"It takes a minute to adjust to the reality of The Upshaws," Caroline Framke says of the Netflix family comedy starring Wanda Sykes, Kim Fields and Mike Epps. "At first glance, the new Netflix comedy appears to look and sound like a multitude of other multi-cam sitcoms about families that crack corny jokes and give each other loving grief. There are plenty of the same strewn about Netflix, from Fuller House to Jamie Foxx’s latest slapstick entry, Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! But The Upshaws, created by Regina Hicks and Wanda Sykes, finds a way to even slightly twist the formula perfected by broadcast networks. Like the late One Day at a Time reboot before it, The Upshaws takes the opportunity to showcase a different kind of family than per sitcom usual, albeit one that should resonate with plenty of people who may not have been able to say the same previously. The family at the heart of The Upshaws hinges on Bennie (executive producer Mike Epps), but not because he’s so reliable. By deliberate contrast, Bennie’s a layabout car mechanic who had his first son, Bernard Jr. (Jermelle Simon), in high school and his second, Kelvin (Diamond Lyons), with another woman (Gabrielle Dennis) when he thought (or at least insists) that he and his wife Regina (Kim Fields) were 'on a break.' Bennie and Regina’s daughters Aaliyah (Khali Spraggins) and Maya (Journey Christine) take it all in stride, considering the tangled branches of their family tree to be just another annoyance. (Another character who likely wouldn’t be on the broadcast network equivalent of The Upshaws is Page Kennedy’s gentle-ish giant Duck, Bennie’s recently incarcerated friend.) Having such a particular blended family immediately gives The Upshaws a specificity that really works for it, especially when the scripts lean all the way in by letting the characters react to it all individually, too."
The Upshaws rejects the outdated respectability politics of modern Black sitcoms: "Since the premiere of The Cosby Show in 1984 — two decades after the civil rights movement — there has been a seeming obsession with presenting 'respectable' and 'good' Black people on network TV to majority-white Americans," says Aramide A. Tinubu. "That obsession, of course, has deep roots: Black Americans are raised with the expectation that they must be twice as 'good' and hard-working as their white counterparts not just to succeed but also to avoid being touched by racism and racist scrutiny. The reality, though, was that portraying one's respectability to white people is not, and never was, a shield from systemic oppression or personal racism. But in the years since The Cosby Show went off the air — and its creator's deep hypocrisy and misogyny were exposed — it served, for better and for worse, as a blueprint for most mainstream Black sitcoms. From Family Matters to Black-ish, the majority-Black shows that got greenlighted at the majority-white broadcast networks generally featured two-parent families, middle- or upper-middle-class households and a lot of whitewashing. All of this history, then, possibly makes Netflix's The Upshaws one of the more authentic portrayals of a modern Black experience ever made."