25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition
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Reviewed by Will Harris
n the glut of interviews Bill Cosby has been doing to promote “The Cosby Show: The 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition” (a.k.a. all eight seasons of the series in one handy-dandy box), he’s made a point of distancing himself from the theory which writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez referred to as "the Huxtable effect.” Although Cosby himself might not be willing to take direct credit for helping to integrate America through his sitcom, there’s no denying that “The Cosby Show” was one of the first sitcoms to star a predominantly African-American cast and not end up being labeled as a so-called “black sitcom,” and that’s a heck of an accomplishment.
It seems a little ridiculous now to look back and realize that it was vaguely groundbreaking for NBC to offer up a sitcom about an African-American family where the father was an obstetrician and the mother was a lawyer, but it most certainly was. It managed to be pioneering by simply treating the Huxtables as people. Strange but true. The beauty of the Huxtables was that, as Cosby himself has said on many occasions, they were so universal that people would approach him and demand to know how he got into their house.
“The Cosby Show” wasn’t about race; it was about family.
Looking back at the full run of the series, there’s no way around acknowledging that the early seasons of the show were indeed the classic years. You had Cliff (Cosby) and Clair (Phylicia Rashad), and you had the four kids that lived in the house – Denise (Lisa Bonet), Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe), and Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam) – plus the eldest child, Sondra (Sabrina LeBeauf), who came home from college to visit once in awhile. Cliff’s parents, Russell (Earle Hyman) and Anna (Clarice Taylor), would also stop by on occasion. That’s the era when the series was at its best and still felt like something new. Although the show would continue to maintain a relatively consistent level of humor throughout its run, there are plenty of changes which punters could label as jump-the-shark moments: Denise going off to college, Sondra coming home from college, Sondra getting married to Elvin (Geoffrey Owens), and so forth. Probably the most overt attempt to extend the life of the show, however, was the moment when Denise got married to Martin (Joseph C. Phillips) – and gained a four-year-old stepdaughter named Olivia (Raven-Symone). Yep, you got it: Rudy just wasn’t cute enough anymore, so they had to bring in some newer, younger blood.
The show’s predilection for bringing in guest stars was mocked in an episode of “The Simpsons” (talk about the pot calling the kettle black), where Bleeding Gums Murphy was introduced to the Huxtable kids as “Grandpa Murphy,” but it was admittedly entertaining to see who Cosby was going to rope into appearing on the show. Again, you have to look back at the show’s early years to find the real classics, including Stevie Wonder, Danny Kaye, Lena Horne, and Dizzy Gillespie, not to mention Cos’s re-teaming with old co-stars like Robert Culp (“I Spy”) and Rita Moreno (“The Electric Company”), but high-profile folks were still showing up all the way to the end. Keep an eye out for appearances by B.B. King, Christopher Plummer, Placido Domingo, John Ritter, and Sammy Davis, Jr., among others.
Despite this clarification about how the earlier seasons were the better seasons, there’s not a moment’s hesitation when it comes to recommending “The Cosby Show: 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition.” Even in the later years, Bill Cosby remains a man who can get a laugh out of a mere look, and as Cliff Huxtable, his various reactions as a son, a husband, a father, and a grandfather over the course of the series’ run will prove highly familiar, well, anyone with a family, really. Which is only appropriate.
Special Features: The good news is that there are several very enjoyable special features. The bad news is that, considering that we’re talking about eight seasons of one of the most popular sitcoms in history, it still feels like it should’ve had more. Most notable of the features that are included is a brand new two-part interview with Mr. Cosby (oh, sorry, that’s Dr. Cosby) about the history of the show, which is interspersed with clips from throughout the run of the series. We also get two different collections of bloopers, an interview with director Jay Sandrich, and a two-hour documentary, “‘The Cosby Show’: A Look Back Special.” Now here’s the problem: between all of these various items, there is a lot of repetition. If you’re someone who sits down and watches all of a set’s special features in one sitting, you’re liable to be yawning before you’re done. That’s not to say that they aren’t each interesting and entertaining in their own right; it’s just that there’s considerable crossover, and you’re very much aware of it if you’re viewing them back to back.
Also included in the set is a photo gallery slide show, but what’s probably going to be far cooler to the diehard fans of the show is the inclusion of a letter from Bill Cosby, a print of Al Hirschfeld’s caricature of Cos, and a hard-cover booklet, which contains color photos and a reproduction of the original script for the initial presentation of the series pilot. It doesn’t make up for the lack of any audio commentaries whatsoever, neither from cast nor guest stars, but it’s certainly a nice touch.