Good Times Returns to Apartment 17C in Animated Reboot That ‘Pushes Boundaries’

When you’re looking back 10 years later, you’ll be like, ‘They said that on Good Times? Oh my gosh.’ ”

By Stephan Lee

March 27, 2024

When Ranada Shepard (Young Love, Diary 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.’”

Good Times, coming to Netflix on April 12, is also 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 Jeffersons, Maude, Sanford 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, will drop the laugh track and deal with modern-day issues, retaining the feeling of the original Good Times. “It’s about a Black family that comes together, laughs together, and survives the system on the South Side of Chicago,” said Shepard. “What you’ll get from that is a lot of social commentary, a lot of pushing the boundaries, a lot of feel-good television, but also a lot of things that may be in the vein of The Simpsons and South Park and Family Guy. When you’re looking back 10 years later, you’ll be like, ‘They said that on Good Times?’ Oh my gosh.’ ”

Read on for more from Shepard on what you can expect when the Evans family returns to 17C on April 12.

Why is Good Times animated instead of live-action?

“We can play in this world a little bit more,” said Shepard, explaining that animation gave them more creative freedom. “There were cool points in the original series, in the sense that Florida [played by Esther Rolle] would always look to the heavens. She would talk to God about her family, she would talk to God about her problems, and we had an opportunity to actually go up to heaven and see what God thought about the request.” The family dynamic will still be grounded in reality, but animation offered an opportunity to explore more experimental territory, such as an appearance by an animated Elon Musk (voiced by MadTV’s Michael McDonald). “The other thing is, look, you don’t have the original cast, right? We can’t go back into the ’70s,” said Shepard. “So how cool is it that through animation you can re-create that apartment — 17C — and show that this family, three generations later, still lives in 17C?”

Character design was also especially important to Shepard, who worked closely with the animation team. “It was extremely important to me that the skin tones varied,” she said. “One family is just not one shade wiped clean. How do we show this? There were certain subtleties involved, [for example,] of the inside of the palms being lighter than the outside of the hands. That’s what it looks like in real life. Let’s actually play with this and humanize these characters as much as possible.”

Who are the voice actors in the Good Times cast?

“I have a dream voice cast,” said Shepard.
• J.B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Yvette Nicole Brown (Community) voice the roles of Reggie and Beverly Evans, the heads of the household
• Jay Pharoah (Saturday Night Live, The Blackening) plays their teenage artist son, Junior
• Marsai Martin (Black-ish, Little) plays their activist daughter, Grey
• Slink Johnson (Black Jesus) voices the part of their drug-dealing infant son, Dalvin
• Rashida “Sheedz” Olayiwola (Jury Duty), also a writer on the show, voices the role of Beverly’s enterprising best friend, Lashes by Lisa

How was Norman Lear involved in Good Times?

“Norman was completely supportive of me as a showrunner, a creative, a writer, even as a visionary, to take a piece of material that he had produced prior in his career and watch as I took it to another level and pushed the boundaries,” Shepard said. “He showed up for our meetings, our Zooms, our table reads, and made an impact on how we were able to produce this series.” And of course, Lear also lent his voice to the new series. “It was a really special, sweet moment, to have him in the booth,” Shepard reflected. “He was like, ‘I’m not going to read these words.’ I can imagine [the text] must have been so small, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, just tell me the lines, and I’ll say them back.’ ”
“Rest in peace, Norman Lear,” she said.

What modern issues will be explored in Good Times?

Like the original series, the new Good Times grapples with important topics through the perspective of a Black family living in Chicago. “Each episode actually has a theme to it that can apply to everyone,” said Shepard. Expect to see frank and funny conversations about elections, first periods, poverty, women’s empowerment, coded bias, and technology. As Shepard said, the show is “a universal conversation that we’re able to have with this beautiful family [who] come into your homes. And while we’re having it, we make you laugh and we make you smile.”

When is the Good Times release date?

The show will premiere April 12 on Netflix. “It’s your modern-day family scratching and surviving, trying to figure out how to make it,” Shepard said. “It’s about family coming together, laughing together, dancing together, picking on each other, driving each other crazy, all while surviving.”