“ Genre: Television - The Cosby Show / Theatrical Release: 1984 / Parental Guidance / Director: Jay Sandrich / Actors: Bill Cosby, Iman, Alicia Keys, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Phylicia Rashad ... / DVD released 2008-05-19 at Universal Pictures UK / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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I can remember the earlier episodes of the Cosby Show being on televison regularly when I was little, & I always liked to watch it. Having recently been re-watching this classic American sitcom, & finding it just as enjoyable as I remembered, I thought I'd do a review.
The Cosby Show ran for 8 series from 1984-1992. It was originally based on Bill Cosby's own stand-up comedy, which involved stories from his own family life with his wife & five children.
The sitcom was one of the most popular American series of the 1980s, & was number 1 in the ratings for 5 consecutive seasons.
The show stars comedian Bill Cosby as Dr Heathcliff Huxtable, with Phylicia Rashad as his wife, Clair. The children are played by Keshia Knight Pulliam (Rudy), Tempestt Bledsoe (Vanessa), Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo), Lisa Bonet (Denise) & Sabrina LeBeauf (Sondra).
This review is of the Series 1 boxset, which contains all 24 episodes.
In the first series, we are introduced to Dr Heathcliff Huxtable (an obstetrician), his wife Clair (a lawyer), & their five children. The youngest is Rudy, aged 5; and the oldest is Sondra, aged 20 & away at Princeton. The family live in New York City.
Cliff is a fair & very loving father who likes to joke around & is very entertainingly portrayed by Bill Cosby, a man who is just naturally funny. He is very eccentric & regularly likes to sing, dance, pull silly faces, put on accents & so on.
Clair is perhaps the most serious of the family, but she can also be a lot of fun. She's strict but fair with her children & is always there for them. She's one of my favourite characters & Phylicia Rashad is an excellent actress. Cliff & Clair together make a very convincing & sweet couple & it's a joy to watch their scenes together.
Rudy is their very sweet 5-year-old daughter who is very well acted by young Keshia Knight Pulliam. She easily steals every scene she's in as she's so adorable.
Vanessa is one of my favourite characters, however in this series she doesn't seem to get much to do & actually comes across as a bit boring. In Season 1 she's 11 years old.
14-year-old Theo is always providing reasons for his parents to worry about him but he is very honest & loving & never means to get into trouble.
Denise is another character that doesn't seem to get a lot to do in this series & her character isn't very fleshed out. She's basically just a 16-year-old who likes dressing eccentrically & going out with her friends. It's not until later series that she gets more interesting storylines.
Sondra is only in a few episodes as she's away studying at Princeton; again her story gets more interesting in later series.
A wide variety of other characters appear in the series, such as friends of the children, & patients of Dr Huxtable, & they're always very well-written & entertaining.
Some of the storylines in this series include: Rudy's pet goldfish dies & Cliff decided to conduct a funeral for it; Theo desperately wants a designer shirt to impress his date, so Denise offers to make him one just like it; Clair gets the chance to appear on a TV panel show; the family plan a big surprise for Cliff's birthday.
The show is a sitcom about family life & what I like about it is the way it shows a close-knit, loving family, whilst also showing all the problems they can have & the trouble the children can get into. The best thing about it is the very well-written & well-played characters that you can't help but grow fond of. It is also very funny which is obviously a good thing for a sitcom!
I wouldn't say this was one of my favourite series, as I think the storylines get more enjoyable later on & you get to know the characters better in later series; however Season 1 is a great introduction to the show & to the characters.
The RRP for this DVD is £27.99, but it's currently available on Amazon for the bargain price of £4.98. There are no extras on the DVD.
Cliff and Clair Huxtable, a successful African American couple, have five children - Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy. Both Cliff and Clair have time-consuming jobs - Cliff is an obstetrician and Clair is a lawyer - but they still have plenty of time to ensure that their children have a good upbringing. Sondra has already left home to go to University, but the other four are still at home, the youngest, Rudy, only being five years old. Family life is generally happy, but there are hurdles that the family have to face - and that is exactly how they are faced - as a family. However, as Clair is promoted to partner in her law firm, does that mean that the family unit begin to disintegrate? If not, how will she manage?
Like Roseanne, The Cosby Show was an incredibly popular sitcom during the eighties, and the two shows often went head to head in the ratings; perhaps not surprising as both shows dealt with issues that affect most families at some point or other. However, apart from the fact that the Huxtables are black and Roseanne's family is white, there is one other major difference - the Huxtables are a wealthy, educated family, whereas Roseanne and co are definitely working class and financially challenged. For the time, this was considered a social breakthrough - for once, it wasn't the non-white family that was struggling to make ends meet. And unimportant though it may seem to today's viewers, I think it was important to my generation, who might otherwise have continued to view those who are different to be inferior. Of course, The Cosby Show did not change this perception on its own, but it certainly didn't do any harm.
Bill Cosby plays Cliff Huxtable and really is the glue that keeps the whole show together, although there is no doubt that his fellow actors gave him a lot of help. Cliff is funny and kind and loves his family dearly, although there are a number of things about them that annoy him at times. For someone that has such a high profile job and long working hours, he is perhaps too good to be true - somehow he also has the time to work on the family's problems as well as his working life ones. That aside, it is hard not to enjoy him though. He borders on the deeply silly at times, but he is ulimately always fair, and watching him deal with the children is a real treat. I remember wishing my dad was like him when I was a teenager! Bill Cosby certainly has the knack of reaching out to the audience and involving them in the story - he is a real pleasure to watch, and seems so very natural that I can't help believe he is like that in real life.
Clair Huxtable is played by Phylicia Rashad, and, although in many ways she is the character that has the least impact, it is only because the others shout more loudly. She is a wonderful character, warm and caring and very funny at times - Rashad isn't as natural a comic as Bill Cosby, but her comic timing is still very good. Best of all, I think, is that the love she shows for Cliff and her children is completely convincing, although she is always fair and if they are behaving badly, she is the first to tell them so. Of the children, Rudy is probably the one that stands out the most - certainly she is the one that I have remembered most clearly over the years. Played by Keshia Knight Pulliam, she is just five years old in this first series and is utterly adorable. She is full of confidence, yet never comes across as being precocious - no easy feat when she is so cute. According to her imdb.com profile, she still acts and I would love to see how she shapes up now.
Lisa Bonet, who plays the eldest daughter at home, Denise, is the character that I most identified with as a teenager. Beautiful and always immaculately dressed, I always wanted to be her - she had the boyfriends and was intelligent to boot. Bonet still acts, following a high profile relationship with Lenny Kravitz, but it is for Denise that she is most remembered. Again, she is very natural and appealing. The only boy of the family, Theo, is played by Michael Jamal-Warner. He provides a lot of disruption to family life - although smart, he chooses not to do well at school, much to his parents' chagrin. This makes him that much more approachable, and I can imagine more appealing to teenagers going through a similar situation. Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe) is just approaching puberty and is really just evolving as a character in this first series. She is smart, but perhaps a little over-confident, although always natural and pleasurable to watch. The final sister, Sondra, played by Sabrina La Beauf, barely features in this series, because she is already living away from home.
Each episode focuses on a family issue, which, oftentimes, isn't very serious - it is just an everyday problem that most families have to deal with at some point. Humour plays a huge part in the proceedings, with Cliff and Rudy in particular providing a lot of the laughs. It is hard to choose a favourite episode, but episodes that stand out are: Rudy's goldfish dying and the subsequent 'funeral', Vanessa's clarinet recital when she can't really play the clarinet at all (co-starring Dizzy Gillespie!), Denise making Theo a shirt for an important date and botching it up, and the whole family celebrating Cliff's birthday in a most memorable way! From what I can remember, there are more important issues that come up in later series, but in this first one, everything seems very innocent and gentle - perfect for a relaxing watch.
Rewatching the show after many years, the one thing that immediately struck me was the fashion and how much things have changed! I didn't notice this so much with Roseanne - perhaps because that family wasn't wealthy enough to follow high fashion. The Huxtable gang, however, most certainly did - especially Denise, who was always immaculately made up and dressed in outfits that unfortunately I can remember all too well. This does date the show quite substantially and may put some people off. However, that would be a shame, because apart from that, the show is still relevant to today's society. It perhaps isn't as gritty as many popular shows these days, but sometimes a bit of relaxation and humour is all that you want and The Cosby Show certainly ticks those boxes.
There is very little to criticise about this first series, unless you are really picky. There is a continuity problem in that, in the pilot (first) episode, Cliff and Clair clearly say that they have four children, but in a later episode, they claim to have five - four at home and one at college. It does grate a little, because it feels almost as if Sondra isn't part of the same family, but ultimately, it isn't that big a deal. I'm not sure why they decided to bring Sondra into the show at all though - I think she has a bigger role in other series, but in this one, she might as well not have appeared at all.
There are 24 episodes in this first series, and each episode is about 25 minutes long, which provides the viewer with a great deal of entertainment. There are four discs in all; the first two are housed in their own super-thin DVD case, the other two, for some reason, are lumped together in one case. Then there is a rather neat box to store the DVD cases in. It is very thin, which looks great on a shelf, if that sort of thing bothers you. There are unfortunately no extras with the boxset (apart from a rather dull introduction to other DVD boxsets), which is a shame.
It was a real pleasure to see this show again after a gap of about twenty years and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. If you remember the show from the eighties and enjoyed it then, I'm sure you will still enjoy it now. If you are new to the show, then I would still recommend it, although be prepared for the incredibly dated fashions! Still, for pure relaxation and a few laughs, there are not many sitcoms better than this. Highly recommended.
The DVD is available from Amazon for just £6.28.
Running time: 552 minutes