A 30 Year Salute To The Cosby Show From A 30-Something (Food For Thought)
Thirty years ago this past weekend (September 20, 1984 to be exact), “The Cosby Show” premiered in NBC’s Thursday night lineup. Followed by “Family Ties,” “Cheers,” “Night Court” and “Hill Street Blues,” the show would join what would prove to be one of the most championed, and most enduring programs in television history, a feat that lasted well into the late ’90s and early 2000s, beyond “The Cosby Show” run—but largely because of it.
There is not a lot that can be said about Bill Cosby, Ed. Weinberger, and Michael Leeson’s family sitcom that hasn’t been already. But I’m going to try…
In its day, “The Cosby Show” slapped back at television. While “All In The Family” promised to show the truth in America through the bigoted-but-lovable Archie Bunker, Cliff and Claire Huckstable were also the truth: an illustration of successful, urban, educated people of color that were happily married, and raising their kids right. Like “Modern Family” has arguably done with its portrayal of gay marriage/parenting, “The Cosby Show” made a statement for the times—wrapped in brilliant writing and humor for every seat on the sofa, for every living-room imaginable. While our generation’s (thirty-somethings, thereabouts) parents, who knew Bill Cosby from film, comedy album, and television took in the show with preconceived notions or expectations, Bill Cosby was our version of Sheriff Andy Taylor (“The Andy Griffith Show”), a pillar of love, patience, and wisdom—with heavy doses of humor along the way.
In the early 1980s America, all around there were reinforcements that “things fall apart.” From the family, to the economy, to industry, agriculture, to what some could argue are society’s moral values, everything was in shift, and almost universally perceived as decline. As farms were being sold to banks, former crumbled ghettos were being re-purposed as commercial real estate, and mills were closing, “Cosby” was insulated. Shows like “Married With Children,” “Roseanne,” and “The Simpsons” grew popular because they made television that seemingly exaggerated what was going on. The Huckstables, however, were something to hold onto—and perhaps the others followed because they could not compete.
There was never an episode of “The Cosby Show” (that I can remember) where money was an issue—besides a Gordon Gartrell shirt. Cliff never left Claire for another woman, and Grandpa never showed up in the vestibule intoxicated. Instead, there were college sweatshirts, hidden hoagies, dance numbers, trips to nice restaurants, and a constant revolving door of guests. The cliche is “Brady Brunch” in the perfect family. To thirty-somethings, it is forever The Huckstables.
“The Cosby Show” taught our generation the value of education, and the importance of the show’s longest-running joke: children need to leave (for good) when they’re 18 and leave their parents at peace. The show made us understand the romance of Jazz, and the sexiness of a successful, assertive, and devoted women, and soft-spoken, humorous, well-mannered men. And since so many houses did not have a two parents, a filled refrigerator, or books on shelves, Cliff and Claire showed many what marriage really looks like, from the good to the (sort of) bad. Even those canned exteriors, believed to be Park Slope gave hope and sense of place that we all belonged to. Before Big Daddy Kane and “The P.L.A.N.E.T,” the Huckstables made Brooklyn look the ultimate place to be.
When Heads of a certain age are still feeling lost, “The Cosby Show” is still there, 30 years later. Saturday TV Land marathons let us check in, compare the dreams of our then’s with the path of our now’s. Like our real-life parents, it’s not uncommon to hold our lives up to Claire and Cliff, and wonder what they might think. Long after the show left the air (in 1992), it remains a guiding light—from all sides. The children of the series showed that there is never a straight path, and family goes far beyond a blood line.
For so many of us who did not have a nuclear family, “The Brady Brunch” was as synthetic as the Astroturf in TV family’s backyard. “The Cosby Show” had no gimmick, and it had no suspension of disbelief. Sure, the kids were really well-behaved, but it wasn’t three sets of lookalike siblings paired up, or a regular family with a butler, or a wacky trio of men with dream jobs raising each others’ kids. The Cosby’s, as we so often call them, were real. They were the what-if to all of us looking in Thursday nights, whether close or not. In any era when entertainment felt the constant need for a unique angle, this was a family that was incredibly straightforward.
What is your greatest “Cosby Show” memory?