The prevailing impression I would guess most people have of Bill Cosby now is the one peddled in The Simpsons and Family Guy, notably the "puddin’ pops" impression the latter revels in. Either that, or you’ll know his heavily scrutinised political views on the problems that plague the modern African-American community. After watching/reliving the first series of his landmark television series, you can’t help but feel sad that fewer haven’t really experienced his comic work because for the most part, this is pretty marvellous stuff.
The series follows Dr Cliff Huxtable (Cosby), his wife Clair (Rashad) and their four children still living in their brownstone Manhattan house. And that’s it. The entire series is built around this premise of exploring exactly what it’s like to live as an affluent, loving family. The series, certainly within the first half, just allows this to unfold organically, drawing laughs from the familiarity most will have of family life and the troubles and travails of this type of living. The comedy is drawn from the quiet moments of interaction and minor conflict between the parents and children. Six years before Seinfeld, here was a sitcom without situations, without any sort of exaggerated incident. This is, like Seinfeld, a sitcom that’s about nothing yet about everything. The Cosby Show is really that same philosophy Larry and Jerry would take but minus the crushing cynicism. As such, there aren’t really any standout episodes although one does manage to devote around half its running time purely to dancing, making that easily the most notable.
Later in the show, the message episodes start to meander through, most notably with a really strange treatment of teenage marijuana abuse involving Theo which manages to deal with the subject with a modicum of grace, even if it can’t help but preach just a little. It’s certainly an important document of its time but while the implications of the show for race and television are well-documented, what’s startling is the lack of politics. There are almost no references to oppression of African-Americans within the life these people lead. By refusing to engage with this overtly, there is no doubt a political statement is being made but it just means the message gets across quietly and without being heavy-handed. Cosby himself provides the show with a focal point and gives a very physical performance, dancing and creeping around the sets to the amusement of his children and subsequently the audience. It’s a loving and gentle central role that captures the spirit of the show’s aim to portray a normal, affluent and happy family and you can’t help but have your heart warmed and funny bone tickled by the results.
EXTRAS None at all. Which is a shame, and further evidence of the lack of respect that Universal Playback has for its Region 2 customers. Why? Because the Region 1 edition has a bonus feature called The Cosby Show: A Look Back, a 90-minute documentary made in 2002. And which is nowhere to be found on this set. The question, then, is why not?