I'll spare you all the glowing and gushing adjectives; everyone knows that The Cosby Show was one of the warmest, wittiest, and most consistently entertaining sitcoms ever produced. Even in its later seasons, when it threatened to become sort of a new character explosion and mini-soap opera, this series still offered the wonderfully talented comedian Bill Cosby at the top of his game.
I grew up on this show, I still find it extremely appealing, and I think it was a great "mainstream" success for black culture in general. Clearly I'm a big fan of The Cosby Show and I was happily looking forward to rediscovering the first season on DVD.
But guess what?
The episodes included on this 4-disc set ... they're the syndicated versions. Yes, seriously.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of "syndicated" episodes, here's a really short primer: "extraneous" footage is dropped from each episode so that extra (or extra-long) commercial breaks can be played. And these are the versions included in the inaugural DVD collection? Of one of the most beloved situation comedies of all time??
Personally, I think that sucks.
Hey, anyone want to buy the "network broadcast version" of Scarface? Didn't think so. And I find it more than a little disconcerting to realize that, even though I may have just dropped 40-some bucks to own one of my very favorite sitcoms on DVD ... they're not nearly the original cuts; two to three minutes have been chopped out of each 20-some minute episode. OK, this approach might work fine where UHF reruns are concerned, since you're getting those for free. But if a studio is asking you to drop some solid cash on the first season of one of televisions' (very) finest sitcoms -- I don't think it's asking too much to get the complete, unaltered, unedited episodes.
And it's really a shame, too, because here we have 24 generally excellent and laugh-laden stories of Dr. Cliff Huxtable and his generally lovable family unit. Sure, the scripts of the early Cosby Show episodes were cobbled together from some of the comedian's most well-admired stand-up material, but the fans (like myself) don't seem to mind a few recycled gags -- mainly because they're still so damn funny. But to release a 4-disc, 24-episode collection full of edited episodes? Tacky move, folks. And of course you'll find no disclaimer on the package indicating that these episodes are NOT the original broadcast versions, which just makes me even more annoyed.
OK, aside from the supremely lame move of including the syndicated versions, I've very little to complain about here. The Cosby Show is just as sweet, warm, and funny as I clearly remember. The Coz is a ceaseless source of good humor and charm, and the legendary comedian is surrounded by a rock-solid supporting cast: Phylicia Rashad makes for a great "better half," and the kids (Lisa Bonet, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Tempestt Bledsoe, and Keisha Knight Pulliam) do a fine job of behaving like "normal" children while providing Bill with a springboard for some of the season's best laughs. It's not a re-invention of the wheel, but The Cosby Show still stands as one of the freshest examples of the "standard family sitcom" ever put together.
The series was an instant success, a strongly admired favorite all over world, and (easily) one of the most-watched TV shows of the 1980s. It's full of great laughs, warm chemistry, and all sorts of killer Cosby schtick. I've always loved The Cosby Show, and I still do today. And that's why I'm so damn pissed; if there's ONE place a TV series should be immortalized in its original broadcast form, it's on DVD. Especially a series like this one.
Disc inventories follow, with airdates and synopses courtesy of the (rather excellent) booklet that comes with the Season 1 package.
1. Pilot Presentation (9/20/84) -- Theo brings home a poor report card, but claims he doesn't need good grades to get a job - so Cliff gives him an economics lesson with Monopoly money. Much to Cliff's dismay, Denise goes on a date with Rafael, an older man who's a former merchant marine. Cliff and Clair's plans for a quiet night are ruined when Vanessa and Rudy can't sleep, with Rudy claiming the Wolfman was growling in her closet.
2. Goodbye Mr. Fish (9/27/84) -- When Rudy's goldfish dies, Cliff struggles over how to break the bad news to her. Cliff wants to hold a formal funeral in the bathroom, but the rest of the family has other ideas about the proper site for the "memorial."
3. Bad Dreams (10/4/84) -- Cliff forbids ten-year-old Vanessa from seeing a scary movie, though he allows older brother Theo to go. Vanessa sneaks out to see the movie anyway, but soon regrets it when she begins having nightmares. Now she insists on sleeping with Cliff and Clair, but she quickly overstays her welcome.
4. Knight to Night (12/6/84) -- When Cliff Huxtable realizes that Clair is overstressed at home and in the office, he treats her to a night in a first-class, spare-no-expense room at the Biltmore Hotel. Back at home, Denise is left to watch over the younger kids.
5. Is That My Boy? (10/11/84) -- Cliff is thrilled that Theo will continue the Huxtable tradition as a member of the football team; he can hardly control his joy when his son asks to see some of his old football moves. But his delight turns to disappoint when he sees that Theo has no moves of his own - he's terrible!
6. Breaking with Tradition (10/25/84) -- Denise wants to attend Princeton like her older sister, Sondra. But Grandpa Russell wants her to attend Hillman to uphold a family tradition. Cliff explains to his father the advantages of attending a highly regarded school like Princeton, until the older Huxtable points out that Hillman produced a highly regarded doctor ... Cliff.
7. One More Time (11/1/84) -- When Clair baby-sits for a newborn, she yearns to have another child of her own. Cliff, however, doesn't think it's such a good idea. In an effort to change Clair's mind, he introduces her to Mrs. Burke, a patient of his who is expecting child number 13. But Cliff's plan backfires when Clair is struck by how good Mrs. Burke looks.
8. A Shirt Story (10/18/84) -- Theo's plans to impress his date by wearing an expensive designer shirt are ruined when Cliff forces him to return the extravagant purchase. But Denise comes to the rescue when she offers to make Theo an exact copy for a third of the price.
9. Play It Again, Vanessa (11/8/84) -- With her music recital three days away, Vanessa cannot play a note on the clarinet, so Cliff arranges for her music teacher to give her private lessons. Jazz great Dizzy Gillespie guest stars as Vanessa's music teacher who tries to give her a crash course on the clarinet.
10. How Ugly Is He? (11/15/84) -- Dr. Cliff Huxtable and his attorney wife, Clair, invite daughter Denise's bright new boyfriend to dinner. But the outspoken fellow soon wears out his welcome when he criticizes the medical and legal professions.
11. Bonjour Sondra (11/22/84) -- Excited that the whole family will be together for Thanksgiving, Cliff anxiously waits for Sondra's arrival home from Princeton. But instead of celebrating, Sondra spends the holiday trying to persuade her parents to let her go to Paris for the summer.
12. Father's Day (12/20/84) -- Cliff gives the children a lecture on the importance of picking their father a suitable gift instead of the neon ties and yo-yos they usually buy for him. The kids take his advice to heart and plan a special Father's Day for their dad six months early.
13. Rudy's Sick (12/13/84) -- Rudy is sick, and Clair must go to an important interview, so Cliff stays home to watch her. Unfortunately, Cliff soon discovers that being a doctor hasn't fully prepared him to take care of a sick child.
14. Independence Day (1/10/85) -- While staying at a friend's house for the weekend, Theo has his ear pierced to prove his independence. When the ear becomes infected, Theo is forced to show Cliff the earring and accept his punishment - a lecture from Grandpa.
15. Physician of the Year (1/17/85) -- Cliff is honored with a very prestigious award: "Physician of the Year." But on the night of the awards banquet, Cliff is delayed in this hospital delivery room, so a proud Theo accepts the award for his father.
16. Jitterbug Break (1/31/85) -- To warm up for a night out, Cliff shows off his dance moves. Denise claims her father's footwork is old-fashioned and that break-dancing is the superior art form. To show her what dancing is really about, Cliff invites Ralph and Marie to teach the teenagers how to jitterbug.
17. Theo and the Joint (2/7/85) -- Cliff and Clair are concerned when they find a marijuana cigarette in Theo's schoolbook. Theo is upset that someone has planted the joint in his book, so he goes out of his way to find the culprit who set him up.
18. Vanessa's New Class (2/14/85) -- Vanessa is confident that her science project will bring her the usual top honors she expects - until she discovers that the other students in her new advanced-placement class are much more competitive than she thought.
19. Clair's Case (2/21/85) -- After Sondra is ripped off by a conniving auto mechanic, an incensed Clair goes to court to right the wrong. While Clair is preparing her court case, Cliff plays family chef and cooks up some rather bizarre concoctions for dinner - leaving the kids hungry for Mom's cooking.
20. Back the the Track, Jack (2/28/85) -- Cliff is excited to join his former track teammates from Hillman College in a grudge match against Norton University - until he discovers he is 25 years out of shape. Josh Culbreath, 1956 Olympic bronze medalist, guest stars as Sanford B. "Tailwind" Turner, the only man to ever beat Cliff "Combustible" Huxtable.
21. The Younger Woman (3/14/85) -- Clair is excited to learn that Cliff's widower friend, Mike, has a new woman in his life, and she invites the couple over for dinner. But Clair is shocked to discover that the beautiful Nikki is the same age as her oldest daughter.
22. The Slumber Party (3/28/85) -- While Clair is away, Cliff dreams up ways to entertain the children. But only Grandpa Huxtable is able to tame the troops. When Rudy complains, Cliff allows her to have a friend or two sleep over - which soon turns into a rollicking slumber party for eight.
23. Mr. Quiet (5/2/85) -- Theo finds a battered young boy at the playground of the Keystone Community Center and takes him to the Center's director, Tony Castillo, played by guest star Tony Orlando. Cliff, Theo and Tony try to help the boy but get no response. Tony, however, senses there is something special about the child and remains patient and determined to win him over.
24. Cliff's Birthday (5/9/85) -- While Cliff snoops around trying to discover his special birthday surprise, a clever Clair has arranged for the Huxtable family to see legendary performer Lena Horne. Cliff is beside himself when Lena Horne dedicates a song to him and invites the family to her dressing room after the show.
The Cosby Show: A Look Back -- Originally broadcast on May 19th, 2002, this 90-minute retrospective special was produced to commemorate the series' 10th anniversary. Hosted by Coz himself and his onscreen wife Phylicia Rashad, A Look Back is packed with interviews, deleted scenes, audition footage, guest star memories, behind-the-scenes trivia, and a handful of rather hilarious bloopers. This feature-length goodie is the only special feature included on the 4-disc set, but it's a very welcome inclusion indeed.
Video: The episodes are showing a little age, but they look pretty darn good for the most part. Fullscreen, obviously.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, which delivers the jokes, the jazz, and the ever-chuckling studio audience in fine aural form.
Extras: In addition to the 90-minute Look Back special, there's also a 20-page booklet that's packed with liner notes, cast information, a Cosby Show timeline, episode guides, and samples of the critical response to The Cosby Show's debut. You'll also find a trailer on Disc 4 for the first season release of the Cosby Show spinoff A Different World.
It's double-edged sword, deciding how far to praise this 4-disc collection. On one hand you're getting (at least) 90% of one of the best sitcoms of all time. On the other, you're given very little choice but to purchase what's clearly a fairly faulty product.
Had The Cosby Show's first season been released onto DVD in its original broadcast form, I'd have no problem calling it one of the most welcome TV-DVD releases of the year. But as it stands, The Cosby Show: Season 1 barely earns our recommended rating, simply because I don't much care for this sort of practice. If you're going to release a collection of "edited for syndication" episodes, you should at least have the common courtesy to let the customers know about it.
Five stars for the series, three stars for this slipshod release; c'mon guys, this show deserves a lot better. Vote with your wallets, DVD freaks; if you don't like the idea of buying syndicated episodes, make your voice heard by refusing to purchase a copy. And you should also feel free to contact UrbanWorks Entertainment, Ventura Distribution, and Carsey-Werner Distribution and (politely) ask them what was in their head when they came up with this idea.