Bill Cosby is a rapist. Gonna say that up front. He did terrible things to women, hasn’t really shown any remorse for it, and, despite that, he spent most of his life pretending to be the moral center of American comedy (even after admitting to cheating on his wife). As Hannibal Buress put it “It’s even worse because Bill Cosby has the f*cking smuggest old black man public persona that I hate. ‘Pull your pants up, black people, I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches. ‘I don’t curse on stage.’ Well, yeah, you’re a rapist, so, I’ll take you sayin’ lots of motherf*ckers on Bill Cosby: Himself if you weren’t a rapist.” He may never be convicted, and I suppose there is a small chance that I am wrong, and that all these women have been falsely accusing him since the 1970s with similar stories that happen to match some partial admissions by him. But, I’m willing to bet otherwise.
It’s difficult to separate the artist from the art. That makes writing this episode’s review more challenging, since I put it on the list before the accusations really came to light, but am writing it after his first trial (update: And publishing it before his second). But, ultimately, I’m going to keep it on here. The fact that Polanski is a pedophile doesn’t mean Chinatown isn’t brilliant, that Orson Scott Card has weird conspiracy theories about the “gay agenda” doesn’t mean that Ender’s Game isn’t a good book, or that [insert almost every poet from 1700-1980 here] being an anti-Semite doesn’t mean that their poetry isn’t good. You don’t have to support them, you don’t have to give money to them, but it’s also true that not everything that a bad person does is inherently bad, or even that a person who does a bad thing is a completely bad person (note: Cosby is a bad person, he’s an unrepentant rapist). In the end, trying to write off everything someone does as bad because they did something else horrible is just avoiding thinking about a complicated issue, and that benefits no one. So, with all that said, the rest of this review will be focused on this episode.
While finales are common on this list, so too are pilots, and second episodes. Why second? Because that’s often the first real episode of the show, because the pilot is often filmed without fully forming the characters and the style of the series (in the case of The Cosby Show, they changed the style and even the number of children). Additionally, because most writers want to hook you early, they usually put the best script for the season into production first after the pilot is picked up. This is the second episode of this particular show, and it definitely was when they first managed to find the voice they wanted for the show. The idea behind the show was to show a positive, upper-middle-class portrayal of an African-American family. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable (Rapist) was a doctor and his wife Clair (Phylicia Rashad) was a successful attorney. They had five children: Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf), who was in college in this episode; wild child Denise (Lisa Bonet); Middle-child and only son Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner); Nosy pre-teen Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe); and unbelievably cute youngest child Rudy (Keshia Knight “Googling me after watching me as a five-year-old will make you uncomfortable” Pulliam).
The show’s humor was based on Bill Cosby’s stand-up routines, which mostly focused on his own family life, and incorporated his trademark over-the-top facial reactions (which were often so elaborate that Jim Carrey studied them for the part of his career where he was funny). This episode focuses on two of the more complicated issues in parenting: Explaining death to your child, and dealing with the fact that your children can be jerks.
After a long day at work, Cliff just wants to relax, but Vanessa informs him that Rudy’s pet goldfish, Lamont, has passed away, but Rudy hasn’t figured it out yet. In fact, she continues to try to feed him. Being five, Rudy hasn’t really had to deal with the concept of death, and doesn’t understand it at first. Pulliam, despite her youth, really nails being both impossibly adorable and completely naïve while the family tries to get her to comprehend that Lamont is not going to get better. The older children don’t particularly treat it with any seriousness, but Cliff understands that Lamont is a special pet to Rudy. Rudy becomes sad when she starts to realize the truth, which is not helped by the other kids’ constant jokes about Lamont’s death. Cliff decides to hold a funeral for Lamont, less to help Rudy than to punish his other children for their callousness. He makes the whole family dress up for the affair, and proceeds to deliver the most monotone, unenthusiastic, and somehow still hilarious eulogy imaginable. Before the eulogy is completed, however, Rudy decides to leave and watch TV, because she’s five. The other children depart shortly afterwards, and Clair points out the obvious that only Cliff actually thinks a funeral for a fish is doing anything. Cliff flushes the fish, then shortly afterwards Rudy returns. Cliff, triumphant, tries to show Clair that Rudy appreciates the funeral, only for Rudy to say that she just needs to use the bathroom.
The B-plot of the episode is Clair’s repeated attempts to tell members of the family about something that happened at work, which Cliff finally manages to listen to, but fails to react correctly. If you’ve ever had a significant other, you’ll think this scene is hilarious. If you haven’t, well, it’s still funny.
This episode shows what one of the biggest challenges in parenting is going to be: You aren’t your kids, you don’t know what they’re going to think at any time, and you’re going to project yourself onto them when you try to guess it. Unfortunately, you’re likely to project yourself as you think you were as a child, not as you actually were. Cliff thinks that Rudy has a deep connection with Lamont that will shape her childhood. Rudy, however, is five, and stops caring after her attention span wanes in a few hours. In the end, Cliff is the one dealing with the death of a goldfish that’s only a few months old in the most childish way. But, at least his heart was in the right place, which is what we should all aim for as parents.
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