Lincoln Heights: An Underrated Gem that helped pave the way for black family dramas.
Have to start this off with the classic theme song:
Lincoln Heights, created by Seth Freeman was a ABC Family original drama and the first legitimate one on the network at that. It had style, substance, intelligence, a bit of wholesome humor and plenty of juicy drama, but, it also had the first family drama series set on a black family since HBO’s Soul Food went off the air in 2004.
The show featured the Sutton family headed by devoted, tough and loving father and police officer Eddie Sutton and his beautiful, intelligent and the glue that held the family together Jennifer “Jen” Sutton, first a nurse at a hospital then early on joined as head nurse at Lincoln Height’s free medical clinic. Their three children were as crucial to the series as they were: First born Cassandra “Cassie” Sutton, the free spirited artist, Lizzie Sutton, the sharp witted outspoken tomboy then later sharp witted outspoken, church involved, conscious second daughter and youngest child Taylor “Tay” Sutton, the musically talented and sympathetic only son. There’s also Officer Kevin Lund, Eddie’s best friend and police partner from seasons 1–3 and Charles Antoni, Cassie’s good looking, troubled white boyfriend whose relationship with Cassie becomes one of the core aspects of the series.
The show also boasted alot of recurring characters like Sage Lund, Kevin’s diva like daughter and Cassie’s frenemy, Jake, the shop keeper and the Suttons’ neighbor, Mama Taylor and Dana Taylor, Eddie’s surrogate mother and childhood girlfriend whom practically adopted him after his mother was killed, Grandpa Spencer Sutton, Eddie’s alcoholic but smooth and charming father, Johnny Nightengale, Lizzie’s sweet natured and geeky boyfriend who passes away by the end of the third season. And then there’s Nate Ray, the former Iraq solider played by the one and only Chadwick Boseman:
Most would never even realize that the guy who played James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson and The Black Panther started off as Eddie and ex girlfriend Dana’s illegitimate son Nate Ray who Eddie didn’t know was his child until the end of year 3. After everyone adjusted Nate Ray became the oldest son and brother to the Suttons and fit right in with the family, he also followed in his old man’s footsteps and became a cop. Nate Ray was a solider in Iraq who reenlisted and developed PTSD after returning home due to injury. Introducing Chadwick Boseman to the world is reason alone to acknowledge how important this show was and is.
But why was it most important? It was the very first attempt to do a family drama centered on a black family who, yes, were black and had certain issues that a typical family of color would go through but most of the time they were just a family that happened to had a darker shade. This came three years after the first real black family drama Soul Food which was based on the classic 1997 movie and it picked up right where they left off. The Suttons faced many contemporary topics such as gangs, human trafficking, racism, bullying, teenage sex, police brutality, crime, building a community from a violent neighborhood etc. But then there’s Cassie and Charles:
The story of Cassie and Charles is of teenage romance legend. They were an interracial couple that put the spotlight on all the ups and downs couples like them go through yet they come out stronger together. They went through getting together, breaking up, then getting back together then breaking up again to getting engaged like the typical teens go through on these shows, but, it’s worth the ride for the great chemistry the two actors had.
Lincoln Heights was still in its prime went it was unfortunately cancelled by ABC Family in 2009. The characters and stories were rich enough to continue for ten more seasons as far as I’m concerned. The characters all had wonderful development over the short years like Eddie going from being naively optimistic about moving his family to the neighborhood and a bit more intolerant of Cassie’s relationship with Charles to being more realistic about Lincoln Heights and embracing Charles and Cassie’s relationship, he even embraces Charles as an extended member of the family including protecting him as he did with his own children. Jen went from being the least happy about living in the neighborhood to being the most involved whether it was working at the clinic or being captain of the neighborhood watch to being founder of the Lincoln Height Mother’s Group, a support group with all the mothers who have lost children to violence in the neighborhood. Cassie started off a introverted, moody, typically stoic teenager to being more free spirited, outspoken and more active in the community with her art including painting the mural in what became the peace park. Lizzie was a sarcastic basketball playing tomboy who became a bit more feminine yet remained just as sassy and strong willed. She also became an active church member and blossomed into such a beautiful young girl that she had boy after boy chasing her. Tay had the farthest to go as a character and went from a preppy kid who played the clarinet to a more hip, hip hop singer and dancer who had a few girls after him and had to adjust to not being the only son anymore but became close with Nate Ray after a while. Charles went from a loner kid who ran away from everything troubling in his life to becoming an honorary Sutton and became the man Cassie deserved.
If you’ve never heard or seen this great series then I highly suggest you do immediately. Season 1 is on DVD and there are clips and even a few full episodes on Youtube for now. It is a definite must watch for anyone who just enjoys a well made family drama that had heart, soul and substance to its storytelling.