A Tough Matchup: A Different World vs. The Last Man on Earth

Here’s some thoughts about one of the harder matchups in the bracket. And there’s a handy ballot below for those who have yet to VOTE, or you can click here!

A Different World 

In the pantheon of ’90s college-set sitcoms–Boy Meets World‘s later seasons, Saved By The Bell: The College YearsA Different World stands alone as a (more accurate) representation of college life, following the lives of students at Hillman College, a fictional HBCU in Virginia.

Originally starring Lisa Bonet’s Denise Huxtable, the second season saw a retooling under Debbie Allen, expanding its world to a richer one, where diverse and unique personalities gathered together to learn and grow through their 20s. (It also saw the departure of Bonet and Marisa Tomei.) As a result, Black youths pursued higher education at HBCU’s: “Hillman gave us mathematicians, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, judges, military officials, Senators etc.  Hillman taught us that knowledge was power and the world was ours to seize,” wrote Danielle Moodie-Mills wrote for the Huffington Post in 2012.

In addition to bringing social issues to the forefront (it was the first American sitcom to address HIV/AIDS) it brought a prestige cast of Black actors to our living rooms, including Sinbad, Glynn Turman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jasmine Guy, Mary Alice, Loretta Devine, Cree Summer, and Kadeem Hardison. Its guest stars included Halle Berry, Richard Roundtree, David Alan Grier, Whoopi Goldberg, Khandi Alexander, Jesse Jackson, Gladys Knight, Billy Dee Williams, and Lena Horne. 

Nick at Nite celebrated A Different World‘s 25th anniversary in 2006 with a marathon and a Hillman College reunion, allowing us to see where Whitley, Dwayne, and their peers are today:

The Last Man On Earth

The Last Man On Earth has no business defeating the clearly superior A Different World, but if it did deserve your vote, for only one episode, it would be its eerily accurate foretelling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Season three’s “Got Milk” showed the beginning of a pandemic that wiped the earth of its inhabitants (minus the cast, a prisoner in Mexico, a castaway, and the entirety of a small Mexican town), introducing the audience to Kristen Wiig’s Pamela, a spoiled dog owner who watches to world crumble before taking her nemesis’s bunker in the Hollywood Hills.

Joined only by her beloved pooch, Pamela lives alone in the bunker, bored out of her mind for years before her dog breaks loose and she meets the sitcom’s cast. We didn’t isolate in our apartments for years, but for many of us, it felt like it. The episode’s most sublime moment is one that didn’t happen in 2020, however. Posted up on the couch, Pamela watches the funerals of America’s presidents: Pence, Ryan, Tillerson, Mnuchin, Session, de Voss, perished from a disease that spreads so viciously that strangers recoil at the signs of a cough. “There’s got to be a vaccine! You mean to tell me the President doesn’t have a vaccine!” she yells, in a scene that saw her aggressively apply sanitizer.

Airing in March 2017, less than two months after the inauguration of our 45th President, the scene was a darkly comic balm on an uncertain future. Today the episode is a balm for a pandemic that hasn’t ended yet as we live in a future that is considerably less bleak than the one foretold by Will Forte. (Other scenes in the series, when the cast remembers its life before The End–particularly a visit to Carol’s old apartment–are an eery but respectful reminder that we’ve lost so much despite the future’s incessant desire to march on.) 

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