Widely seen as a forebearer to “Friends,” the Queen Latifah-led sitcom tackled such timely topics as racism and body positivity over the course of five seasons. One episode in particular even featured a progressive-for-its-time take on a same-sex union years before marriage equality became the law of the land.
In the latest installment of his “Culture Cruise” video series, writer Matt Baume breaks down “Woman to Woman,” which aired as part of the third season of “Living Single” in 1996. The episode follows Maxine Shaw (played by Erika Alexander), as she plans to host a bridal shower for a college friend, Shayla (Karen Malina White).
It’s only when Shayla arrives that Maxine (and the audience) discover that she’s a lesbian and planning to tie the knot with a girlfriend, Chris (Tanika Ray).
Watch the “Living Single” episode of Matt Baume’s “Culture Cruise” below.
According to Baume, “Woman to Woman” is noteworthy in that it shows Maxine and her housemates embracing Shayla as both her authentic self and a bride-to-be ― which is indicative of “just how much public attitudes about marriage equality had shifted since the start of the 1990s.”
“When the sitcom ‘Roc’ showed primetime’s first same-sex wedding [in 1991], the episode featured characters expressing discomfort and homophobia,” he told HuffPost. “But just five years later, ‘Living Single’ shows the characters fully accepting their lesbian friend.”
Baume details a number of factors, namely the political climate of the mid-1990s and an uptick in the portrayal of LGBTQ lives on TV, as being responsible for this sea change.
The 1992 presidential election “brought LGBTQ issues to public attention like never before,” he said, adding, “there was also a blitz of same-sex weddings around this time that helped make audiences more comfortable with the idea ― on ‘Northern Exposure,’ on ‘Roseanne,’ on ‘Friends.’”
Given how refreshingly “Living Single” portrayed both coming out and same-sex relationships in 1996, one can’t help but wonder just how a modern version of the show would tackle hot-button subjects.
Based in Seattle, Baume is the author of the 2015 book “Defining Marriage: Voices From a Forty-Year Labor of Love.” He launched “Culture Cruise” in 2018 and has used the series to explore Hollywood portrayals of LGBTQ people on everything from “The Golden Girls” to “Cheers.”