Interviews TV

Good Times’ Showrunner Ranada Shepard Speaks Out Against the Backlash, “There’s So Much More to the Show”

When Ranada Shepard (Young LoveDiary of a Future President) first got the call to serve as showrunner and executive producer of an animated reboot of Good Times, it didn’t take her long to decide she was interested. The original Good Times, created by Mike Evans and Eric Montes and executive-produced by the late television legend Norman Lear, made history in the ’70s as television’s first Black two-parent family sitcom.

Shepard told Netflix, “Once Sony said, ‘Good Times,’ ‘Norman Lear,’ I said, ‘Say less. I’m there.’”

Executive-produced by Stephen Curry, Lear, and Seth MacFarlane. It’s a spiritual sequel of sorts to the live-action original, centering on the fourth generation of the Evans family living in apartment 17C of a Chicago housing project. Lear, who produced groundbreaking sitcoms The JeffersonsMaudeSanford and Son, and All in the Family, made pivotal contributions behind the scenes of the new series and will also make a cameo appearance in the eighth episode — his final role before his death at age 101 in December 2023. 

The animated reboot, produced in partnership with Sony Pictures Television Studios, dropped the laugh track and dealt with modern-day issues, with the goal of retaining the feeling of the original Good Times. At its core is about a Black family that comes together, laughs together, and survives the system on the South Side of Chicago. It would feature social commentary and a lot pushing the boundaries. Think The Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy.

Then on March 27th, the trailer for the Good Times series dropped to the horror of watchers. A drug dealing baby selling, possible images of prostitution, oversexualized women, a teacher telling a Black student to ‘join OnlyFans’, Black Jesus referred to a ‘Colored Redeemer,’ a White character referring to a Black neighborhood as a ‘shithole,’ gang shootouts, crime and more.

The backlash was fierce. But underneath it all was a Black family bound by love and understanding, a family fighting to make a change while declaring ‘The revolution will not be television.’ In ten episodes, Good Times explored systemic racism, a government that purposely flooded Black neighbors with drugs and guns, a society that oversexualized its women, constantly overmedicated children, a crumbling school system, and a father’s desire to change the system from within.

But the damage was already done, Good Times was lambasted.

The Koalition spoke to Good Times showrunner Ranada Shepard (Young LoveDiary of a Future President) to understand what happened, what were the intentions of the series, the message behind its social commentary, that trailer, the transformation of Junior, the complications of a mother-daughter relationship and more.

Are there any misconceptions about Good Times you would like to address?

“There are a lot of misconceptions about the series. I think one of the leading pieces of feedback I’m hearing is based on this idea there are a lot of tropes and stereotypes mesh together for the sake of doing a black adult animation show, and that we leaned in on that for hopes of comedy. The truth of the matter is this is adult animation and it’s a satirical approach. If satire is done properly, you do lean into the stereotypes for hopes of telling a perspective or shedding light on an idea or situation that happens in society that provokes thought and conversation, and if done well, laughter as well. I do believe that is what we did, and we did it really well. We covered a lot of social commentary. But I think just from being sent or seeing a posted image or a two-minute trailer there was a takeaway that wasn’t true but left the audience feeling a way. I just encourage everyone to actually look at the entire series and see there’s so much more to the show.”

Let’s talk about the evolution of Good Times. How did you balance the spirit and the heart of that original with creating something for today’s generation.

“One of the most important pieces for Norman Lear when he and I would have conversations together, was at the nucleus, it was a loving family. I think we’ve also done that very well. No matter what the chaos is around [the family] or the individual chaos within the family collectively, there is a family who loves each other, and they stick together to get through another day. [There may be] another issue [or] another situation they [have to] tackle, but at the center, is love. I think that is definitely passed on from the original series and it’s something I’m so grateful and proud we were able to keep alive in this reimagination of the show.”

There is a plethora of social justice topics discussed throughout the series, including the overmedication of children, the government oppression and control. There’s also the oversexualizing of girls’ bodies. How do you balance the tone of these serious topics with comedy? How do you balance entertaining with educating the audience?

“First and foremost, in the process of breaking stories it has to be a funny story first. What you don’t want to do is start with a serious story and then try to find the comedy. You start comedically breaking a story and once you have a full story, you look at it and you ask, ‘What are we saying?’ For me, if we weren’t saying anything, then it wasn’t worth the risk of going so far in comedy. That was the balance we found and that was the way we broke the stories in the room. My writers were ready for it each and every time.”

“On top of that, there were a list of subject matters I came into this show and into the writers’ room, telling the writers [what I wanted to touch upon. Some we hit some we didn’t. Being from Chicago myself and understanding what things ring true as important to me to discuss. For instance, the gang violence, the stopping the violence for a day and understanding it was the politicians around it, it was the community workers around it that tend to financially benefit off of the violence. Let’s tell that story.”

“The period episode was a story that was near and dear to my heart. I didn’t know where I wanted to go with it, but I knew I wanted to touch in that space. What’s so amazing about Episode 103 is when we wrote the story of Roe v Wade, it wasn’t on the table and by the time we got our first animatic nine months later, it had been overturned just that quickly. Suddenly it had different meaning than it had nine months prior when I just pitched it to everyone. That’s the beauty of being in this position and being thoughtful about the stories we tell. You never know where life will lead you and how much more meaning is suddenly added to one of the stories that was just a simple story.”

Let’s dive into Episode 103 ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ When Grey gets her period, she and Beverly enter a magical world of womanhood that changes the Beverly and Grey’s relationship with each other. Once Grey gets her period Beverley reacts negatively towards her, leaving Grey feeling confused and shamed.

“Is there a more important relationship [than] a mother-daughter relationship? Essentially, you’re building your daughter to be the next mother if she chooses to be. Whether acknowledging it or not, we keep society going, we nurture society, we give birth to society. [It’s] an important role in life I don’t think is pointed out enough. If you’re only taught by society to see the shame around yourself then you can only hand down the shame to your daughter. But once you step back, that’s a pivotal point of how this world continues to grow and be. Yet how many times a day, how many times a year, how many in our lifetime do we stop and realize how impactful and how important we are to society? We take all these messages coming at us, whether it be, ‘Women are less than men’ or ‘Weaker than men’. All of this which is being fed by media, society [and] the patriarchy, we just take it at face value.”

“So, to use an episode like this, to step back and just go, ‘Wait, I’ve been taught this is how I’m supposed to treat my daughter’ or ‘This is what I believe about myself in my menstrual cycle, so let me give it to her.’ To go on a journey with your daughter to go, ‘Wait a minute, I didn’t even realize the value in myself, so how could I have given you the value in yourself?’ To have that moment to say, ‘Yes you are stepping into womanhood and let me not pass this shame on to another generation.’ We’re talking about breaking generational curses at that point. What a beauty to do it in such a specific way with mothers and daughters, specifically with Black mothers and daughters. Honestly, as we’re talking about Roe v Wade, when we see the images from the courtrooms of women who are facing trial because they had a miscarriage, it’s women that look like me and you, and something has to be done about this. We have to stand together to say, ‘This isn’t okay.’ How can you stand and fight for something you’re ashamed of essentially? It even goes beyond your child, and it goes to our place in society. We’re talking about maternal health. How can you fight for something where being pregnant or getting pregnant has been so shamed and shunned? [When] you are in a position where you’re not comfortable advocating and fighting for yourself. So, let’s change that narrative, let’s change it from the moment the menstrual cycle hits or if not before.”

You describe Good Times as ‘edgy comedy. How do you make sure you don’t push the boundaries too much? You want to keep everyone engaged but you don’t want to offend to the point where it’s a complete turnoff.

“It’s interesting. As an artist and as a writer there’s no way I can take everyone into an account. This is the first time I’ve written for Netflix and your audience goes beyond the United States as a global show. I remember having conversations about this being a global success. What may offend the United States might not offend Africa. What may offend the United States might not offend Asia or Australia or wherever. You would drive yourself crazy if you were asking yourself, ‘How do I write [and] ask the right question, so it doesn’t offend anyone?’ Or ‘[How do] I get the right answer?’ When you operate from that place, you just will step away and lose your art. The art form comes first. The creative funny stories, the powerful social commentary, those have to come first and then from there it’s just a process of getting notes from Netflix, Sony and the producers on the show, but I stay true to what I love as an artist.”

“At that point, you send it out to the world and hope and pray it resonates with others because it’s gone through the process of notes. You just trust and believe. The great thing about this show and how the press has just come into being consciously aware of the show. [is] we’ve been done for over a year now. It’s a show I’ve already believed in and loved and tweaked and rewritten and reanimated so many different pieces to the point where I stand behind fully ten episodes of Good Times: The Reimagination. To hear feedback now that’s great, but there’s not one ounce, not one second of that show I can’t engage in conversation with and explain the perspective and the point of view. I don’t think I would be performing my art if I approached it from thinking about what the world thinks.”

Were those notes from Netflix overwhelmingly positive?

“The great thing about Netflix, having worked in this business for 10 years, is it’s really an artist place. It was a great journey to be able to create in a space that as long as you were telling a clear and concise story and weren’t being offensive for the sake of trying to just be offensive and there was a point to it, they were completely supportive. Even with Episode 103, that’s something men and women alike have internal shame about and don’t even realize. There were people in the process that were like, ‘Do we really want to do a period episode?’ And Netflix was like, ‘Yeah, if that’s what she wants to do.’ I am eternally grateful for Jermaine Turner being an amazing Executive at Netflix that was open to the concept and idea of us being artists and telling really fun stories that had great social commentary.”

During the marketing process was there any fearfulness of the overseas market not understanding Black people are not a monolith and Good Times wasn’t a representation of Black people and Black life as a whole? Or does it not matter what people think?

“I wouldn’t say it doesn’t matter what people think, they either get it or they don’t. You just hope they get it. I can’t say it does not matter, it does matter but at that point the art is done, and we can engage in conversation about it whether you got it or you didn’t. For instance, there’s been a lot of backlash about Dalvin being a drug dealer. First and foremost, the show was sold a year and a half prior to me getting on and these are the characters that were in place when Sony asked me to come on and work on the show.”

“There was already a baby drug dealer, but it was just, ‘Oh this is funny’ and I was like, ‘We can’t just have this is funny.’ For me, I had to see if there was a place I can find that made sense to me and spoke to the heart of babies and mothers. The biggest issue for me as a mom of three black boys is I’m not sure when they stop being cute babies to you and become dangerous to you in society. That is one of the biggest fears of my life, but I’ll tell you this, they never stop being my babies. So, in that space, I say one of the most horrific times of our life was watching George Floyd passed away on television and one of the very specific and heartbreaking moments is hearing him call out ‘Mama.’ The truth of the matter is whether you’re 50 55 65 45 15 or 5, they never stop being our babies. I really wanted to play with that idea. When you think in the realm of gangsters, it’s glorified to be in the mob, it’s glorified to be on Narcos, it’s glorified to be one of the gangsters of Wall Street, the white-collar crimes. But suddenly when it becomes our men it becomes problematic and they’re the worst criminals in the world and the worst threats in society.”

“Who better than this baby to push him to limits to do ‘bad things’ but yet still be the baby. We see him playing the role we’ve seen our cousins, our brothers, our uncles, our neighbors be in the sense that in this family nucleus the father says, ‘No, enough is enough. If he doesn’t live by my rules, he can’t live under my roof.’ The brothers and sisters are going, ‘What are you doing? Will you just act right?’ And the mother keeps saying, ‘But that’s my baby.’ It never stops being a Black woman’s baby. I wish society could get that. I really wish our judicial system could get that. We’ve seen it time and time again, with a White criminal they say, ‘He’s having a bad day’ but with a Black criminal suddenly, ‘Everybody watch out, he’s a threat.'”

“I couldn’t have put this drug dealer concept on Junior because that is what society would have expected and that just would have been no fun there. It would have been no limits to push. There nothing to do with that but with this baby I can explore him being a conscious drug dealer that only sells to Whites. Who only sells Oxycodone and Cocaine but also loves his mother [and] is actually more mature than everybody else, has more foresight than everybody else, is more gangster than everybody else, and has connections. [If] there’s somebody’s after his mother, he’s going to protect his mother. He does a lot of things but it’s from the perspective of a baby which is why I constantly showed you images of him getting his diaper changed, him falling asleep with the pacifier to really play with that whole concept. Even when he’s loading up the guns when they go to go save the family from Elon Musk, he says, ‘I’m getting too old for this’ and then puts this pacifier in his mouth just to play with that whole concept. I think we did it really well. I do wish there was more framing around the show, so people just weren’t shown that image before that image was explained to them but that’s where we are. My hope is that people will watch and really understand the social commentary around it.”

Let’s talk about the transformation of Junior. Junior’s storyline deals with the educational and healthcare systems overmedication children. He has to decide between being medicated, which could negatively affect his art or being an artist. This subject is never taught or shown with a Black lens. Junior’s storyline also sees him wanting to stop violence to becoming a gang member.

“I think what happens in our society, school systems fail our black boys. So, they are immediately lumped in a position of being told they’re not smart as opposed to this is an artist and maybe this child learns a different way. With that being said, no one ever steps around to say, ‘Hey let’s assist with this. Let’s make sure you’re good.’ So, parents are left with a decision. My personal experience with my son is, ‘If I take this medicine what if I never get to be who I’m truly meant to be? What if this changes me because what if my gift was in the way that I thought and now this makes me think like everybody else and then I don’t ever reach my full potential?’ That was a deep conversation to have with an eight-year-old child. I wanted to put some of that in Junior’s perspective, as well give an inside out to let’s talk in society about what’s going on inside the brain. When you put it in the form of characters of focus and creativity, is it bad? When it’s black and white, it’s dumb or smart then that’s one thing. But when it’s an artist versus this standardized way of learning, it gives them more leeway to accept the kids’ talents and gifts which was a really interesting concept and fun to explore.”

“By the time we get to Junior actually joining the gang, it’s very interesting to me because as much as that story is about Junior it’s also about Beverly. It’s also about feeling as mothers and women, we want to believe we can do everything but as soon as I go over here and I start working and I got good times going, the kids are falling apart. ‘Oh my gosh, let me go run over here and grab the kids because things aren’t going the way they should be going in their grades or things are slipping or this one’s hanging out with the wrong crowd. Oh no, work’s falling apart.’ This is the juggle [and] just that moment alone when she says, ‘Why is your brother hanging out with those boys?’ I think he’s in a gang. ‘He is in a gang.’ That is such a moment I identified with.”

“I saw my mother take jobs that were closer to her home that possibly paid less because she made that sacrifice because she said, ‘I didn’t want to come home at 8 o’clock at night. I wanted to be present with you guys because I didn’t want to find out after the fact. I needed to see you right after school and I needed to make sure you guys were on top of things.’ That transformation in my opinion speaks more to the struggle of being a mom. Can we balance it all because as soon as we go one way, it feels like the other is hanging?”

Is the goal for Good Times to raise questions or to answer them?

“Definitely raise questions. I’m so proud that even when it seems like, ‘Oh, it’s chaotic’ and ‘Oh, it’s so negative;’ they’re conversations happening today that weren’t happening three weeks ago. I’m so grateful for that. This show should explore the concept that we are not a monolith and we’re not a monolith. It shows because people are having extremely different reactions to this series. Some people are triggered by certain things, some people are laughing at things and had similar experiences. When the original series aired versus today, we’ve had our first Black president, we currently have our first Black sitting Vice President who’s also a female. That’s incredible and we continue to grow. At the same time, we’re fighting DEI being dropped every day. I’m looking ahead [and wondering], ‘What will college look like for my 12-year-old? What will that process be like when I’m helping him apply for colleges? These are the conversations around society. When we’re talking about the commodity of violence between Black boys and Black girls, let’s have that conversation. I don’t want to answer questions for you, I want to stimulate the conversation. I want you to walk away going, ‘Wow, I never saw it that way. What do you think?’ And start thinking about the things in your life and the way you move. If one little boy watches Episode 106 ‘The Red Treaty’ and decides they’re not going to make money off of him, I truly believe in my heart of hearts I’ve done my job properly.”

What was the inspiration behind the animation style?

“There’s a French animation called Last Cars and my Supervising Director Tyree Dillihay came in with that idea. We looked at it, we watched it, we researched it, and wanted to do our own twist on it. That was amazing because it was able to create a texture and a feeling. There was a go between from the original series and this reimagination that had color and warmth and texture I felt carried over from the original series, which was extremely important to me and also just the design of the characters. An artist out of Brazil, as we talk about this being a global show, Wander, he designed the characters for us. Even that was amazing because it’s so interesting to see this is coming from Brazil [where] Brazil doesn’t have necessarily the American descendants of slavery concepts in the way we see ourselves and the judgment that society puts on Americans. Suddenly I’m like, ‘No we have to fix this. The visuals, the proportions of the body it has to be this way.’ It was a great process to work through but also see how the world sees everything differently and possibly, you can laugh at something in Brazil that you can’t laugh at in America. You can’t please everybody; you just do your best art and you put it out there for the world to see.”

Everyone’s story deserves to be told. Even if people cannot relate to it, what do you hope that they can get from Good Times?

“It’s adult animation before it’s personalized. In the same way people can watch Bobs Burgers, American Dad, Family Guy, South Park and The Simpsons, it’s just an animated show they can enjoy. If it goes beyond that for you, [if] you identify and personalize with something that’s even better. I hope in the world of adult animation we can compete with other adult animation shows. Honestly, you know you’ve won when teenage boys are sneaking to watch it. ‘Can I watch this show? This is show I’m not supposed to be watching because it’s adult animation.’ My kids will just let adult animation play while they’re playing video games because they’re listening for the jokes, or they’re used to the rhythms. What a great thing, right? They’ve identified with a show they can just laugh at. They aren’t necessarily saying, ‘That Peter looks me’ or ‘Chris looks like me’ or ‘I do crazy things this student does.’ No, they’re saying, ‘This is a cool show, and it makes me laugh and I enjoy it.’ I think is the first goal of adult animation and beyond that it’s just wins.

What was it like working with Stephen Curry, Lear, and Seth MacFarlane? What was their involvement with Good Times? Did they offer any input?

“Steph Curry, Seth McFarland and Norman Lear were involved in the original sale of the project. They were in the room; they sold the show and from there these shows are run through their pods. When I say, ‘Their pods,’ I mean their companies. Their companies are staffed up with execs and from that point on I work with Steph Curry’s exec’s Eric Payton and Seth McFarland’s exec’s Erica Huggins. Norman Leer and his exec Brent Miller were both very hands-on, obviously, because this is Norman’s baby. As far as them being executive producers, they both have careers going and just doing other things. They were so busy [and] so slammed, so they weren’t involved at all in the in the day-to-day process, but their companies were involved.”

Let’s talk about the cast. Who are some of the guest stars?

“Elon Musk was voiced by Michael McDonald who played Stewie on Mad TV. Tisha Campbell’s in it. Lil Meech from BMF was Quan from 107 ‘#BlackLoveDay. The comedian Godfrey did Donald Trump and Steve Harvey for me. Affion Crockett was Maya Angelou in the Elon Musk episode. There were so many more [including] Breezy from All American, she played D Money, Chris Lofton was Durag, Lil Rel Howery was Scoochie, Gabrielle Dennis was Smooché. [There were] so many great people, Wanda Sykes, Phil Lamar was the teacher who sent a grade to the nurse’s office for her woman parts disrupting the class, Gary Anthony Williams was the officer on the horse.”

“Jimmy Walker was the friend in the poolhall as well as the other taxicab driver that hangs out with Reggie. Bernette Stannis was Peaches which was amazing. We really had a star-studded guest cast that came out to play. We even had some SNL people. Heidi Garner played a few of our women that came to buy drugs and Britany who came by to see by Junior’s artwork. We even had Ego Nwodim from SNL who voiced Adetutu and she was in the museum scenes. Everyone came out to play and had such a great time. I’m forever grateful for that because on top of that our main cast is just amazing.”

There’s a lot of profanity in Good Times but the N-word is censored. What is the reason behind that word being censored and not the profanity?

“That was a choice made after I had completed the show and I believe that was a Netflix choice. I believe that was in the vein of still keeping alive Norman Lear and this is still the family show. It’s interesting to me because I actually didn’t write any of the n-words. Maybe a couple of our writers maybe wrote two but those were actually ad-lips from the actors. It just came in as a natural feel for them when they were saying the lines and so it was just, ‘Okay, well that’s there.’ I think they were on the fence about it, thinking about the family nucleus and ultimately decided to censor it.”

Good Times is now streaming on Netflix.

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