportunity for them to pass on. And call me a conspiracist, but even though Oliver has a deal with Apple, if you’re Amazon, wouldn’t it be nice to keep her happy and (further) paid while she still has a deal with you just in case she’s on the open market in a couple of years? Just saying! 

#3. The Chi 

  • Strong Ratings/Critical Acclaim: 4
  • Strength of Network: 5
  • Status of Plot / Showrunner: 5

“The Chi” is no doubt a fan favorite, and ever since that incredibly engaging pandemic-released Season 3, it has been a hit in Black homes across the nation. The critical claim has been non-stop, and even though the Emmys continue to ignore this fine show, the NAACP Image and GLAAD Media awards have bestowed several nominations upon the show. Its existence on Showtime almost assures that the show will get a long life span. It’s already in Season 5, and Showtime is a network that is probably more likely to let a series run long than it is to end it ahead of time. As for some inside baseball, it’s probably not great that the show is actually owned by Disney (via 20th Century Fox), so they’re really just building a great Black show for someone else’s library in the long run. That probably doesn’t matter to Showtime’s parent company, Paramount Plus. And as for the show’s creator, Lena Waithe, this is her biggest show, so I don’t see her wanting it to come to an end. Yes, the series is currently in its 5th season, so it would have to make it to 8 for me to justify it being on this list. But I think the will is there. Many of the characters in the show have a good 3 seasons worth of growth left in them, and the way to pull in and push out new characters always brings a new life to the show from season to season. While there’s no chance of the series getting canceled for There’s no doubt that someone could just say, “Hey, 6 or 7 seasons is enough”. But with Lena heavily invested, and a fresh new showrunner at the helm for this latest season, my guess is that they have a lot more story to tell. 

#2: Abbott Elementary 

  • Strong Ratings/Critical Acclaim: 5
  • Strength of Network: 5
  • Status of Plot / Showrunner: 5

There’s an argument to be made that Abbott Elementary should be at the top of your list for shows worthy of your TV time investment. The ratings and acclaim, fresh off three Golden Globe wins, aren’t just great among Black people, but among all people. This is our lone show from a broadcast network, which are more predictable, and the least likely to cut a show that is beating all of the publicly available key metrics. The creator of the show also stars in the show, so she, Quinta Brunson, is heavily invested in seeing it through. And last but not least, we’ve only had 1.5 seasons of this, so there’s undoubtedly a lot of story left to tell. 

That said, an early sensation isn’t always the surest bet. ESPN’s Playmakers was beloved by fans in season 1, but got the ax right after for “political” reasons. Underground was incredibly heralded after its season 1, but ballooning budgets and changing ownership resulted in just one more season. Tell Me You Love Me (HBO) was one of the best shows of the 2007 TV season, but was canceled because the network couldn’t agree on a direction for a second season. And Lovecraft Country also suffered the same feat after an awards-heavy first season, albeit it was intended to be a limited series. 

All that said, you don’t have to worry about Abbott Elementary going anywhere. Quinta is too funny, the premise is too emotional, and the writing is too compelling. Not to mention, the cast is superb and really gives you “The Office” vibes right from the start. Anticipate this series being here for a really long time. 

#1. P-Valley 

  • Strong Ratings/Critical Acclaim: 5
  • Strength of Network: 5
  • Status of Plot / Showrunner: 5

That’s right, “P-Valley” gets “5s” across the board, coming off an amazing second season. It gets the nod over “Abbott” as my top choice for Black TV shows to invest your time into right now. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not sure how many people are watching this show, but judging by the social interactions and critical acclaim from the industry and ratings sites, this show is in high demand from Black audiences and is passing a quality check with flying colors. Its existence on Starz guarantees that its not going anywhere anytime soon, as Starz is well known for doubling down on its successful shows, especially those that strike an accord with Black audiences, as it has all but turned into the “Power Network” with all of that shows sequels and spin-offs. 

And then there’s the world renowned Katori Hall, who despite being one of the most revered playwrights in the world, hasn’t received popular acclaim like this at any other time in her career. She is heavily invested in this show, taking her time with each season, and crafting every episode to be something special. She made us wait two years to get season 2, but so far it’s worth it. Yes, now that’s she’s quickly arisen a top Hollywood’s mountain, the opportunities for her are endless. But I’m sure she knows that very few people in this business have 2 big hits, so she’s going to make the most of the hit she already has in her hand, and deliver us at least 3 more seasons of this show that she has been toiling with in some form or fashion for years. So if you only have time for one more Black TV shows in your life, I highly recommend getting involved with “P-Valley” and enjoying the long, long ride to come. 

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