Looking back at season 1 of The Cosby Show
, it's easy to forget that momentous history was being made. Not only did this immensely popular sitcom hold the #1 spot among all network TV shows for five consecutive seasons (a record that still stands), but it promoted an evolutionary progression that influenced the entire TV industry from that point forward. African Americans had enjoyed sitcom success in the past (on Julia
, The Jeffersons
, and Good Times
), but the idealized family of Cliff and Clair Huxtable (Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad) represented a new and quietly revolutionary perspective; married for 21 years with five children (one in college, a detail unmentioned in the pilot episode), the Huxtables were happy and successful (he's a doctor, she's a lawyer), and issues of race were almost entirely irrelevant to the show's universal appeal. Making their Thursday-night debut on September 20, 1984, they were conceived by Cosby (as "executive consultant Dr. William H. Cosby Jr., Ed.D."), cocreators Ed. Weinberger and Michael Leeson, and executive producers Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey, with a matter-of-fact approach to upgrading the African American image, built upon Cosby's rubber-faced popularity as a stand-up comedian and rooted in the complete and unbiased integration of the black experience into the American mainstream. More to the point, The Cosby Show
was eminently respectable family entertainment, perhaps too squeaky-clean for some tastes, but immediately popular at a time when Eddie Murphy (in Beverly Hills Cop
) was honing a more profane image that Cosby disapproved of.
The show was also perfectly cast for mass appeal, from the irresistible precociousness of Keshia Knight Pulliam (as the youngest and most charming Huxtable daughter, Rudy) to the stylish adolescence of Lisa Bonet (years before her controversial role in Angel Heart) as 16-year-old Denise; Malcolm-Jamal Warner as outspoken teenager Theo; Tempestt Bledsoe as sensible younger daughter Vanessa; and Sabrina LaBeauf as college student and eventual mother of twins, Sondra. Combined with the effortless chemistry of Cosby and Rashad (credited in Season 1 as Phylicia Ayers Allen), the entire cast forged an easygoing, loosely-rehearsed dynamic that was genuinely familial.
Given The Cosby Show's immense popularity, it's deeply regrettable that the exorbitant cost of original music rights resulted in this DVD release of edited episodes that were shortened, with different music cues added, for perpetual syndication. Fans eager to see the original NBC broadcasts were understandably outraged, and this shortcoming should be addressed in DVD releases of subsequent seasons. In truth, the episodes (including "Goodbye, Mr. Fish," a perfect example of the show's universal appeal) are not significantly diminished by the careful editing; for casual fans, the difference is barely worth mentioning. And while the 90-minute bonus feature "The Cosby Show: A Look Back" (a clip show originally broadcast May 19, 2002) suffers from the conspicuous absence of Bonet (who by then had mostly retreated from show business), it duly conveys the long-term value (and moral values) of the series, which singlehandedly restored the fortunes of NBC while embracing familial togetherness that would inform many of the popular sitcoms that followed its noble example. --Jeff Shannon