As ‘Bob Hearts Abishola’ Ends, Cocreator Calls Out ‘Performative’ TV Trend to Create Then Abandon Diverse Shows

Note: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of “Bob Hearts” Abishola.”

As “Bob Hearts Abishola” comes to an end, the CBS comedy is destined to be remembered for several things, from its solid joke writing to the romance at the center of the show. But one of its greatest legacies will be its dedication to representation and how it brought “more stories of different kinds to traditional networks,” executive producer Matt Ross told TheWrap.

“The only time you ever saw African characters up until this point was drug mules or illegal immigrants or victims of assault or boy soldiers… Now you’re seeing a regular Nigerian family living their regular lives, doing regular things,” series cocreator, executive producer and star Gina Yashere told TheWrap. “I feel like that’s the legacy that this show leaves. Hopefully, other networks will pick up on that and be more open for stories from other perspectives.”

Yashere’s comedy series was always about more than just the romance between Bob (Billy Gardell) and Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku). “It’s a love story between Nigerian immigrants in America and all the old white people that watch CBS. These people fell in love with these Nigerian characters they met, and 99% of them will never meet another Nigerian,” Yashere said. “Comedy brings people together and builds bridges between cultures, between people.”

After Season 4 of the series wrapped, the team learned that Season 5 would be the show’s last. Yashere was grateful for the opportunity to “give the fans closure by having a really nice, sweet, fun episode,” but the network’s decision still hurt. That doesn’t mean the cancellation of a diverse series by a major broadcaster surprised her.

“It always happens that way. Some big event galvanizes all these networks and causes people to go, ‘Oh, no, equality. We need to be less racist.’ And then they do this big show of performative bookings and employment of people. Then, when the zeitgeist dies down, they start quietly letting go of all these big ideas that they originally were singing about to the rooftops. It’s that last in, first out thing,” Yashere said.

As frustrating and disconcerting as this push and pull may feel, Yashere hopes “Bob Hearts Abishola” made a positive difference. “At least they can’t walk it all back. At least some of us get through the cracks, and hopefully we can pull others through. That’s my plan,” Yashere said, noting that she credits Chuck Lorre and Eddie Gorodetsky for discovering her. Now she hopes to do the same for other creators and actors.

“We need more people like us in the higher echelons of TV to make sure that the stories are told in a way that’s authentic,” Yashere said. “Can we watch a show about Black people that doesn’t always have to include police brutality or slavery? … That’s why we need more diverse storytellers, so that we can cover the gamut of people’s experiences.”

Bob Hearts Abishola
Folake Olowofoyeku, Avie Porto, Christine Ebersole and Maribeth Monroe in “Bob Hearts Abishola” (Michael Yarish/2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

Throughout the run of “Bob Hearts Abishola,” the writing team took care to find comedy in the cultural misunderstandings between the aggressively American Bob and the Nigerian Abishola. Because of this, the series was always designed to be funny to audiences of all cultures.

“Indian people could watch the show, Vietnamese people could watch the show, and enjoy the cultural elements, enjoy the comedy without feeling a nasty feeling of that being laughed at the entire time,” Yashere said. “Sitcoms where you have Black characters tend to have that where you are laughing at the Black character, and you feel a horrible, oily feeling on your skin when you’re watching that. Whereas our show, everybody can watch it and feel proud to be involved in it.”

Yashere has another reason to be proud. Even though “Bob Hearts Abishola” may be ending sooner than she or her team would have liked, it’s ending in a way that’s emotionally true to this kind comedy.

The finale, titled “Find Your Bench,” has a lot of ground to cover. Set seven years after the previous episode, it reveals that Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku) has completed her John Hopkins residency and is now a pediatric doctor with her own practice. The episode followed as Abishola considered taking a well-earned vacation, and Bob (Billy Gardell) as he finally handed over the keys to his family’s compression socks company. As they met up with their friends and adjusted to their new lives, only one thing remained certain: the security they feel with one another. The series ended with Bob and Abishola revisiting one of the hallmarks of their relationship — a dead guy’s bench.

“It’s that notion of the more things change, the more they stay the same. These characters are not connected by circumstance. They’re connected by how they feel about each other,” Ross said. “As to whether or not the cancellation made us do the time jump, I don’t think so, honestly. We were just telling as many stories as we could until the bell rang.”

“We knew that Bob and Abishola were the beginning. They were also the end. We had to go full circle and show the burgeoning of that relationship and how it built and then and tie up at the end,” Yashere said. “We always knew that.”

All episodes of “Bob Hearts Abishola” are available to stream on Paramount+.

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