The Cosby Show: Immortalized
August 3, 2005

While I'm not fond of essays that derive their theses from television shows, humor me for a moment. In spite of Bill Cosby's inability to disconnect his name from scandal and adultery, I will forever extol the virtues of one of the greatest television shows ever created.

Straight from the "Somebody's about to make a whole lot of money" department, I am joyful to announce that the first season of "The Cosby Show" is now available on DVD. Apparently, Cosby himself will have to purchase a DVD player to verify that it's true.

To be honest, I never thought I'd see the day what with the show still in heavy syndication. As a child of the Reagan era, I am probably the biggest "Cosby Show" fan you will ever meet. I have every episode memorized and were there a "Cosby Show" version of Jeopardy, I would be the Ken Jennings of Huxtable family trivia--except I wouldn't be Mormon (or white, or named Ken). Which leads me to a minor caveat:

Has anyone noticed that "Jeopardy!" is probably one of the absolute whitest game shows on television? Just think with me for a moment. When was the last time you saw some color on there? And trust me, I know this because I am a "Jeopardy!" nerd who since the advent of TiVo has seen every episode (yet still cannot get the questions to the doggone answers). Conspiracy? Perhaps. A Canadian host? No comment. The world may never know. Caveat ended.
Beyond pure entertainment (the Gordon Gartrelle shirt episode cracks me up every single time), the enduring nature of "The Cosby Show" can be attributed to a plotline that deals with real-life scenarios and principles common to every family. Minus the real-time references to one-hit-wonder celebrities and philosophical trends of the age, the show has remained timeless. That is, not counting the insane number of times the pubescent Malcolm Jamal Warner wore incredibly tight sweatpants. The eighties need to be burned for that.

Moreover, "The Cosby Show's" ultimate success was its hard-line presentation of traditional family values--the same values that current American television couldn't touch with a 10-foot-magnetized pole. Although many would disagree, I might also add that Cosby's vision for the show managed to do more for black American television representation in 30-minute increments, than D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac, or Damon Wayans have been able to do in their combined lifetimes. In all the fabulosity of the members of the Huxtable family, the fact still stands that we are all the product of extreme dysfunction. Nevertheless, in their own dysfunctional way, the Huxtables presented an attainable standard which every family could emulate.

Some brief points of difference:

A two-parent home. By George, they exist! One male. One female. The display of a black American, functional marriage on national television is a rare commodity, even to this day. Some of our society's most talented and profound members were raised in single-parent homes. Single parents are great, courageous, heroic and strong, but that is not the ultimate design.

The presentation of marriage as a good thing. She loved him. He was wild about her. They didn't "complete" each other. Instead, they complemented each other.

Educated and professional black people who own their home and can afford an $11,000 Ellis Wilson original. One of the continued points of contention with "The Cosby Show" is that it presented an unbelievable and unrealistic scenario. The fact that Clair was a lawyer and Cliff a doctor was just too far-fetched for some people to handle. I find that to be one of the biggest pieces of condescending nonsense (right alongside the notion I heard this weekend that Michelle Malkin's husband writes her books). Seriously, the liberal mindset baffles even me.

Children who respected their parents. Couple that with parents who demand respect. No Supernanny necessary. I always enjoyed the number of times Clair looked like she wanted to clock her 5 children. "Clock" is the more gentile form of "beat."

No Shacking Up. The one time Theo tried to do it, Cliff and Clair weren't having it. On nearly every television show today, you see men and women who are not married living together. It has become the societal norm.

All-Heterosexual Relationships. Enough said.

I could go on. Renee Graham of the Boston Globe presents a fairly balanced view of the show's strengths and weaknesses. Needless to say, I'm getting the DVD. You should too. It will be worth money someday. If not that, it could make a very good dissertation topic.

In related discussion, blogger "Ripclawe" points out that "The Cosby Show" is responsible for two of the greatest quotes in television (edited by me for correctness because I have every.line.memorized.):


[Theo has received a "D" and is explaining why he should not be punished]

Theo: You're a doctor and Mom's a lawyer, and you're both successful in everything and that's great! But maybe I was born to be a regular person and have a regular life. If you weren't a doctor, I wouldn't love you less, because you're my dad. So rather than feeling disappointed because I'm not like you, maybe you should accept who I am and love me anyway, because I'm your son.

Cliff: Theo. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life!! No wonder you're getting D's in everything. Now you're afraid to try because you're afraid that your brain is going to explode and it's going to ooze out of your ears! Now you're going to try because I SAID SO. I AM YOUR FATHER!! I BROUGHT YOU IN THIS WORLD AND I'LL TAKE YOU OUT!!!

and

[On Vanessa complaining about the family being "rich"]

Cliff: Your mother and I are rich; you have nothing.

Classic.

Related:
- Lessons from the Huxtables
- The Inevitable Demise of "Method & Red"
- The Cosby Legacy: who will take the baton?
- Cosby Smites His Critics
- Cosby Need Not Make Clarifications
- The Friendless & The Mindless

Posted by Ambra at August 3, 2005 7:37 PM in Media
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Black folk on "Jeopardy"? Once in a blue moon ...

I think it was Ken Jennings on Jeopardy ;)

Whoo hoo! Come to think of it, you probably see black folk in jeopardy more than you see us "on" it *rimshot*.

Oh man, I crack myself up. I actually saw a black kid on there a few weeks ago on "Jeopardy Kids!" What was even more hilarious was how I struggled with the questions...er asnwers. On KID Jeopardy!

(thanks Daniel)

It's amazing how many big (and I use the term liberally, as you will see) black stars had their careers kick-started on Cosby. How many can you recall? Here's my quick and dirty starter list:


  • Erika Alexander--aka Cousin Pam, and Maxine on Living Single

  • Allen Payne--aka Lance, Jason in Jason's Lyric, Gee Money in New Jack City

  • Kadeem Hardison--Phillip, and now the all-star guard for the Miami Heat, Dwayne Wade

  • Blair Underwear--Denise's "friend, hairless (facially) brother on LA Law, Bobby Earl in Just Cause

  • Carl Anthony Payne--Cockroach, and Cole in Martin

  • (The late) Michelle Thomas--Justine (Theo's girl: "JUSTINE, JUSTINE"), and Urkel's girlfriend in Family Matters

The list goes on and on...

"One of the continued points of contention with "The Cosby Show" is that it presented an unbelievable and unrealistic scenario. The fact that Clair was a lawyer and Cliff a doctor was just too far-fetched for some people to handle."

I hear your point and I don't think it unrealistic for a family to have a doctor and a lawyer in it...but considering I work in a homeless shelter and 99% of the population we serve are African American our country still has a lot of work to do.

I would add that the father was not presented as a hapless boob, as almost every sitcom father and husband is (King of the Hill excepted).

Clair was strong but didn't seek to treat Cliff like the sixth child, on the contrary, she backed him up with the kids as much as Cliff respected her. They were true role models as a married couple as well as parents.

With the majority of welfare cases being white women, I'd say we have work to do there too. Impossiblejane, I don't think anyone's saying that black people have arrived. It's just interesting to me how offended people act at the notion of success. I call it: the crabpot mentality.

Jeffrey: Good point. You can add Homer Simpson, Dan Connor, Al Bundy, George Lopez, etc.

Johnnie: Don't forget other stars too.
- Adam Sandler
- Marisa Tomei
- Sinbad
- Gilbert Godfrey

Did you know Whitney Houston was initially going to play Sandra? Ohmygoodness. That would have been a disaster.

What a well-written post! As for entertainers who got their starts in Cosby vehicles, don't forget Marisa Tomei, of spinoff "A Different World" (a show which also, in a large manner, contribted to the 1990's success of comedian Sinbad). Jada Pinkett apprenticed there. And several of Theo's friends and girlfriends such as Vanessa B. Williams Troy Winbush, and Vanessa's "date" Dondre Whitfield, have enjoyed a measure of success. So has "B-u-u-d" (Deon Richmomd).

Oh- and Rudi was sweet on Merlin Santiago's character "Stanley" in the show's waning days, the late actor went on to star on "Under One Roof" and "The Steve Harvey Show".

Holla back.

On the Disney Channel we get to see Raven's face on a regular basis (though I'm not a big fan of her show).

The Cosby Show also proved that all of America could be entertained by a black family acting normally, without the slapstick/ghetto/(fill in stereotype) that was typically shown on the small screen. Once the show was over, though, that void has been difficult to fill.

I find it interesting, too, that of the 1st generation Cosby kids only MJW (Theo) has gone on to have any semblance of what might be characterized as a stable acting career. Correct me if I'm wrong. I always wondered, what happened to Sandra (and Elvin, for that matter).

I did like "Bud." He (and the antics of his big brother that he often related) was funny as all get out.

I think Rudy actually did a semi-nude layout at one point. It was circulating around the 'Net a while back. I couldn't believe my eyes. (Yes, I looked, mainly 'cause I refused to believe it without seeing it for myself.)

I must say, I was impressed when I saw Raven Simone get punked on "Punk'd" (Ashton Kutcher). I kept praying, "please don't let her curse, please don't let her curse..." And she didn't!!! Home-girl upheld her sweet image. I think she cried, was verbally assaulted, and otherwise attacked during the prank, but she held it together in terms of her (Cosby) character and image. Even though I don't much care for her show either (my 13 year daughter loves it, though), it renewed my trust in her.

Johnnie, I just caught that you accidentally wrote "Blair Underwear." Now THAT is funny.

As for the Huxtable kids...I think they suffered the curse of most every child star sitcom actor: no more gigs. By the time a show's up, people can't think of you beyond the character you played for 8 years. Remeber the "Tempest Bledsoe Show" Oh man, that was funny.

Symone's psychic show agitates me because it presents the occult like it's cute and harmless. That's all I'll say on that.

Oh, see, I always forget about her whole see-into-the-future thing on that show. It's so out of place witht he rest of the show. But you're right.

Accident? Naw. That's how my wife and me refer to him. It used to amaze me (and her, too) that he was one of the brothers that sista's would swoon for: "Oh, that Blair Underwear...he so fuuuyn!"

Obviously it was better to be an extra, or special guest on Cosby than it was to actually be a Cosby kid, huh?

You took me down memory lane. I am sitting here cracking up!

The " Gordon Gartrelle" episodes is one of my favorites!

Can I add how much I love that uber-80's intro in the show's first season, where they're playing in the park? My family looked exactly like that - right down to the mom not smiling in the picture at the end!

Cliff Huxtable is one of the coolest tv characters ever. ("Vanessa's father is so cool, he doesn't care about the party..")

Andrea, you're alright with me.

One of the greatest "behind-the-scenes" facts about "The Cosby Show" was that Bill pushed and allowed room/time for all the kids to go as far as they could in their edumacations. (Bill...help!)

The greeatest contribution of this show was to portray the universality of family. The principles of child-rearing espoused by Cliff and Claire were biblically-based, time honored, and TRUE. This was the whitest, asianest, africanest, nordicest, hispanicest, galacticest show ever.

Another thing this show managed to do better than any in history was to HONOR elders. My God, how awesome were each set of grandparents? How tragic in today's America that so many families are over-extended to the point that many, many children never really get to know the love, nor learn the wisdom, of their parents' parents?

Thank you again, Nykol, for provoking thought and passion in me.

I just read that the DVD series that just came out contains the EDITED versions shown in syndication! See the comments on Amazon.com. Very disappointing. Guess I'll have to go back to my dad's house and dig up all of the shows we taped on VHS during their original airings.


Nykol, your blog is great. I look forward to your posts almost daily. :)

That Cliff & Theo conversation you mentioned is even better because Cliff's kickbutt response comes *after* the audience applauded Theo's pitiful excuse for being lazy! :)

Another fave of mine: when Rudy and Vanessa are fighting like cats and dogs, and Cliff starts to tell them to pack their stuff, and Vanessa tries to call out for their mom, and Cliff says "no, your mother has nothing to do with this - I am FATHER!" lol I'm telling you, the man cracks me up!

Maybe it is his (and his wife's) lefty political nonsense that they have spouted the last few years, but I have soured on the Cosby Show recently. (And yes, I concede that your points are exactly spot-on.)

I grew up with Bill Cosby, almost literally. No matter the part of my life that I look back on, Bill Cosby was there. Young kid? Fat Albert and I, Spy reruns. Older young kid? Very bad movies on late-night TV (We in Columbus were a test market for cable and had it earlier than many places. We even were a special test market for MTV-sorry:) Young Teen? HBO specials and records (for you young 'uns, look it up) Teenager and Young adult? The Cosby Show. Maybe it is my fault and not his, but I have such a hard time watching that show without thinking about his peculiar and sometimes bigoted racial views. If DB is right, hold out until "super-dvd" or whatever they're gonna call it comes out. Putting out edited shows in this age (and at those prices!) is outrageous.

Sorry for going so long, but I am feeling old and broken down these days and I guess that you took me back to what I percieve as a better time.

A Different World was a better show I think, especially after Denise left, and I can't wait until I can see those wonderful episodes again.

I despise Raven! (She was good in Dr. Doolittle 2, though)

I'll end with a couple of questions, maybe related:

Why are there so few black folks on Jeopardy! (my favorite TV gameshow)

Did they say that A Different World, with it's display of smart, bright, unbigoted college students as "unrealistic?"

Did they teach you the word "fabulosity" in college?

PS: There were those Coke and Jello comercials, but I don't remember how old I was.

Crotchety Steve Kelso, Sr. Returns! :-)

And I would contend that though I liked it, "A Different World" absolutely was not better than "The Cosby Show."

After the 2nd year of "A Different World", when Debbie Allen took over the director reigns, the show drastically improved. At the same time, interest in HBCUs started to increase as well. Some attributed the increased interest to "A Different World".

I'm confused - we've had Cosby Show DVD's for some time, which we ordered from Columbia House or BMG or Time Life or some other such subscription "service". How are these new DVD's different?

Johnnie: Don't forget Joseph C. Phillips who played Lt. Martin Kendall, Denise's husband. I always thought he was so handsome -- especially in that Navy uniform!

Ambra: why did you take him off of your Conservative Brotherhood list?

Karen...I'm a horribly lazy linker. That's why my blogroll hasn't changed in 12 months. I haven't yet updated my Conservative Brotherhood blogroll with new members. I need to be spanked for that.

And someone please enlighten me about this BMG/Columbia house matter as I don't know. I do know this...if the Cosby Show's been on DVD for months and I didn't know about it, somebody's getting a beatdown.

I didn't like that show because the acting and feel of it seemed smug, especially his wife.

Cosby is a two-edged sword for me. I, like Jeffrey, appreciated that the show parted with a trend of Smart Wife-Dumb Husband-Wise Kids shows. I appreciated that a black family weren't dwelling constantly on well-worn ghetto life themes. I appreciated the intelligence of the writing, and the strong, uncompromising family values therein. And I howled with laughter many times (and thinking of Theo charging in to the living room wearing the homemade Gordon Gartrelle shirt is making me smile right now).

However...

I began noticing that the writers of the show began inserting a weekly pro-feminist woodshed moment for a male in the cast, and it grew more and more strident every episode. Whether it was Sondra's fiancee or Rudy's too-young-to-be-a-boyfriend, a guy could reliably be set up like a bowling pin to mouth some unbelievable nonsense that is demeaning of women, at which point a female character would gasp, attack, and knock the M.C.P. S.O.B. down.

A prime example: Theo and his high school friend (I believe it was "Cockroach") discuss how there would be lots of hot chicks at a campus hangout. They refer to such women as "burgers," as in, 'There's got to be great burgers in that place!' Denise, who overhears this conversation, ask what they mean by "burgers." Theo explains that a "burger" is a pretty woman. Denise recoils, shouting, "You call them burgers?" She gets the attention of Vanessa, who is passing through, asking her if she knows how Theo and his friend refer to pretty girls. Vanessa says yes, she knows they call them "burgers," and she thinks it's cute. Denise, growing more upset, reminds Vanessa that burgers are pieces of meat. Vanessa has an epiphany, saying, "I never thought about it that way!" and turns to Theo and friend, shouting, "You guys are DISGUSTING!" The scene ends with Denise making a tortured simile, asking the boys if they would like to be compared to clydesdales by women.

That particular scene was pretty amusing. But subsequent such scenes really, really, really got tiresome. It was almost like watching "Alice" knowing that before the show was over, Flo was going to say "Kiss my grits," perhaps the lamest catch phrase in television history. Cosby stopped being a must-see moment for me on Thursday nights after the fourth season.

All that being said, Cosby demonstrated that you didn't need to go lowest-com-denom for blockbuster ratings. Unfortunately, the direct reaction to Cosby was the ground-breaking (as in digging deeper down) sitcom Married With Children, which was originally titled Not the Cosby Show when it was first pitched to the fledgling Fox network. I recently had to endure a particularly randy repeat of Married on a TV in a hospital waiting room (at 10:00 am, mind you), and I still can't believe that got on network TV.


It was a "best of" that was already out. The one that came out last week is the complete first season. I've already watched all episodes at least twice, and I'm jonesing for the second season. My favorite thing about the Cosbys is that they laugh together all the time.

I never noticed until watching these DVD's that Vanessa calls Theo "Teddy" several times in the first few episodes. Weird.

And Raven got on my nerves.

I LOVED the Cosby Show. I was such a big fan of Bill Cosby from Fat Albert. Theo and I were the same age, so it was really cool "growing up" with him. Cockroach, Bud. LOL.

I think my favorite episode was when Theo got the earring. "Have you been tagged by the Wildlife Society?" HAHA Another fav was when Vanessa and her friends went to "Baltimore, to see the Wretched, and have big fun."

DragonLady, I'm a big fan of the "Wretched and the Big Fun" episode.

Me too. My dreams are haunted by the sound of Phylicia Rashad saying, "big fun." Another classic was the one where they acted out Rudy's story. I loved the look of that episode.

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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