A few years ago, I posted an article about one of my favorite sitcoms, revolving around the academic life of various students at a fictitious HBCU (Historically Black Colleges And Universities). The show was titled “A Different World” (ADW), a spin-off of the highly successful “The Cosby Show”, featuring daughter Denise Huxtable, played by Lisa Bonet.
Touching on subjects like (as of Season 2) alcoholism, date rape, racism, drug-trafficking, street gangs, HIV/AIDS and other darker topics, ADW soon became a hit throughout audiences due to their approach to real life issues.
To learn more about ADW, click here to read, “A Different World: A Sitcom Come Too Early, Too Late And Just In Time”.
Today marks 35 years since the debut of what is easily one of my favorite situation comedies. It is laced with dozens of memorable moments, talked about in schools and in the community to this very day. Although there are many I can talk about, I’d like to share 10 of my favorites. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Here are, in order of episode appearance:
“A Different World” Turns 35 Today: My 10 Favorite Moments
Warning: Here Be Spoilers! But it’s been 35 years, so if you haven’t seen it by now, that’s yo’ fault…
1. Daydreaming (Season 2 – Episode 4: “Dream Lover”) – Whitley finds herself daydreaming about Dwayne, unaware that she is beginning to develop feelings for him.
I can’t lie. Her beauty, hairstyle and outfit had me rewinding that scene quite often on my VHS tape back in the day. But the music and that dream sequence make for one ridiculously funny scene.
2. Freddie Ruins Walter’s Cooking Project (S2 Ep. 12: “I’ve Got The Muse In Me”) – Thinking that alcohol helps her writing creativity, Freddie drinks to inebriation, then unintentionally vomits in the fish dinner Walter makes (with outside help) to impress Jalessa.
Knowing that Walter couldn’t cook and lied to Jalessa in the subplot, it was disappointing, yet hilarious watching him jump around in anger as all of his hard work (with the help of another woman) gets destroyed when Freddie gets sick in the pot. Looking at Dwayne and Ron, stuck in the doorway trying to escape only makes the moment funnier.
3. Sheila is Jaleesa (S2 Ep. 14: “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”) – Confessing that she is the mysterious Jamaican woman “Sheila” (with whom Walter has been talking on the telephone), Jalessa chastises Walter for entertaining this woman and tells him to leave, assumingly ending their relationship. Even after Walter unconvincingly admits that he knew it all along, she is unbelieving until he walks out of dorm lobby and immediately returns with several students (who were waiting outside the lobby entrance), dressed as islanders and playing miscellaneous percussion instruments singing, “Jaleesa is Sheila, Sheila is Jalessa. No fool me, no fool me, your accent didn’t fool me…”
It takes some seriously strategic thinking to time something like that right. And although improbable, it makes for one of the most popular and funniest moments on the show.
4. Dwayne Saves The Day (S2 Ep. 20: “No Means No”) – Dwayne literally crashes Freddie’s date with a sexually abusive athlete, just in time to save her from being a date rape victim.
I screamed along with the television audience because his leap onto the open top vehicle was unexpected and uncharacteristically heroic.
5. Kiss In The Storm (S3 Ep. 5: “Forever Hold Your Peace”) – Stranded in the snow, Dwayne holds Whitley in his arms in the backseat of her car until their conversation leads to their second and most impactful kiss.
This scene takes me back to moments I shared with two girls back in high school and college. Since the details are part of two upcoming blogs, that’s all I’m going to say, for now. Let’s just say this is one of the most beautiful scenes in the entire series.
6. Uncle Wally (S4 Ep. 22: “Monet Is The Root Of All Evil”) – Ron learns that the girl he has taken to his apartment is the niece of the very protective co-Dorm Director Walter Oakes.
The moment when Walter arrives to pick her up, unaware that she is also Ron’s date brings out a collective “whoooooooah” from audience members and viewers around the globe.
7. Three Sides To Every Story (S5 Ep. 14: “The Cat’s In The Cradle”) – After a violent confrontation with racist students from a rival college, both sides give their own embellished version of what happens while sitting in a holding cell.
Despite the serious racial issues addressed in this episode, watching both sides give their doctored versions in order to get out of jail lighten the mood considerably. This formula has always been a success for any sitcom, showing the original incident, followed by the modified versions of its participants. One of my favorite examples is the episode from “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air” Season 4 – Episode 6: “Will Goes a Courtin'” where Uncle Phil sues Will and Carlton for lack of rent payment. Their different interpretations of Uncle Phil’s interruption of their pool party were epic.
8. Dwayne Claims His Bride (S5 Ep. 25: “Save The Best For Last: Pt. 2”) – Dwayne interrupts Whitley’s wedding with newly elected Senator Byron Douglas, professing his love and pleading for her to take him back. His desire is reciprocated by her revelation that it’s him that she truly wants. Whitley apologizes to Byron before releasing his hand and running down the aisle to the man she’s always loved. Byron and his party angrily exit and they marry right then in the presence of all, including a riotous television audience.
As anyone will tell you, this is easily the most memorable and shocking moment of the entire series. The world believed Dwayne had lost her after going out on a “friendship” date during their engagement, causing her to cancel the wedding. She later met Byron and had developed a relationship with him, leading to his proposal right after winning the election, which she accepted. Dwayne’s stopping by the night before to say goodbye to Whitely “Gilbert” in the previous episode was painful enough, so the audience was everything but ready for the most talked about twist in years. Shhhhh, I screamed too.
9. Dwayne and Whitley Lip Sync (S6 Ep. 8 “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”) – Reminiscent of various episodes of The Cosby Show, Dwayne and Whitley lip-sync to a classic Christmas tune in their bedroom, jumping on the bed, then kissing as the camera pans upward. They supposedly retire on the bed to make love.
This scene is just beautiful. Whitley and Dwayne have been through so much since the beginning, back when they often of dismissed each other as annoying in Season 1. The evolution of their relationship is one that has been talked about and mimicked for many years. It still reaches and touches me to this day.
10. Saying Goodbye (S6 Ep. 25: “When One Door Closes..: Pt. 2”) – Dwayne and Ron tearfully hug and reconcile after a disagreement threatens to end their strong friendship. A pregnant Whitley hugs Ron next before uttering the show’s final words: “Off to A Different World…” and leaving with Dwayne for their flight to Japan to start their new life.
As a series finale, you can do no better. So many goodbyes said during this episode, but that final exchange between Ron and Dwayne, both struggling with tears, is enough to break anyone. It definitely broke me and still makes me misty-eyed to this day. Airing in May of 1993, it was too close to home for me, as I’d been saying goodbye to several college classmates over the previous years and was relocating to Georgia with my new wife and firstborn son.
As I said before, there are so many favorite scenes, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention these episodes:
The Many Faces Of Whitley (S3 Ep. 18: “A Campfire Story”) – Lovestruck over Whitely, Dwayne sees her face in the various women with which he interacts. This results in classic showdown between Dwayne and a college recruiter, whose wife Dwayne accidentally spills a meal on.
Kimberly Reese’s Dark Past (S5 Ep. 11: “Mammy Dearest”) – While protesting the use of “Mammy” artifacts in an upcoming exhibit, darker-skinned Kimberly tearfully shares her painful past with Mr. Gaines.
Watching Kimberly tell Mr. Gaines about the childhood memory of her first prize-winning Nubian Princess Halloween costume being mistaken for “Aunt Jemima” is heart-wrenching. Mr. Gaines’ words of encouragement are beautiful, but they do not take away from the problem a lot of young “chocolate complexioned” boys and girls face. My oldest son, who is the darkest of my four boys, once expressed his frustrations with his skin color. We taught him that his skin color is to be worn proudly because it is beautiful and a shining example of his rich heritage.
Dwayne Makes A Choice (S4 Ep. 7: “Good Help Is Hard To Fire”) – The love triangle between Dwayne, girlfriend Kinu and jealous Whitley come to a head and Dwayne realizes he is still in love in Whitley, causing Kinu to leave him.
There is nothing more troubling than being with someone and knowing your heart lies with another. Having the three in the apartment with Dwayne’s mother in attendance was as tense as it was funny. However, Kinu’s acknowledgement that she will never be “the one” breaks the comedic sequence with a sympathizing climax. I truly felt bad for her because all she wanted was to love Dwayne and be loved.
…and that’s it! If you’ve ever watched the show, you undoubtedly can name several other moments that we can never forget, just like I can. But for sake of time and space, I had to narrow it to 10. Truth be told, I can talk about this show all day.
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