The Best and Worst Black Male TV Characters of 2008


What makes a good black TV character?

Although controversial in appearance, it is actually a very simple question to answer. Some might give you a very complicated answer that goes into historic, sociological or economic terms. But I will keep it very very simple. Are you ready? Here it is, hang on to your socks because this is a mind-boggling and earth shattering statement.

A great black TV character is a great TV character who happens to be black.

Yup that’s it. Nothing more and nothing less. It is my firm opinion that race has absolutely nothing to do in the quality of a TV character. Nor does gender, age or sexual orientation for that matter. A great TV character has to have substance and authenticity. Whether that character is black has absolutely nothing to do with that reality.

With that said, I am sad to say that TV networks do not do a good job of portraying black TV characters in these terms. More often than not, black TV characters fall into disgustingly obvious stereotypes that do nothing but show that TV networks are perpetuating stupid notions that plague our society to this day. These are easy stereotypes to spot. Here are a few:

– The black character who for some reason is always angry and feels like he is discriminated against constantly. Thankfully, there is a white person to make him gain faith in humanity again.

– The black defendant in almost every court case. Thankfully there is a white attorney who gets him off.

– The black buddy who always seems to say things like “White people are crazy”. Thankfully, he has a white friend who laughs every time he says that.

– My favorite, the black high school student who is…drum roll… a high school basketball star who needs help with his homework because he can’t read well. Thankfully, there is a white teacher who will devote his precious time to teach him how to read.

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.

The point of this post is not to rant about how inequity and racism are alive and well on the little screen. Others do this for a living and I don’t. What I think is lacking is a clear scoreboard of what is out there in terms of Best and Worst Black TV characters. This would clarify things and maybe bring awareness to what I call lazy story-telling that relies on shortcuts to try and come up with workable storylines. The unfortunate consequence is that it cements certain negative stereotypes about black people that are simply not always true.

So without further ado, here are the best and worst Black Male TV characters of 2008.

Best Black Male TV Characters of 2008

1. Taye Diggs as Dr. Sam Bennett in Private Practice
2. Hill Harper as Dr. Sheldon Hawkes in CSI NY
3. Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette Reynolds in True Blood
4. Jamie Hector as Marlo Stanfield in The Wire
5. Omar Epps as Dr. Eric Foreman in House

Worst Black Male TV Characters of 2008

1. Antwon Tanner as Antwon ‘Skills’ Taylor in One Tree Hill
2. Robbie Jones as Quentin in One Tree Hill
3. Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordon in 30 Rock
4. J.B. Smoove as Kenny in Til Death
5. Tristan Wilds as Dixon Wilson in 90210

This is far from an exhaustive list on either side but it gives you a good idea of what I am talking about. The characters who made the best list all share the substance and authenticity requirement, and the characters on the worst list simply didn’t. Some of you might disagree with the list and that’s fine. This is a frankly just my opinion, but I strongly believe in it.

So what is the point of all this? Well, this is far from a manifesto but more of an observation of the state of things. Hopefully, this will raise awareness in a few of you and inform you in your decision making when choosing which shows to watch.

I want to make it clear that I am in no way criticizing the actors who play the worst Black TV characters. I understand that they have a job to do and that they are just doing what they are paid for. It is certainly not my place to fault a person for having a job in these tough economic times. My criticism is solely directed at the ridiculous nature of the characters they play on TV.

As a final note, I want to address a question that may occur to a few of you. Who am I to say this? Am I a white guy who is trying to work off some white guilt? Or am I a black guy who sees way too much into this and needs to chill out? I could answer that but it would defeat the purpose of this.

Who am I? Well, I am just a guy who has opinion to share, regardless of his ethnicity. You can take or leave it.