Summer is almost here, and so is a brand new show over on Netflix! The Upshaws (starring Mike Epps, Wanda Sykes and Kim Fields) is the latest Black family sitcom, and it’s comedy gold. Focused on a working-class family in Indianapolis, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve watched recently. I was lucky enough to watch all ten episodes, and each one got progressively funnier. In a recent interview, I spoke with Wanda Sykes, Kim Fields, and Mike Epps. Kim shared that the increasingly humorous tone was the hope for the show, stating:
“One thing I always loved about when Wanda talks about creating the show is that the first point of entry is funny. They wanted to make a show that was absolutely blisteringly funny-”
We’re introduced to the family dynamic quickly, and it’s a wild ride from start to finish. Bennie Upshaw (Mike Epps) is a father to 4 including a set of “ghetto twins”-siblings. They are the same age but with different mothers), and he’s struggling to create meaningful relationships with them all. Regina (Kim Fields) is a working mom focusing on a better life for her family. Even if it means going back to school. Rounding out the central trio is Lucretia Turner (Wanda Sykes), Regina’s sister. A business owner and a constant visitor to The Upshaw home. Lucretia isn’t a big fan of Bennie and who can blame her. He’s messed up quite a bit), and it colours their interactions in a fun way. Anyone who watched Sanford & Son will see a serious Fred and Esther type relationship between the two.
Accompanying the leads is a solid supporting cast. The Upshaws children are Bernard Jr. (Jermelle Simon), who might share a name with his dad but isn’t too fond of him. Aaliyah (Khali Spraggins) and Kelvin (Diamond Lyons), the above-mentioned “ghetto twins” who are trying to figure out how to share. Share a birthday and a father as they navigate high school and Maya (Journey Christine), a cute elementary student. She uses her status as the baby to get whatever she wants from everyone around her. Kelvin’s mom, Tasha (Gabrielle Dennis), serves as a reminder for Regina of a not-so-great time in her life. Bennie’s friends Tony (Michel Estime)- a whipped mechanic- and Duck-a newly released felon (Page Kennedy) round out the group.
The Upshaws is hilarious in every aspect, and a considerable part of that is simply because it’s genuinely relatable. Unlike shows like Black-ish, where the story focuses on an already successful and well-settled family. The Upshaws shows us middle-class America. We’re watching a man who works at the mechanic shop his sister-in-law owns, where it’s clear that he’s not the best at his job. All the while, a woman who is pretty good at her job. But when it’s time for a promotion, she’s never the one they look to. The kids aren’t alright, and their struggles trying to forge bonds with their father. Coupled with trying to fit in at school and with each other, feel genuine and honest. It’s refreshing to watch a show and find common ground with the characters. It’s not often you’re actually able to empathize with their struggles.
It’s also important to note that there are moments where things are serious. Intervals where decisions that characters make reverberate despite the hilarity. For example, towards the midway point of the season, Benne makes a choice. A choice that negatively impacts not just Regina (his wife) as she works towards passing her GRE. But, in a trickle-down way, the entire Upshaws family. Flipping the script from the traditional end-of-sitcom resolution to this choice becoming the central focus of the season. It’s a change for this medium of television and one I found myself enjoying. The show gives us conversations about fidelity, forgiveness and family in ways that everyone should relate to. Also of note is the decision to include a disability for Wanda Syke’s Lucretia. Which Wanda mentioned in our interview. In her own words she wanted to:
“ Let disabled people see themselves, also. And I think all of that is important. I truly believe in representation and, like you said, to see yourself and be able to see themselves living a full life and loving. And, you know, you’re getting everything you can out of life.”
For some, the decision not to have a disabled actor might anger some, which is, of course, understandable. I can say, however, that Lucretia’s disability does not take away from her character. She’s shown to be a fun-loving, exciting woman who has a rather adventurous love life. Even the conversation around helping her recover some mobility (while comical) is realistic and not be a magic “cure-all”. I also anticipate some pushback as it relates to colorism.
Although there are a variety of Black families on screen. The Upshaws casting choice made in regards to how Bennie’s families are portrayed to be interesting. I.e. the woman he decides to marry and the children he chooses to live with are all relatively light-skinned. In contrast, the woman he had an affair with and the child who doesn’t live with him are both darker. His eldest son-Benard Jr.-although a product of teenage pregnancy with Regina-is also darker. Their stormy relationship with serves as a lynchpin for the season. I don’t want to imply that the decision was purposeful. But I did want to shine a light on how people might feel about it.
Overall, The Upshaws is a funny and relatable show that everyone in the family should find something to enjoy. It brings back a nostalgia that 80s and 90s kids might feel for the sitcoms of their youths (Moesha, The Parkers, etc.), and at the end, when another huge bombshell rings the doorbell for The Upshaws, I found myself excited to see how they’ll handle it in Season 2. I recommend you all tune in when the show premiers on Netflix this Wednesday, May 12th!