CliqueClack TV

A Different World’s college without technology – Not Quite Primetime

I’m back for another crack at a weekly column that focuses on the shows you may see from 9-5 during the weekday. Talk shows, game shows, reality TV, reruns, and informational shows are all fair game (and subject to my sarcastic commentary).

While I watched a fair share of The Cosby Show as a kid, I hadn’t really seen more than a couple of episodes of its spinoff, A Different World. Luckily for me, I got to see the first two episodes of this show when they aired this morning (“Reconcilable Differences” and “Pilot”).

I was a little confused by the fact that the episode named “Pilot” was actually the second episode, while “Reconcilable Differences” was the first. I tried to find out what this was about, but couldn’t find anything in my internet search. Any fans of the show have any info about this for me? I’d appreciate it!

Anyway, I was surprised by the number of things I had stored in my memory from the few times I’d seen A Different World. The most notable included the opening sequence and theme song, as well as the view of the dorm staircase. This seems random, but actually, a lot of the scenes take place in the lobby, so I suppose it’s not too weird that I remember this most about the show.

But there are lots of things about the show that surprised me. One thing I had no idea about, or perhaps forgot, was the fact that Marisa Tomei starred in the show during Season 1. I’m a fan of Tomei’s, so that was exciting for me (she doesn’t appear until Episode 2, though, as Denise and Jaleesa’s loquacious new roommate). Other actors I was happy  to see were Loretta Devine as Stevie and Dawnn Lewis as Jaleesa.

The thing that surprised me the most was how Denise seemed both incredibly mature and immature at the same time. While her manners are impeccable, and she is a poised, self-aware young woman, the first two episodes show her as irresponsible and a bit judgmental.

In “Reconcilable Differences,” Denise decides that she wants a new roommate shortly after hearing rumours about Jaleesa — that she is a 26-year-old woman with an ex-husband. After meeting her only briefly, she requests a room change. She moves in with Whitley (who I do remember well from this show, and who seems like a less vindictive version of Lemon Breeland from Hart of Dixie), and can’t stand the “rules” she enforces. Jaleesa finds her camped out on the dorm couch and Denise begs for her old room back. It’s a bit funny, actually, that this was the major conflict of the first episode when it wasn’t really a big deal at all — but, I guess that’s an ’80s sitcom for you!

The second episode was a little better, in my opinion, and shows Denise in a financial bind when her tuition check bounces. As she also owes Jaleesa money, she was paying her fees as well, so her oversight affects both of them. (Marisa Tomei’s character, Maggie, totally reminded me of my mother when she asked, “Don’t you balance your checkbook?”) As Denise tries different ways to get the money, she comes across as both responsible and irresponsible — after trying to get a job at a pizzeria, she calls her family, but cannot bring herself to ask her dad for the money.

I understand Denise’s wanting to be self-sufficient, but when the dorm is giving you until 9 a.m. the next morning to come up with $200 for both you and your roommate, it’s time to just swallow your pride and ask your family for it. Denise’s stubbornness was a little foolish, but she does actually end up finding a way to get the money — enlisting the Dean’s help to land a cafeteria job in which she will work under Jaleesa.

It was fun to revisit an older sitcom with none of the annoying “21st century filler” that invades so many shows about high school and college kids these days — email, iPods, text/pic messaging, and the like. At Hillman, when students needed to make a phone call, they went into the hall and used the payphone. They wrote real letters on stationery. And they didn’t have to worry about cyber bullying.

It seems really dated looking at the kind of life the characters in A Different World were living day-to-day. But I have to remember that I didn’t have a cell phone in college either (though I did have Napster and AIM). I feel kind of smug, actually, knowing that I was probably one of the last graduating classes where most people did not have a cell phone — and certainly not a smartphone. Nowadays, even kids in elementary and middle school have cell phones, and it’s pretty much a staple in high school.

Boy, do I sound old. But it’s refreshing to see characters interacting in person and not through a series of IMs, even if their jokes are corny and their acid-wash jeans come up to their boobs.


Photo Credit: NBC

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