By: Taiia Smart Young
In 1993, Yvette Lee Bowser brought "Living Single," the groundbreaking sitcom that inspired "Friends" and a legion of other half-hour comedies, to TV. The show's iconic theme song reminded viewers that "whenever life gets tough, you gotta fight with your homegirls standing to my left and right."
Back then, the ambitious, fun-loving, and "tight like glue" group of women (and men) who were the focus of "Living Single" lived in a Brooklyn brownstone.
Fast forward to 2021, and Bowser is at the helm of the new Starz half-hour comedy "Run the World," acting as executive producer and showrunner alongside series creator Leigh Davenport ("The Perfect Find," "Boomerang"), who also serves as a co-EP.
The fun, vibrant new series continues to bring Bowser's signature brand of "enviable female friendship," as she calls it, to the masses.
Yvette Lee Bowser says 'sisterhood' is her brand, and female friendships are what 'Run the World' is all about
In "Run the World," which is part of Starz's #TakeTheLead initiative (a commitment to amplifying the voices of women and underrepresented audiences), four thirty-something Black women are intent upon world domination in covet-worthy fashions, with Harlem as their backdrop. The show stars Amber Stevens West (Whitney), Andrea Bordeaux (Ella), Bresha Webb (Renee), and Corbin Reid (Sondi) as four friends with a lifelong bond. Or, as Renee puts it in the trailer, "We've known each other longer than we've not known each other."
For Bowser, who's been making TV since 1987, a show focusing on female bonds is perfectly in line with the stories she's interested in telling. The longtime creator says sisterhood is central to her existence.
"Some of my most important and life-saving relationships are with my female friends and relatives. I enjoy paying homage to how that inner connectivity gives us life," she told Insider during a recent virtual press junket for the new series. "We're constantly redefining ourselves, but to be able to do that with women who pick you up? It's like no other feeling."
The 'Living Single' and 'Run the World' similarities are clear — a 'Living Single' star even appears on the new show
And while Bowser and Davenport, who are both Black women, use comedy to disarm audiences and show them "our humanity," Bowser doesn't take her storytelling legacy lightly. To her, it's a tremendous responsibility that she takes "very seriously."
Bowser took it so seriously that she tapped "Living Single" alum Erika Alexander to join "Run the World" as a new character, Barb.
The conversation with Alexander started as a one-off opportunity to appear in the pilot, according to Bowser. But after reminiscing about their "Living Single" days, it soon morphed into an opportunity for Alexander's Barb to play with this new, modern iteration of sisterhood and offer a multigenerational presence to the enterprising friends on a recurring basis.
Two of the leads of 'Run the World' say they really relate to their characters
While the Starz comedy's vibe is "us vs. everybody," that doesn't mean the beautifully flawed women at its center don't have issues with themselves and with each other.
Sondi, the doctoral student, is sleeping with her advisor. Ella's writing career needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Renee's five-year-old marriage is headed for divorce, and Whitney is second-guessing her upcoming wedding to her long-time boyfriend.
Whitney is that girlfriend who colors inside of the lines. She plays by the rules because she believes bad things happen when she gives herself freedom. On the surface, West's Whitney has a picture-perfect life. Although she's weeks away from her lavish wedding, Whitney is longing for some juicy experiences.
West told Insider that the show feels real and "looks a lot like my real life," especially Whitney's ride on the struggle bus.
"I spent a lot of my early twenties feeling like I needed to please everybody," said West. "I was concerned with the optics, following the rules and making sure that I didn't let anybody down."
While that approach can keep women like West and Whitney focused on their goals, there's a downside. "You might not look inward enough. You might miss out on how you're truly feeling in the moment," West added. "That's where Whitney is in life. On paper, she has everything, but she is still not sure [of herself]."
West isn't the only "Run the World" star who can really relate to their character.
Like Whitney, Renee also plays by the rules—as long as she's the one writing the commandments. Webb, who plays Renee, admits to being the Renee of her own crew in real life. "It's not a stretch for me. Renee is very unapologetic in the way she lives her life and gives advice to others," the Baltimore native told Insider. "I feel like all women have those friends that call them out and have strong personalities."
And viewers can count on Renee to be herself in some of the season's most memorable moments, like in the bodega when a "colonizer" tries to dominate her space, or in the club when a bouncer rejects her entry into Souljah Boy's VIP because she and Ella are older than the women behind the velvet rope.
Webb is hopeful that Black women see themselves in 'Run the World' characters the way she saw herself in shows like 'Girlfriends'
Webb hopes Black women see themselves in Renee, Whitney, Sondi, and Ella, and she fondly remembers seeing glimpses of herself in certain shows. "I grew up watching 'Living Single' and wanting to live in New York or looking at 'Girlfriends' and saying, 'Oh, my God. I'm goofy and awkward, like Joan.' And I also related to 'Sex and the City' and saying, 'I'm Carrie Bradshaw.'"
Webb, who recalled how she and her friends would hop on the famous Chinatown bus from B-more to the Big Apple and "get dressed up in a Burger King bathroom and twirl around and have brunch" in order to have her own big-city moments like the women from their favorite shows, told Insider she'd get downright emotional if a "Run the World" fan told her they saw themselves in her character.
"If a girl came up to me and said, 'I'm so much like Renee.' I would cry on her face. 'Cause that's the good stuff," she said.
But most of all, Webb loves how "Run the World" shows the nuances and complexities of Black women's friendships: "It's juicy. It's sexy. It's fun. And it's a mess."
"Run the World" debuts Sunday, May 16 at 8:30 p.m. EST on Starz.