“The Cosby Show” as a cultural touchstone

Growing up the in 1980s, many of us tuned in to NBC every Thursday to watch a nuclear family with two working, educated parents raise their children.

From 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., there were goals, achievements, setbacks and struggles that the family portrayed and communicated. There was trouble, and there were consequences. There was a certain philosophy to raising children and being a part of a cohesive family unit. And there was plenty of humor. There was an enlightened awareness of societal issues, as well as African-American culture. And there were sweaters.

This family – the Huxtables – they were fictitious.

But on “The Cosby Show,” one of television’s groundbreaking and most successful series, they were like us. They were realistic – and, if you still watch reruns of the series on CentricTV, the Cosbys still are.

And they were black. But that fact was seemingly tertiary, even though in “The Cosby Show … A Look Back,” a 2002 NBC retrospective on the series, Phylicia Rashad acknowledged that some African-Americans took exception to how they were portrayed. But I’m not here to play the race card.

“The Cosby Show” had a universal element. As parents, children, students, professionals and siblings, we could relate to the Huxtable family on some level.

If Heathcliff came home, exhausted after a day of delivering babies … and Denise would beg him for money/permission/forgiveness.

Or if he decided to give Theo a lesson in personal finance.

If Clair was arguing a case and when it seemed inevitable that she would lose, she would find a way to pull out her trump card and play it with wit and flair.

If Vanessa and Theo were fighting. Or if Theo didn’t like someone’s artistic abilities.

If Heathcliff was subltlely belittling Elvin. Or vice versa.

If Denise, the semi-misfit daughter, announced that her intentions didn’t align with those of her parents. Or if Sondra, the Ivy League graduate daughter, did the same.

The Cosby Show also provided us with arguably the best scene in television history – the whole family performing Ray Charles’ “Night Time Is The Right Time,” in celebration of the grandparents’ anniversary.

“The Cosby Show” brought a certain sincerity to our living rooms, one that, 25 years later, still resonates. As some of my friends would say, “The Cosby Show is the truth.”


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