“ 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 „
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
Hands up if you've never heard of The Cosby Show? No? Really? Well if you like 80s American sitcoms, you probably will find that you missed out a great deal if you never caught any episodes of this show.
WHAT IS IT?
The Cosby Show was first aired in the US in 1984 and starred the loveable and talented Bill Cosby in the lead role as Dr Cliff Huxtable with Phylicia Rashad as his lawyer wife Clair. The well to do couple had five kids Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy played by Sabrina LeBeauf, Lisa Bonet, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Tempesst Bledsoe and Keshia Knight Pulliam respectively with other recurring characters over the show's airtime of 8 years. You might recognise some of these names or you might not but I'd be surprised if you were over the age of 30 and had never heard of the show or even one of its stars. Unless, of course, you never had a TV growing up?
The Cosby Show was created by Ed Weinberger, Michael J Leeson and the star of the show himself Bill Cosby (a.k.a. William Cosby Jr). The story focussed around the African-American family, the Huxtables, who were based in Brooklyn, New York and deemed as upper-middle class. Strangely enough in the opening episode the credits show the Huxtables family as having just four children, which I'll come back to later. Their house has a name plate which reads "Clifford Huxtable M.D." which I'll also come back to later...
EARLY EPISODES/CHARACTER ANANLYSIS
Clifford (commonly referred to as Cliff through Season 1) is the main character in the series. The funniest parts of the show are scenes in which he appears and of course being the lead and the creator of the show, I guess the best gags had to be written for him. He was hilarious in many of his scenes and watching this show more than 20 years after it was first aired, it was amazing how I could laugh till I had a stitch at some of the funnier scenes in the season. Bill Cosby just came across as a really amicable character throughout this whole show and his facial expressions in many of his scenes are just hugely comical.
One thing I noticed during this season recently which I didn't pick up on when first watching it back in the 80s was that each episode seems to try to teach the viewer a lesson - more often than not, it's to do with one of the 3 younger children but also it deals with difficult decisions needing to be made about choosing which college to go to - should a child go to the best college or the one their parents went to. Not always the best decisions are made as far as I can see. Personally I wouldn't encourage my child to go to a college just because it was specifically for "black" graduates rather than choose the one that would be academically better for my child in the long run.
Initially we see the Huxtables as having 4 children living with them at home with Denise being the eldest. She's dating boys and wearing makeup which her father finds bizarre to say the least, especially when she has just one side of her face made up with very extreme colours and the other side of her is left bare. When leaving the house for a date Cliff tells Denise to change out of her "tight" pants to something that will let her breathe. Oh dear, the pants didn't look in the least bit tight to me. If his character saw what we call "skinny jeans" these days, he would have a heart attack on the spot. Denise doesn't get a lot of airtime in the series, she seems rather vacant, not unlike some other16 year old girls I guess but the few lines she does have seem rather fake or forced. I was probably the same age as Denise is supposed to be when this was initially aired and I don't recall having her laid back attitude about life and considering she's supposed to be the daughter of a doctor and a lawyer she doesn't seem very bright. There are some funny scenes when Denise's boyfriend waits for her downstairs whilst she's getting ready and Cliff tries to give him the third degree but it doesn't quite pan out the way he expects as the boyfriend is not in the least bit intimidated by him, rather he admits that he's had to drop back in school 2 years, so he's in a lower year to Denise and that he spent time in a Turkish prison. Lisa Bonet went on to star in A Different World which was set in Hillman, the fictional college that both her on screen parents graduated from.
Theo is getting poor grades at school; he's about 14 in this season. Clair tells Cliff to have words with him as she will end up "killing him" if she has to listen to him say "it's ok, I'll try harder!" So Cliff sits Theo down and tells him to pull his socks up, Theo's response is that he wants to be "regular people"; in his mind regular people work at gas stations or drive buses. Cliff breaks it down for him, for starters he still has to do better than D grades to be "regular people" and if he earns say $1200 per month, he will have to pay a certain amount for rent, travel, clothes, food, etc. Theo is very smug when he thinks he has $200 left a month to spare when his dad asks if he plans on having a girlfriend, suddenly the $200 disappears and Theo is left to reconsider things. Cliff tells his wife that Theo wants to be "regular people" when really he is "lazy people" and if the "regular people" find out he's trying to pass off as one of them, they will find him and kick his bottom! Although Theo's character seemed to get a lot of air-time in this season I wasn't particularly enamoured of his character or his acting prowess.
Vanessa is the next one down to Theo age-wise. She is 11 years old. She's always picking on Rudy, the youngest, who's 5 years old. Vanessa wants a dog and is always bringing this up in some way or other. She is really scared of horror films yet begs her parents to let her watch them. This is a cause for much amusement as she ends up in her parents' bed every time they cave to her wishes and allow her to watch a scary movie. One of the funniest episodes focussed around Vanessa is when she has to do a clarinet solo at a school recital and she doesn't want to do it as she's bored of playing but her parents insist that she goes through with it as they paid $245 for the clarinet, which isn't cheap now so you can imagine how much more that was back in 1985!
Rudy is the baby of the family and quite cute. In an episode where her goldfish Lamont dies, it's highly amusing watching Cliff trying to explain that Lamont is no more. Then he tries to organise a funeral for the goldfish and makes everyone dress us for the occasion and stands in the bathroom saying how much Lamont will be missed. It's hilarious when Rudy gets bored of the funeral and insists that she wants to go watch TV. We have some interesting and hilarious episodes with this 5 year old cutie especially when 7 other 5 year olds come around for a sleepover and Cliff has to deal with them all without his wife who is busy at work. I found this young actress to be quite impressive in her role as she was roughly the same age in real life as the character she was playing.
Clair is portrayed as a successful lawyer who comes home from work often feeling quite harassed by the day's events at work. She makes it seem quite easy to bring up 4 children, sorting out the whole families breakfasts every day, packed lunches for the kids and manage to have a successful career. It's not very realistic is it? Her husband seems to be more of a kid than the actual kids and is always joking around. They are portrayed to have a perfect marriage with barely any arguments and when they do argue, it's really not credible. You see romantic moments between them, with hugs, cuddles and kisses and often they make jokes about when the kids will grow up and leave home so they can have some peace and then a comment just before the romance goes any further "That's how we got the kids!" No really? You don't say! Phylicia Rashad and Bill Cosby had a lovely chemistry on screen and it was entertaining to watch them together making decisions about the kids with her character always being the more reasonable one who seems to make the real decisions. I was rather bemused by a scene where she was having an interview with a senior partner in her firm whereby she's about to be made a partner herself and she spends the whole interview looking at her watch as her youngest daughter is home with a cold and her husband (erm a DOCTOR) is at home looking after her. How realistic is it that someone who's brought up 4 kids already would be so concerned about her youngest child having a cold when she's potentially having the meeting of her life which could make her career.
Sondra is the daughter who's away at college. She pops in a few times during this season, her character is probably about 19 and she comes home during summer wanting to go and spend the rest of summer in Paris with her female friends and experience the culture of the city and visit museum and galleries. Her character is quite credible as a young woman away at college and wanting to experience new things in life. Interestingly Sabrina LeBeauf is only 10 years younger than her on screen mother in the show and Whitney Houston was originally considered for her part.
WHAT HAPPENED TO CONTINUITY AND CREDIBILITY?
In season 1 Cliff and Clair have supposedly been married for over 20 years. In the very first few episodes we specifically hear that they have 4 children but then suddenly a few episodes later we hear that they have 5. Sondra is now the oldest daughter and she's at college. It's really not very credible that an educated couple who are so well set up and advanced in their careers would have 5 children. I assume they (the scriptwriters) must have felt they needed it to be such a big family for all the jokes to be spread out amongst the different viewing age groups but it also caused some continuity issues which were quite jarring for me.
Theo (whose full name is Theodore) gets called Teddy a couple of times during the early episodes but thereafter he's always referred to as Theo. The fact that the couple have 4 children ONLY is clearly mentioned several times in the first few episodes is turned upside down when suddenly they have 5 children.
The family is seen mostly eating at the dining table in the large kitchen but then we also see the kids seated at a formal dinner table in a separate room for no apparent reason in one episode. One would assume that this formal dining room is used when they have visitors but we just see the kids eating there and throwing food at each other during this meal. Later in the series we see them using the formal dining room a couple of time when they have guests but the layout of the room seems to change! I also found it odd during the episode where the kids are eating in the dining room without any guests; shortly after they are throwing food at each other, Clair comes in and scolds them and sends them off to get showered and go to bed and tells Denise to clean up the table. Odd that we're expected to believe that this vain teenager would just do all this housework with no complaints when she has a date to get ready for and also odd that a mother would send her children up to get ready for bed before they've even finished their food.
With regards to the different dining areas used, I can only surmise that the producers had a sudden change of heart with regards to which rooms could be used for the regular show. I also found it rather strange that Theo has twin beds in his very messy bedroom but no one to share with and it's a rather large room. Vanessa and Rudy share a bedroom which always seems very tidy which I felt was rather unnatural for girls of that age and very girly which is natural. I don't recall seeing Denise's bedroom so I can't comment on that.
Oh and one of the weirdest things for me which was extremely glaring an error was that in the earlier episodes the plaque on the wall downstairs leading to Cliff's surgery says "Clifford Huxtable M.D." this is shown in more than half of the first season. Several episodes into the first season Cliff refers to himself as being called "Heathcliff" when he was a child. I continued to see the plaque reading "Clifford" for quite a few more episodes, then suddenly just towards the end of the season the plaque reads "Heathcliff Huxtable, M.D." This was really baffling and try as I might I couldn't find anything to explain this change of name and lack of continuity.
Some famous guest stars who appeared in Season 1 include Iman, Alicia Keys (as a 4 year old at Rudy's sleepover), Dizzy Gillespie, Clarence Williams III and Lena Horne.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Having watched many popular shows in the 80s I would have to agree with the consensus that The Cosby Show took over as the best American imported TV show after Dallas. Whilst Dallas might have appealed to an adult audience mostly, The Cosby Show catered for all age groups so it's no wonder it became such a hit. The idea for having a family with 5 kids was Bill Cosby's as he had 5 children of his own with also just one son.
I would mention here that I found the soundtrack for the first season rather annoying but I do recall from memory that it improved with later seasons.
The show was created by Bill Cosby, Michael Leeson and Ed Weinberger and directed by Jay Sandrich. Most of the series was written by Bil Cosby himself. Season 1 was produced by Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner.
Season 1 had 24 episodes of about 22 minutes each. My DVD just consisted of the 24 episodes over 4 disks with no DVD extras at all and not even subtitles available. I picked my boxed set up from Play.com for £5.99 - it's also available from Amazon for £11.38. The show has a U certification as it's suitable for viewers of all ages and it was filmed before a live studio audience. I'd add here that the audience laughter sometimes drowned out some of the characters lines which meant having to go back a few moments on the DVD to catch what was said...
I really loved The Cosby Show when it was first aired which is why I purchased the DVD boxed set of Season 1. If I had given the show a rating before re-watching it as a 41 year old I might have given it a full 5 out of 5. As it is, having watched the whole of Season 1 from start to finish, I'm happy to keep this in my permanent collection but would only rate it as 4 out of 5. The show's "perfectness" is not as credible to me when seen through my "grown up" eyes as opposed to having watched and absolutely adored it in my teens. Regardless of what I have said above and in this closing section; I WILL be purchasing other seasons of this classic sitcom.
ONE OF THE MEMORABLE SCENES
Cliff to Theo after he was asked to load the dishwasher before he went out to play basketball with his pals:
Cliff: Did you turn it on?
Theo: You didn't tell me to.
Cliff (on opening the dishwasher, looking inside and stepping back rather quickly): And I didn't tell you to take the bones and the food off the plates before you put 'em in the dishwasher?
Cliff: What were you planning to do? Wash the food so we could eat it again tomorrow?
Theo: No problem Dad, they'll go down the drain.
Cliff: Would you like to see me put YOU inside the dishwasher so you can see them not go down the drain? If you turn the machine on now, it blows up.
Theo: Then it's a good thing that I didn't turn it on!