Remembering 'The Cosby Show' (1984-1992)

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Panther, Aug 1, 2020.

  1. Panther

    Panther Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Tokyo, Japan
    OK, first let's deal with the elephant in the room: Bill Cosby (now 83 years old) is guilty of aggravated indecent assault and is currently incarcerated at a correctional facility in Pennsylvania (September 2021 is the earliest he may be released). In addition, dozens and dozens of women have accused Cosby of any of various forms of sex-related assaults (ranging from misconduct to rape), though in nearly all cases Cosby has not been tried or found guilty because the statute of limitations had passed since the date of the alleged assaults.

    This is to say, Cosby -- at least according to his alleged actions of the past and his current criminal record -- is not a good human being. I point this out because it will inevitably color our latter-day perceptions of his legacy as an entertainer, which is entirely understandable. For example, I remember posing the question on social media a couple of years ago as to whether my friends could still watch 'The Cosby Show' in light of the star's circumstances, and I was told no by some. One female black friend simply said, "Nope! He ruined it." I do understand this response.

    So, I'm interested in how people feel about that. I'm also interested if you can put that aside and just focus on the program itself.

    'The Cosby Show' (on NBC) aired for eight seasons, from September 1984 to April 1992. It was an enormous and overwhelming success. Here was its Nielsen ratings' finish for each of its eight seasons, in the USA:
    1984-85 - 3
    1985-86 - 1
    1986-87 - 1
    1987-88 - 1
    1988-89 - 1
    1989-90 - 1 (tied with Roseanne)
    1990-91 - 5
    1991-92 - 18

    'The Cosby Show' is one of only three programs in US history that were ranked #1 for five consecutive seasons (the others are 'All In The Family' and... 'American Idol'). Of course, this is much more remarkable in that it was a series about a black family -- there had been several 'black' prime-time series before, but never one that was so dominated by its star, that was so successful, or that presented such a positive family-image of black America. The program essentially revived the somewhat dormant family-sitcom as a popular genre in American television (sweeping 'Family Ties' up with it into the top of the ratings), pushed NBC to the top of the network pile, and led to a long-lasting series of TV-programs based on comedians personal lives and unique comedy-material (Roseanne, Seinfeld, etc.).

    About 10 years ago when I had some down-time, I went back and watched the entire run of the series (though I admit, I skipped a few rather boring passages of some weaker episodes, esp. towards the end). If memory serves, I found that the series can be divided into two-season quarters in terms of quality, as follows:

    1984-85 & 1985-86
    These two seasons are incredibly stellar (by US sitcom standards, mind)! I think it took a few weeks of episodes for the series to "find itself", but very quickly it did, and a month or two into its first season this was easily the best fictional series in the USA. It strikes the perfect balance of wonderful, funny, and classy scripts with Cosby's off-the-wall, sometimes spontaneous humor. The core Huxtable-family was intact during these two seasons, and of course Phylicia Rashad's performance as Clair was outstanding. (The mid-season invention of an oldest daughter, Sandra, played by Sabrina Le Beauf, stretched credibility somewhat as the actress was only 10 years younger than Phylicia Rashad!)

    1986-87 & 1987-88
    Similarly, these two seasons are largely outstanding and the show remained at the top of the heap in the ratings. The son, Theo, is growing up in this period, and in the spring of 1988 he graduates high school (despite his challenge of dyslexia). These two seasons are enormously good by the standards of 1980s' sitcoms, but I did find them somewhat less vital and original than the first two.

    Basically, these first four seasons of 'The Cosby Show' represent what I think (not being a sitcom expert) is probably the high-point of mainstream situation comedy, American-style. Besides the excellent cast, who obviously had great chemistry together, what I love about the story-lines in these four seasons is that the plots are extremely simple and non-formulaic. It's mainly just everyday 'episodes' in family life, but portrayed in such a funny and charming way that it becomes extremely memorable. (One word of warning: The only total snoozer episodes from these first four seasons are the ones where Denise and/or the Huxtable family goes to college. There is one where Cliff -- a doctor in Brooklyn -- inexplicably gives a graduation speech at his daughter's college, far from New York City. It makes no sense, and the entire episode is tedious.)

    1988-89 & 1989-90
    Dip in quality, and this is where we get cast members coming and going. It's still really, really good compared to the competition, but the consistent quality is lacking as maybe every third episode is a bit dull. But when it's good, it's still really good.

    1990-91 & 1991-92
    Shark-jumping occurs somewhere in here. 1990-91 is a major dip, though the show is still mainly enjoyable. The last season is a bit disastrous, though, with new, younger cast members joining, which is always the death-knell of a sitcom in decline. Also, I recall Cosby himself sleep-walking through these last two seasons -- it's as if he decided he didn't want to put too much effort into acting anymore, so his lessened scenes are just to be a bumbling fool for whatever kid he appears on-screen with. The whole extended family was together for the last episodes (Theo's college graduation), which was nice.

    And thus it ended.

    There is probably some truth to the accusation that 'The Cosby Show' presented a false "post-racial" image of US culture in the 1980s. But then again, this reflected pop culture of the time with entertainers like Eddie Murphy, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston firmly lodged in the (pre-hip hop) mainstream. In addition, there was, for example, a very poignant scene ending an episode that aired on the first (?) official Martin Luther King day, and the show (and its spin-off, 'A Different World') showed countless "positive" images of black professionals, black colleges, and black culture (jazz, blues, art, etc.).

    So, I just wanted to have a thread discussing all things about 'The Cosby Show'. Enter anywhere you like.


    NOTE: In searching for a similar thread on this forum, I found an old post I'd made about good TV episodes of any program, which was about a season 2 Cosby episode I really like. I'll paste it in here:

    One that really stands out to me is a December 1985 episode of The Cosby Show called "Denise's Friend". I saw the episode (I think) when I was a kid, but I encountered it many years later in adulthood (I actually showed it to a class I taught years ago, for reason I won't go into).

    The plot is extremely simple: Daughter Denise tells Cliff, her doctor-father, that her high-school female friend has a personal problem and wants to talk to him without her own parents knowing. Cliff agrees, but then instructs the friend that she needs to tell her parents about it, as the issue relates to her sexual activity with her boyfriend (which, of course, her parents don't know about). We learn later that the girl had a basic infection that Dr. Huxtable easily dealt with. Cliff and his wife (Claire), concerned that their own kids might be keeping things from them, decide to hold a family meeting to tell their kids to be open with them and feel safe in trusting them with any personal problems they might have. This is a really funny scene, as the parents are deadly serious and want the kids to be the same, but the Huxtable kids are united in wanting the meeting to be over with as fast as possible.

    There are a lot of things I love about this episode, and it's done in a very classy and tasteful way, but it's also a lot of fun.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2020
  2. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker

    It's another instance of either being able to separate the artist from the art or not.

    Since I can, I find it funny. The first episode where Monopoly money is used to show Theo how he's being foolish in settling for a minimum paying job was hilarious.
    j_rocker, goodiesguy, Karnak and 4 others like this.
  3. When sorting our DVD collection a couple of years ago, I called out "Who do people hate more, Cosby or Roseanne? Because we have both!" I think Cosby got what he deserved. And he probably should get more. But I'm still going to have his show in my collection. I just know he was a rotten person and I won't forget that.

    On the subject of the show itself, I watched it when it was on (excepting for the year our colour TV was broken because we couldn't pick up the channel it was on) and I will watch it again because the show itself is great and funny and probably will be for many years to come.
    MikaelaArsenault likes this.
  4. cloggedmind

    cloggedmind Dr. Do-Very-Little

    You put Elvin's Egg Delight on.. hoagie bread?!
    That's a ZZrrbbt!
    General, I'm sending you one!
    A bacon burger dog!
    It's saying, "Bring me a tea bag!"
    I gotcha!
    Dad has spoken. There will be peace in the valley.
    Close it up, Roy!
    Clair, m'legs, Clair!
    I'm not sick and I'm not grumpy.
    My arms are the same length, why aren't my sleeves?!
    His name's Bu-ud.
    I said, "Eh, mon!"
    It's already on the barbeque.
    How ugly is he?
    In that amount of time you could find yourself and a few other people.
    Theo, your mother asked me to come up here and kill you.
  5. Michelle66

    Michelle66 Forum Resident

    I haven’t watched The Cosby Show since the eighties. I liked it well enough at the time, but never planned my schedule around it.

    However, I doubt I’d be able to sit through an episode now.

    About a year ago, I threw on an old Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids DVD to see if I could separate Cosby from that show (which I had loved as a child).

    Cosby proselytizing to children about how to be good citizens just felt so hypocritical and two-faced, I realized I’d never appreciate the show for what it was ever again.

    If Bill Cosby hadn’t cultivated such a squeaky-clean image, it might have been easier to separate things in my mind. But, the shock of the sheer number of his sexual attacks, coupled with that goody-goody persona, completely tainted him, as far as I’m concerned.
    Steve Carras, Tanx, Siegmund and 11 others like this.
  6. Michel_LeGrisbi

    Michel_LeGrisbi Far-Gone Accumulator ™

  7. czeskleba

    czeskleba Senior Member

    Yeah. Cosby's stand-up act and TV show were both predicated on the notion that he was presenting an exaggerated comedic view of his actual self, a good-hearted father and family man. And he carried that beyond his show, adopting the "America's Dad" persona in interviews, getting honorary degrees, making moral pronouncements, etc. Because his work was so tied to this "good father" persona that we now know was fiction, it's pretty much impossible for me to enjoy his creative work anymore. If his TV show had been something completely unrelated to his real life and he hadn't presented the fiction that he was playing himself, then I might better be able to separate art from artist. But in this case I can't.
  8. OldSoul

    OldSoul Shattered

    Vallejo, CA
    I loved The Cosby show growing up (even the later Cosby, when I found it in high school), but I haven't touched it since this all blew up around 2014/5. Maybe I'll be able to someday, and I still have the DVDs (helps that they're in the third deepest row of a triple stacked shelf).
    MikaelaArsenault likes this.
  9. Kyle B

    Kyle B Forum Resident

    It’s one of the best sitcom pilots ever, and the first two seasons are indeed stellar. But it became too self important and forgot to be funny (I remember one season 3 episode was essentially a taped commencement exercise!). Rudy grew out of her cuteness. Vanessa was no longer the wiseass that she had been early on. Denise, who played off her father so well, appeared less frequently. The increasingly-seen oldest daughter and her emasculated husband were not funny. At all. And Clare - who was so funny in the pilot as the harried mother of four - became increasingly smug and self satisfied and overbearing.
  10. The Wanderer

    The Wanderer Seeker of Truth

    I don't think they're alleged.
  11. Jimmy B.

    Jimmy B. Senior Member

    I always hated The Cosby Show. I tried to like it, but they were all so "perfect." Rich, successful, etc.
    I couldn't stand it, with this false image of how people should be shoved in your face.

    I did like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids when I was young.
    Tanx, Hall Cat, Solaris and 4 others like this.
  12. Jimmy B.

    Jimmy B. Senior Member

    I can't watch him now, no way.

    A couple of years or so ago, I stumbled on accidentally some song by him so awful it made me laugh initially - I think his cover of Sgt. Pepper. Then the humor went away as I quickly had it sink in, reminded myself, of what he had done. I was a bit embarrassed of myself for even briefly finding it funny.
    It's too hard for me sometimes to separate the work or "art" from the person; I had this happen after reading some things that remain alleged about Kirk Douglas and Natalie Wood, and also Jean Spangler.
    Even with it not proven. And he's in one of my favorite film noirs (thankfully, in a minor role, but I haven't watched it since reading about these alleged crimes....
    MikaelaArsenault likes this.
  13. MikaelaArsenault

    MikaelaArsenault Forum Resident

    New Hampshire
    This, in my opinion is the best version of the theme song:

  14. OldSoul

    OldSoul Shattered

    Vallejo, CA
    That was always my least favorite. Think seasons 4 and 6 were my favorites. I also really like the original season 7 opening, which was a differently mixed and longer (because of the cast) version of what eventually was the season 8 theme.
    MikaelaArsenault likes this.
  15. a customer

    a customer Forum Resident

    That show was like a robert Downey jr comeback. The breaking the 3rd or 4th wall whichever wall was a good idea. He had become horrible for such a long time . Watching him tell stories on Carson was painful he would pause etc waiting for a laugh at times when you could hear a pin drop.
    Bluesman Mark likes this.
  16. MikaelaArsenault

    MikaelaArsenault Forum Resident

    New Hampshire
    The early seasons are good.
    carrick doone and Steve Litos like this.
  17. Grand_Ennui

    Grand_Ennui Forum Resident


    Really no different than John Amos playing the father of Jimmy "JJ" Walker-John Amos is only 7.5 years older than Jimmy.
  18. George Co-Stanza

    George Co-Stanza Forum Resident

    I haven't watched this much since its original run, but loved it back in the day. The episode where Cliff finds out about Sondra and Elvin being engaged is hysterical, and I remember the great scene where the family sings a song for the grandparents on one of their anniversaries. I seem to recall a good one too where Cliff and his dad played pinochle. I don't have a memory of a whole lot else, but those are the ones that stuck in my head. Not sure how I would view it now if I saw it again given the revelations about Bill Cosby, but I just know that I was a big fan back in the 80's.
  19. Kassonica

    Kassonica Forum Resident

    I could never watch the show as I found him and the show completely fake, sickly fake and without much substance...
    milankey, Hall Cat, Siegmund and 3 others like this.
  20. HGN2001

    HGN2001 Senior Member

    Watching THE COSBY SHOW these days? Probably not. If I were channel surfing and stumbled on a particularly funny-looking scene, I'd stick around, but it's not a show I want to revisit on a binge-watch basis or anything. I enjoyed quite a bit of it back when it originally aired, but it's not a long-lasting favorite.

    That said, I've always had the ability to separate the entertainment-ability of a celebrity from their personal life, whatever it is. I can enjoy a great drum performance by Jim Gordon, an acting-turn by O.J.Simpson, an album or song produced by Phil Spector, and I can dismiss the politics of those who are diametrically opposed to my own views and just enjoy their performance. And nothing can stop the fact that Bill Cosby can be a very funny man. In another post in this forum, I recently wrote:

    I recall that there was a "movie" called BILL COSBY: HIMSELF that played endlessly on HBO and other movie services on cable. Cosby had been a sort-of forgotten comic of the 60s, trying to re-invent himself, and this movie was essentially a series of his current comedy routines, filmed and edited into a 90-or-so minute film.

    Personally, I had been in a bit of a funk in 1984 having lost my Dad, and one Sunday, we stumbled onto this Bill Cosby movie, and it had me roaring. It was one of the funniest things I'd ever experienced, and at work, it was even water-cooler material as it seemed that everyone had seen it - or was recommended to see it. That provided a groundswell of interest in the upcoming COSBY SHOW on NBC, and it took off right out of the gate.

    guppy270, Steve Litos and Frozensoda like this.
  21. David Fischer

    David Fischer Forum Resident

    Pittsburgh, PA
    “I’m going to live off bologna and cereal....“

    I quote this line all the time. I still find the earlier seasons hilarious. As soon as cast members get older, married, go off to to college, etc, the whole dynamic of the show changes. Was not a huge Olivia fan either and the whole Pam character I just didn’t get.
  22. Kyle B

    Kyle B Forum Resident

    I love the part when Theo makes his little “can’t you just love me for me” speech, and the studio audience - conditioned on other 80s family sitcoms, goes “awwwwww”. And then Cliff says, “Theo, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. No wonder you get Ds in everything .” LOL.
  23. a customer

    a customer Forum Resident

    wow i never knew that. I watched that show all the time. He was only 7.5 years older than junior.
  24. Kevin j

    Kevin j The 5th 99

    Seattle Area
  25. The Slug Man

    The Slug Man Forum Resident

    North Carolina
    The first couple of seasons were the best. It declined when Denise went away (although at least that's realistic--she went to college). But then she married that super-straight Navy guy, which seemed so out-of-character. The show "intros" got more and more ridiculous. The first year intro, where they go to a park to play football, was the best. And too much Sondra and Elvin (what a wimp).
    altaeria likes this.

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