Fans are currently loving the third season of Family Reunion on Netflix. Anthony Alabi, who plays Moz McKellan, knows why fans can’t get enough of the McKellan family.
I was able to speak with Alabi about the new season and what it’s like to be following in the footsteps of the classic Black sitcoms of the ’90s. We also talk about the importance of having Black writers writing Black characters and what storyline from this season made him emotional.
Family Reunion is now streaming on Netflix.
Monique Jones: We’re in Season 3 of Family Reunion. What can fans expect from this upcoming season?
Anthony Alabi: Well, I think in the first two parts, you were kind of getting to know us, the family. I think we were all getting to know each other, the production, the way everything was. I think with the new episodes coming out, you can really see how we’ve all kind of come together and gelled together. It’s a bit more of a well-oiled machine. That’s first and foremost.
The second thing is the topics that we explore a little more internal. They’re a little more about the interpersonal relationships in the family, [like] Jade [Talia Jackson] dealing with the fact that she doesn’t need to become whoever she dates like a girlfriend chameleon, she can kind of be her own person and if they don’t sit with that, that’s not the person for her. Or the finances that Moz and Cocoa [Tia Mowry-Hardrict] are having to work through and be better parents now because they can’t just throw money at certain problems. Or the relationship between Grandpa [Richard Roundtree] and the M’Dear [Loretta Devine].
So all of those things are really explored in this season, along with the typical stuff with the kids and outside factors and just being in Georgia. So I think the fans are gonna get a lot of exciting new characters, new people. We have a lot of great guest stars, uh, with this new set of episodes. So it’s going to be really fun.
You came from the NFL to acting; what’s it been like making that switch? For this specific show, what’s it like working with such heavy hitters as Tia Mowry-Hardrict, Richard Roundtree and Loretta Devine?
Well, it’s been a while now since I’ve made that switch, so now it’s almost kind of looking at this from memory, but it was tough, you know, just because you are learning something new, you’re learning to do a new kind of profession. But I did find the transition easier once I kind of found the parallels between the two. They’re both entertainment, you’re dealing with high-powered people, high profile people. And [the NFL] a performance-based industry, which is the exact same thing that the acting industry is. So I think when, once I kind of broke it down and saw the similarity with two career paths, it made it much easier to transition. And now I think I credit the NFL with helping me to get to the point where I am now because it made this job not such a wide-eyed kind of big deal. I was able to kind of focus on the work and not get so wrapped up in kind of the aesthetic of everything else.
To answer your second question, it’s been amazing, honestly. I tell people this all the time it’s like Christmas morning, every time I get to go to work, just because you get to work and you get to know these people who are titans of their industry, who have a reputation and have a body of work that is admirable, that you look at your, and you’re just in awe of and to be able to say that’s my wife, that’s my mother, that’s my father on the show and have these personal relationships with them. I mean, I talked to Tia probably several times throughout the week, every week. It’s great and it’s fantastic to have them within arm’s length to be able to reach out to for advice or to get some kind of counsel on something or just bounce ideas off of. So it’s been an amazing kind of ride, and an amazing situation to be a part of.
You’re a big star yourself with work on a lot of different shows, including black-ish, which is another form of the classic sitcom. Between the two series, how do you think these series speak to their different audiences? How do you think each of these shows says something different to Black families?
In all honesty, you have two, two black sitcoms and, you know, clearly there’s differences in production–black-ish is a single cam and we’re multicam. But I think the overall thing, is that when it comes to black people and black culture, it’s not one size fits all. And I think that’s the most important thing–that people can look at Family Reunion and they can look at black-ish and they can say these are two completely different shows. They’re about families, but the opinions, the points of view, the choices that the characters make, those are all different. And they’re not something that everyone would expect.
I know back in the day, earlier in the nineties, those sitcoms were great, but a lot of them weren’t fully written by Black writers. So when you ended up with is this version of what, of how white people saw Black people in modern-day culture. And with us, you have an all-Black writers room, and now you have Black people writing for Black people about Black people. And I think that’s. The most important thing is it showing that, “Yeah, I’m Black, but I have this opinion. Yeah, I’m black, but I have this point of view” or “I want it to this particular occupation” or “I do this particular thing.” And I think that’s the most important thing for kids to see is that you can do whatever you want. You’re not pigeonholed because of your skin color. And I think that’s the most important takeaway you get from watching both shows. They’re both entertaining. They both can make you laugh. Ours is better, obviously [laughs], but I think I’ve picked the most important thing to take away is the individuality and uniqueness of the people that are on these shows.
I hope I’m paraphrasing this right, but what you said reminds me of something I saw in a video about Family Matters, where the cast talked about advocating for their characters and telling the writers’ room, which wasn’t all-Black, when their character would or wouldn’t do something because they were Black characters. Since Family Reunion does have an all-Black writer’s room, that specificity of culture resonates from the writers to the cast, I would assume.
Yeah. It goes back to what I was saying. I think that because you have these writers that look like the characters they’re writing for, there are little intricacies and little unspoken norms within the Black community that are things that you don’t normally see on TV or they’re lost because white people just don’t know that, you know what I mean? Or they just don’t understand it or they will show it, but they’ll show a kind of filtered view of it to where, you know, it was just like, “Oh yeah, we kind of recognize it.” Because we’ve never seen it before we appreciate it, but now when people watch the Family Reunion, they go, “Oh my God, that’s just like my grandmother,” or “Oh man, I have a little brother, he’s just like that or. “[I have] an auntie that’s the exact same way.”
I think what we do better than anyone else is that we bring out those corners of black culture, those little historical things that people might’ve forgotten about, or that have gone by the wayside and the corners of our culture that don’t get a lot of daylight. When people see it, they recognize that like, “Oh my gosh, like I forgot about that,” or “That’s right, that’s what we do.” And I think those are the moments, when we stir those emotions in people, that’s what makes this show successful.
To piggyback off of this conversation, despite the problems with old sitcoms, they’re still classics and Family Reunion is following in the footsteps of the classic sitcom, even including veteran sitcom actors like Thelma Hopkins and Mark Curry. What is it like to be on a show that does participate in the legacy of the classic sitcom?
I think when you find a formula that works, you go with it, right? I think back in the nineties, you had all these Black sitcoms that were just fantastic–TGIF and all that. I just think that they worked. So it’s smart to look back on those positives of it, the things that worked and then tailor and shape it to today and to the particular writing style that you have. And I think that’s what Meg DeLoatch did. I think she saw what was special. She saw the magic. So she brought the magic and then added her all of her fairy dust to it. And I think that’s what makes it such a recognizable show [and] a breath of fresh air for people because we haven’t had it so long. And it’s been so long since we’ve seen something so wholesome, so entertaining, so informative and so educational for people of color. And I think that’s something that’s clearly one of the main factors that helps the show be successful.
I think is that that formula, the magic of taking TGIF and Black sitcoms back in the nineties, bringing it here and modernizing it and not shying away from those topics that other shows just don’t want to touch or are afraid to touch or just are ignoring completely because they just don’t want to deal with it, you know what I mean? I think we lean into that. We leaned into race relations with the police. We leaned into prejudice [regarding] any kind of stereotyping that goes on and we either make fun of it by showing it or we talk about it and we can talk through it. Then, that’s kind of like a cheat sheet for parents where they can watch the show and [think], “Oh, that’s how I can talk to my kid about death” or “That’s how I can talk to my kid about the police.” Maybe that’ll start a conversation in the family. I think across this country when you start getting people talking more, starting to relate more, to understand more than you just end up with a better community. And I think it uplifts everybody, which is what you want to do.
You mentioning the success of the series as a wholesome sitcom ties into my next question. We haven’t had a classic sitcom on television in a long time and it dawned on me that Netflix has been filling the gap for people want to see this type of content that the regular cable networks aren’t putting out. Netflix has also brought back a lot of the Black classic sitcoms we’ve grown up with. What do you feel about Netflix being a gap filler for people who want to see this kind of diversity and representation in their content?
I think it makes absolute sense. I mean, just from a business standpoint, you find what the gap is in the industry. You find the blind spots, you find the questions and you come up with the answers or ways to fill those gaps. And I think they saw a huge kind of blind spot in the entertainment industry with everybody going toward this like realism–darker, grittier shows that people enjoy. Even comedies were a little more edgier. And so what you ended up with is you started having this thing where you’re splitting families, where the parents and adults have to either suffer through watching something for kids, and then wait until the kids go to bed to watch Ozark or to watch another show on TV or something darker.
I think when you have that, it’s fine, but you’re not really bringing families together. And I think, I think Netflix saw that, “One–we don’t have any sitcoms, you know, classic sitcoms aren’t around anymore and two, we don’t have any more Black sitcoms.” I think they saw that gap and they reached out they and they started producing and I think it’s really paid off big for the company. I think it’s paid off in a big way for them. And I think they’re continuing to make that kind of content because Black voices need to be heard. Black people need to be seen. I think the more that you do that, the more you empower our people and you help to show everyday life, you get to reflect what America is, and that’s a diverse and rich culture of people.
My last question is that with this upcoming season, was there a storyline that affected you the most out of the season?
I mean, in all honesty, every time we have a theme or something like that, it always kind of affects me because of me being who I am. I’m naturally sensitive and very open to any of those topics that I can relate to. I put myself in whatever shoes I need to to get [in character]. But one of the biggest ones [involved] M’Dear. Cocoa and Moz lost [their] money, right? So we’ve been in financial trouble and the car broke down. And it was interesting to explore through the eyes of Mose, how to deal with fixing this luxury vehicle that we didn’t have the money to fix and trying to get through it on my own, trying to figure it out on my own and just seeing how much M’Dear, even with all of her hardness and with all of her tough love, how much of a softy she is when it comes to Mose and how much she wants to protect him from any kind of hurt or any kind of pain. And it just reminds me a lot of my mom who passed away in 2001. And so it really, that was an emotional episode for me, just because I was able to, I felt, I felt like I had my mom on set. I felt that motherly protection. That was an episode that really resonated with me.
That’s very heartfelt. First of all. I’m sorry for your loss.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
That’s probably the best endorsement the show could have, I think.
Right? I mean, there’s been more than one occasion that one of us has cried on set. And while we’re all emotional. the writers are high-fiving [thinking] “We did it!” [laughs] That’s the kind of fun we have.