Taking place in the Watts section of Los Angeles, it centered on a African-American teenager named Roger "Raj" Thomas (Ernest Thomas) as he attended school and interacted with his friends and family. Along with Raj, other recurring characters include his friends Dwayne Nelson (Haywood Nelson) and Freddy "Rerun" Stubbs (Fred Barry); his younger sister Dee (Danielle Spencer); their mother Mabel (Mabel King); and Shirley Wilson (Shirley Hemphill), a waitress at the local hangout, "Rob's Place."
The show started off as a 1976 summer pickup, but was made into a regular series following decent ratings. It downplayed the African-American cast and settings, with most plots featuring typical teen Dom Com staples such as dealing with school, dating girls, and planning for the future.
A revival series, What's Happening Now!!, ran in syndication from 1985 to 1988. Following up with the characters several years later, it depicts Raj and his wife Nadine (Anne-Marie Johnson) living in the Thomas home, while Rerun and Dwayne share an apartment. Hilarity Ensues.
The entire series is available on DVD.
- Afraid of Needles: Raj. Just mentioning a needle will cause him to whimper nervously.
- Altar the Speed: One episode combined this with Citizenship Marriage when Rerun tries to help a girl named Maria (Irene Cara), who needs a green card so that she can stay in the United States. The judge stops the ceremony when he realizes that in addition to them getting married just for a green card, they know nothing about each other. Raj, Dwayne, and Shirley reach the courthouse shortly thereafter.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Raj's sister Dee.
- Back to School: Mrs. Thomas.
- Belly Dancer: In the episode "Dueling Menus" from the revival series, Raj and Shirley have a competition surrounding bringing in more profit for their restaurant. While Raj tries to lure in new customers with new furnishings and a fortune telling act, Shirley retaliates by bringing in a belly dancing act to lure in customers, and it works just as effectively as Raj's efforts.
- The Big Guy: Rerun. Also...Rerun: I can't help being fat, it runs in my family!Dee: Nobody runs in your family, they all waddle!
- Big "SHUT UP!": Almost to the point of being a Running Gag.Raj: "Shut up, Dee!"
Mabel: "Roger, that's no way to talk to your sister."
Dee: "That's right. You tell him, Mama."
Mabel: "Shut up, Dee!"
- Black and Nerdy: Raj.
- Cargo Cult: One episode had a cult that worshipped a head of lettuce. Mabel comes to the rescue posing as Mother Nature. At the end of the episode, she picks up the lettuce, and says, "Ah! Lettuce... go!" and tosses it away, laughing.
- Catchphrase: Nearly all of the main characters had one.
- Rerun: "What's happening?"
- Dwayne: "Hey, Hey, Hey!"
- Dee: "Ooooohh, I'm tellin' Mama!" and "Gimme a quarter!"
- Mabel: "This is true."
- Celebrity Lie: The final episode of the original series had Rerun pretending to know Sammy Davis, Jr., and then later being pressed to have him appear for a performance at a teen center.
- Celebrity Star: The Doobie Brothers appeared in one episode to perform a concert at the kids' high school, Jefferson High. They were established as former students, with one of the band members being a classmate of Rerun's.
- Citizenship Marriage: Rerun tries to do this for a girl named Maria in "Rerun Gets Married".
- Concert Episode: The show had a two-part episode where Raj, Dwayne, and Rerun try to get into a concert for The Doobie Brothers. Rerun ends up getting tickets from a bootlegger in order to tape record the concert, but screws up when the recorder falls out of his coat during the show.
- Credit Card Plot: In one episode, Rerun gets a bunch of credit cards and goes crazy buying stuff, getting into debt. The gang sell off most of the stuff and get most of the debt paid off. The episode ends with Rerun chopping up his credit cards with a blender.
- Cult: Rerun joins one on "Rerun Sees the Light." They worship Ralph, a head of lettuce.Raj: "You worship a head of lettuce?"
- Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: Once, Rerun is handed a bowl of pretzels and is told "Take one and pass it on." Rerun takes out a pretzel, and hands the pretzel to someone else.
- Cut Himself Shaving: Occurs in the episode "One Strike and You're Out". A strike breaks out at Raj's workplace, and he goes home to find that his mother is too ill to work and was counting on his income to make up the difference. He goes to work to break the strike and comes home with his shirt torn and staggering. When pressed,Raj admits he was beaten up and lied about who did it because he didn't want to reveal his attacker was his boss's elderly mother.Raj: "I fell down."
Dee: "Where, down an elevator shaft?"
- Deadpan Snarker: Dee.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Raj's sister Dee; in fact she codifies this trope practically.Dee: "Oooooh, I'm tellin' Mama!"
- Dom Com
- Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: On one episode, Raj goes to a party instead of watching Dee like he was supposed to. As punishment, his mother asked him for his belt. When Raj replied he wasn't wearing one, Rerun offered his, prompting:Mabel: "Rerun, I want to whip him, not hang him!"
- Ethnic Menial Labor: In the series, Mabel Thomas worked as a maid. Mabel King's objection to the portrayal was one reason why she eventually left the show.
- Excited Show Title!: With not one, but two exclamation points!!
- Freudian Trio: Raj (Ego), Rerun (Id), and Dwayne (Superego).
- Game Show Appearance: Rerun becomes a contestant on The Gong Show. Naturally, he's a big hit.
- Held Back in School: Rerun, who has been held back a couple of times. In fact, he got the nickname "Rerun" because he had to repeat in the summer what he didn't learn in the winter. At one point in the series he has the chance to pass and finally graduate, but he's afraid to even take the test — despite studying hard for it — because he's not sure what he can do beyond high school.
- High School: Raj, Rerun, and Dwayne attend Thomas Jefferson High School.
- Hypocritical Humor: Anytime Rerun and Shirley make fun of each other's weight.
- In with the In Crowd: Played straight when Rerun joins the school football team and becomes popular, to the point of dating the head cheerleader while snubbing Raj and Dwayne. When he is told that he will be kicked off the team for failing English, he asks Raj to help him pass by writing a speech that he has to give. Raj sabotages the speech, Rerun fails English, is kicked off the team, and is friends with Raj and Dwayne again.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by Henry Mancini.
- Local Hangout: Rob's Place. In What's Happening Now!!, it's changed to Rob's Diner and Shirley and Raj own it.
- Nice Hat: Rerun's signature red beret.
- Not What It Looks Like: In one episode, Dee's friend Robin wanted to run away from home, but asked Dee to talk to the guidance counselor about it. The counselor ends up thinking Dee was the one who wanted to run away, which results in Raj and Mabel being nicer to her as a result. Dee ends up taking advantage of it to get them to buy her things, only to have her face the repercussions when the matter is straightened out.
- Pro Wrestling Episode: What's Happening Now!!'s "The Challenge."
- Put on a Bus: Much like Esther Rolle on Good Times, Mabel King did not like the direction in which the show was going and left after the second season. As a result, the third season had Raj and Rerun moving into an apartment, while Shirley moved in as a border in the Thomas house.
- Revival: What's Happening Now!!: Raj is a successful author and married, Rerun is a used car salesman, Dwayne is a computer programmer, and Dee is in college. Ran for three seasons in the late 1980s.
- Running Gag: Whenever Raj gets in trouble and someone asks him what happened, he mumbles his response before repeating it in a normal voice.
- Sassy Black Woman: Shirley and Dee, in a younger version of the trope. Mrs. Thomas also filled the role when necessary.
- Stern Teacher: Miss Collins, the history teacher.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Dee loves her peanut butter. Rerun loves everything.
- Very Special Episode: The two-parter where Sweet Daddy Williams forces the gang to illegally record a Doobie Brothers concert.
- Visit by Divorced Dad: Raj and Dee's father, Bill (Thalmus Rasulala), shows up in a few episodes. He eventually marries Lee Henderson (Lee Chamberlin).