Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe started delivering some of the most ambitious crossovers in Hollywood history, UPN’s Moesha and The Parkers had already laid the groundwork for one of the small screen’s most interesting assortments of interconnected television series that, depending on how you look at things, might have featured a superpowered origin story.
More than being a simple Moesha spin-off, The Parkers gave both Mo’Nique and Countess Vaughn top billing in a mother-daughter series. The team of Nikki and Kim Parker attended community college in California and got into five seasons’ worth of mishaps and shenanigans, all stemming from the duo’s unique brand of late-‘90s extra-ness. For the most part, The Parkers was a comedy simply trying to squeeze a few laughs out of you with its many plots about Nikki scheming to capture and bed professor Stanley Oglevee (Dorien Wilson), the Parkers’ professor who wants nothing to do with the over-enthusiastic woman.
But on more than a few occasions, The Parkers turned the dial so far up with Nikki’s ridiculousness that the show veered into almost comic book levels of absurdity—with twists and turns suggesting there was perhaps more to Nikki than she originally let on.
One of The Parkers’ very first episodes followed Nikki and Kim as they took on call center jobs working for a psychic phone service designed to prey on the emotionally vulnerable. Though Nikki has her apprehensions about the entire ordeal from the very start because she doesn’t put any faith in psychics, she displays an uncanny knack for predicting things when she offhandedly guesses what’s on a card during her onboarding process. Let’s consider this one of the first times The Parkers hits that something might be up with Nikki.
Before The Parkers really hit its comedic stride and became more comfortable with absurdity, the show played things pretty straight when it came to sight gags and internal logic. In “And the Band Plays On,” when Professor Oglevee remarks to Nikki that she must have a duplicate because he’s seeing her in so many places at one time, she laughs and doesn’t acknowledge the wildness of what he’s saying. As the series goes on, though, and Nikki continues to display superhuman traits, this moment becomes much more interesting in retrospect.
Much as Nikki’s typically in control of the things going on around her, that all falls apart when it comes to her family members beyond Kim, especially her older sister Constance McFarland (Suzzanne Douglas), who never fails to make Nikki feel like a little girl. So strong is Constance’s influence on Nikki that whenever Constance shows up in “It’s a Family Affair,” people around Nikki begin to see her as the little girl she often feels like on the inside. At multiple times throughout the episode, the character is literally portrayed by a much younger actress.
While attempting to rekindle the flame with her ex Mel (Thomas Mikal Ford) over dinner, Nikki drifts into full-on Jean Grey territory when she overhears him complaining about her in his thoughts and projects herself into his mind to tell him to shut up. This was one of the first times that The Parkers suggested that even though its more sci-fi elements were just being played for comedy, they were in fact happening in-universe.
Nikki’s premonitions return in “Wedding Bell Blues” when Kim flirts with the idea of dropping out of college to get pregnant and settle down with her current boyfriend, a path in life that Nikki doesn’t at all want for her daughter despite Kim’s insistence that it’ll make her happy. Within the context of “Wedding Bell Blues,” Nikki fantasizes about a future in which Kim’s so overwhelmed that Nikki—who’s married to Oglevee in this scenario—has to step in to help her daughter. But over the course of the series, Nikki does gradually wear Oglevee down to being more receptive to her repeated attempts to seduce him before ultimately deciding twice that he does actually want to be with her.
In addition to partying and chasing boys, scaring people is one of Kim’s favorite pastimes, much to everyone else’s chagrin, as she’s surprisingly good at pulling off pranks despite typically being a dullard in most situations. When Nikki and Mel concoct a plan to give Kim a taste of her own medicine, they’re able to scare some sense into their daughter, but not before Nikki herself ends up being so terrified by a surprise that she jumps about 10 feet into their air and hovers for a few moments as the episode comes to an end.
Despite Nikki having gotten over Mel years in the past, when her good friend Andell begins taking dancing lessons from him and the two develop something of a love connection, Nikki takes it upon herself to put a kibosh on things any way she can think of. While out keeping tabs on Andell and Mel at a nightclub, Nikki figures that she has to outdo the pair on the dance floor by tossing her own partner into the air, but when she does, the man goes flying clear across the room, as Nikki’s strength is almost inhuman.
Despite featuring plenty of jokes about Nikki’s weight, The Parkers’ writers made a point of not really punching down on people for their figures any more than they would slimmer members of the cast. When Nikki begins dancing to music in her apartment above Oglevee’s in “And the Winner Is...,” the professor initially assumes, because they live in California, that there’s an earthquake. But you can also see that while the professor’s apartment might have been shaking, little else in the building was, suggesting that the vibrations emanating from Nikki’s apartment were localized and directed specifically downwards towards the object of her affections.
Over the course of its multi-year run, The Parkers eventually aired its own spins on a number of classic sitcom premises like the one featured in “Secret Santa,” an episode that finds Nikki, Kim, and their friends stuck in a local mall after hours during the holidays. But “Secret Santa” also makes it abundantly clear that the “mysterious” mall Santa who actually traps Nikki and company in the mall (and apparently isn’t a living mall employee the way they first believe) is initially drawn to them all because of Nikki’s powerful emotions.
Some of these “powers” may be stretches, but Nikki’s astounding speed and agility are difficult to argue with. She’s repeatedly seen throughout the series zooming across the city on foot in ways that humans simply should not be able to. In the opening scene of “She’s Positive,” you clearly see her making it clear across campus within seconds after hearing (also from a distance) that Oglevee’s planning to leave their school for good, and you can’t deny that when Nikki comes running, she does so much like DC’s Flash.
If you’re interested in checking these instances out for yourself, or just reconnecting with the series out of a sense of nostalgia, The Parkers just happens to be streaming on Netflix.
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