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THE COSBY SHOW
25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Sabrina Le Beauf, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Lisa Bonet, Tempestt Bledsoe, Keshia Knight Pulliam
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  First Look
Features:  See Review
Length:  Approx. 4,500 minutes
Release Date:  November 11, 2008

“Please, Dad…I’m on vacation.”

“No, son…a vacation is something you get when you have a job.”

Shows ****

In 1984, Bill Cosby was no stranger to television when he somewhat quietly returned to the medium to bring a new family sitcom to the airwaves.  It was loosely based on his real life family, with five children, all girls except for a boy right in the middle.  It was called The Cosby Show, and initially rejected by ABC, found a place on Thursday nights on NBC, where it was expected to falter thanks to being on opposite CBS’ mega hit series Magnum P.I.

But Cosby, a man who had been making the world laugh for decades, knew a little something about laughing last and laughing best.  Yes, critics were initially cool to his format, calling it lightweight and family fluff.  But fans started tuning in.  Before long, The Cosby Show was a phenomenal hit, and the number one rated show for five straight years.  It was never out of the top 20 for its entire eight year run.  It spun off a successful show A Different World.  Today, almost 25 years after its debut, it’s remembered as one of the most popular sitcoms ever produced, with Bill Cosby’s Cliff Huxtable considered one of television’s most beloved father figure.

This amazing set from First Look has it all…26 discs, eight years, 200 episodes, including the 2002 retrospective.  It’s an impressive reminder of the juggernaut this show was…how much it made us laugh, touched our hearts, made us think, and filled our ideals about what family life should be like.

It was light, but fun, and under Bill Cosby’s supervision, wasn’t afraid to tread into some troubling waters here and there, whether it was drug use, aging, marriage, Apartheid, or anything else the Cos thought worthy of bringing into the show.  His talented cast, starting with Phylicia Rashad (Ayers-Allen at the start), supported him and helped anchor the comedy week after week. 

And who could ever forget Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Theo, Tempestt Bledsoe as Vanessa, or Keshia Knight Pulliam as Rudy?  Wonderful all.  Sabrina Le Beauf had a short run as the oldest daughter Sondra, who went to college early on, and of course Lisa Bonet would find college success a little more visible in A Different World, not to mention a share of controversy when the family sitcom star bared all in Angel Heart, but that’s a story for another time.

The parade of guest stars was always impressive.  Stevie Wonder, Danny Kaye, Adam Sandler, B. B. King, Joe Williams, just to name a few…it was quite ‘in’ to be on The Cosby Show.  Though for my money, one of the most memorable stars was the legendary Sammy Davis Jr., who passed not long after his appearance. 

Trying to pick a favorite episode out of 200 is like trying to pick your favorite page out of a novel, but two stand out in my mind.  One is the classic pilot that started it all, when Cliff teaches Theo a thing or two about living in the real world with the help of the family and some Monopoly money…real or play, cash goes fast when you’re on your own!  And the other was the Huxtable family’s anniversary present to the grandparents, which featured a hysterically rollicking lip-synced rendition of Ray Charles’ “The Night Time is the Right Time”.  It was the first time I’d ever heard the tune, and I’ve loved it ever since!

The show was positive, and though the family was African American and very proudly so, their experiences were something all could relate to and identify with.  In some ways, I think the show’s eight year run had an indelible effect on bringing cultures and races more together.  After all, husbands are husbands, wives are wives and kids are kids, no matter what their background, right?  Americans simply saw the Huxtables as the ultimate idyllic American family…something we could all aspire to, even if problems in our lives didn’t usually lend themselves to easy half-hour resolutions.

And it was wonderful to see such a decidedly successful middle-class African American family on television, turning around the all-too-frequent stereotypes that black actors had been relegated to for so long.  Cliff was an obstetrician, Claire was a lawyer, and their kids were smart and either in or headed toward college…Bill Cosby made a very powerful statement with this show, and the country and the world took notice.

Going through this show again was a wonderfully nostalgic trip for me.  The memories poured over me so quickly and constantly that it was hard to keep track of them all, but like a good photo album, these episodes reminded me of simpler times, when I was a kid who loved to yuk it up at school with my friends while all of us wished our dads were a little more like Bill Cosby.  Ah, memories.

But even though it was decades past television’s early days, The Cosby Show was a reminder, maybe for the last time, of how wonderfully sweet, wholesome and funny a family program could be.  God bless The Cos for this gift to the world…his eight years of mind-boggling success was very well deserved.

Video **

These shows were shot on video, and as such, exhibit some of the limitations of the medium.  The clarity is fine, but the tapes tend toward a little softness here and there, as well as definition and lines that aren’t always as solid as you might like.  There is some improvement as the eight years progress, and overall, these discs deliver exactly what you would expect, but not a whole lot more.

Audio **

I’m not sure if the tracks are stereo or two-channel mono, but the audio is serviceable.  Dialogue is clear, an the musical touches are a nice plus (especially with Bill Cosby’s tendencies to bring jazz into the works), though dynamic range is understandably limited.

Features ***

Not all of the extras in this package are in disc form…this handsome (and heavy) set includes a hardcover book commemorating the 25th anniversary of the show, along with a photo and letter from Bill Cosby.  There are also interviews with Cosby and director Jay Sandrich, some bloopers, a photo gallery slide show, and the 2002 special looking back at the show.

Summary:

The Cosby Show arrived modestly on the airwaves, and left as one of television’s most amazing success stories.  The guidance and talent of Bill Cosby, directing his comedy into a wholesome family offering, showed the world what could be done with a sitcom, and the world has never forgotten.  This staggering 8 year commemorative collection is an absolute treasure trove of Americana at its loveable, hilarious best.

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