For decades Bill Cosby has been a comedian of legendary status, and deservedly so. Not only did he manage to attain a high degree of fame plying his standup act trade in the 60's, he did so as an African-American, paving the way for so many others that have come after. His acts always dealt in large part with heaping portions of his family life- his childhood, his parents, and in turn his own marriage and children, and rarely did Cos veer into adults only material. He was also a pioneer for African-Americans in television, co-starring with Robert Culp in "I Spy". Before the breakaway hit series "The Cosby Show" came along in the '90's, Cosby tried to find success on the small screen on a number of occasions over the years.
The Bill Cosby Show was his first attempt at doing so after "I Spy" left the air; Cosby had signed a sweetheart contract deal with NBC, guaranteeing him a two year run on his next program following "I Spy", regardless of what the ratings were. Unusual at the time was the fact that the sitcom used no laugh track, this coming at Cosby's continued insistance. While at times the show seemed to lack the kind of laughs one would expect from a comedy of the era, NBC lived up to its end of the bargain and ran the series for two full seasons- and in 1969 a television season was considerably longer from those of the present. There are 26 episodes here, virtually unheard of these days for single seasons.
Cosby's Emmy-nominated first situation comedy, The Bill Cosby Show brought us the Cos playing Chet Kincaid, a gym teacher at Holmes High School in Los Angeles. Chet is in many ways the average fella, likable to all who know him and an inspiration to students and friends alike. Fans of the juggernaut that was "The Cosby Show", beware; this variation on Cos is no Cliff Huxtable, and to be honest that is somewhat refreshing. The Huxtable character was superdad. Kincaid has many attributes with which to build the show around. He's young; Bill was actually 32 years old at the time the show aired- he's single; many episodes deal with his quest to find love among the masses, thus you'll witness Chet wooing a few attractive prospects- and cool, in a sexy way that we never saw Cliff. Cosby looks to be in great shape, something you simply didn't see when watching Cliff Huxtable. When Kincaid is out for a run, in the gym or on a ball court, he's far trimmer and more athletic than the older man we saw constantly trying to just stay relatively healthy, at odds with dieting in order to keep his weight down on The Cosby Show.
Of significance is the fact that Cosby was not only the main character, he was the only actor that the viewer could count on seeing from one episode to the next; there was no vastly talented Phylicia Rashad to help carry the load, nor familiar loveable Cosby kids to become the focus of several episodes per season. William H. Cosby Jr. was on his own here, doing his best to make the show a success. Although the show often focuses on Chet's penchant for helping out his community and fellow man, it does so without the kind of preachiness that some "Cosby Show" dissenters found a bit heavy-handed. As one would expect with any character Cosby takes on, there is also an abundance of time spent showcasing Bill's wonderful interaction with children of all ages. While the Huxtable family was fairly well to do, bachelor Chet seems to live a somewhat simpler, more frugal life. Expect to see lots of funky 60's-type decor in the surrounds you see here; Chet's bachelor abode is a real hoot when one compares it to the Huxtable residence. Cosby's Kincaid character deals with real life situations in quirky, funny ways that will likely make viewers smile and see a bit of themselves.
Here is a synopsis of the Season One episodes-
The Fatal Phone Call-Chet gets involved in a domestic dispute when he answers a pay phone during a jogging session.
Lullaby and Goodnight-The neighbor's dog is making too much noise for Chet to get to sleep. Lots of physical comedy in this one
The Best Hook Shot In The World-A short student with a quirky little hook shot feels Chet is discriminating against him because he didn't make the basketball team; the school counselor accuses Chet of being predjudiced as a result.
A Girl Named Punkin-A girl from the neighborhood follows Chet home but refuses to speak.
Rules Is Rules-Chet fights a sea of red tape while trying to get a valve need to inflate a basketball.
Let X Equal A Lousy Weekend-Chet is a substitute math teacher and finds he can't solve an algebra problem, having peeved off his fellow teachers by telling them he won't ask them for advice on how to teach if they don't give him advice on coaching.
To Kincaid, With Love-A student starts bringing homemade goodies and flowers to Chet, which causes another student to be jealous.
The Killer Instinct-Chet is pressured by the well-to-do father of a student to put his son on the football team.
The Substitute-Chet teaches a sex education class and babysits his brother's children while trying to get a date with an attractive substitute teacher.
Brotherly Love-Chet's brother leaves his wife just as Chet is about to have a date arrive at his apartment.
Going The Route-Chet takes on his sick nephew's paper route.
A Word From Our Sponsor-Chet is selected to star in commercial for a breakfast cereal.
A Christmas Ballad-Chet gets an old man a job as Santa at a community center.
Home Remedy-Chet is home sick with a cold but can't get any rest thanks to his relatives and friends arriving with their own cures.
Growing Growing Grown-Chet is the chaparone at the school dance and escorts a new teacher in his brother's garbage truck
The Elevator Doesn't Stop Here Anymore-Chet gets stuck in an elevator with an English teacher and a cleaning lady who speaks little English.
Lover's Quarrel-Chet tries to put a stop to his aunt and uncle's constant fighting.
The Worst Crook That Ever Lived-Chet councels a shoplifter in exchange for new baseball uniforms.
The Gumball Incident-Chet goes to court to defend himself against the charge that he broke a gumball machine.
Goodbye Cruel World-Chet plays matchmaker between a shy friend and the apple of his eye.
Driven To Distinction-Chet teaches a nervous student how to drive.
The Blind Date-Chet goes on a blind date with positive results.
How You Play The Game-Chet competes in the city handball championship.
The Return Of Big, Bad, Bubba Bronson-Chet learns how to box when he finds out his old high school rival is coming to town.
The Mouth Is Rated X-Chet tries to break a star basketball player of his swearing habit.
Really Cool-Chet reminisces to the school paper about his life and a big track meet.
In my eyes the show was ahead of its time. The series seems to grow on the viewer in a funny, kind spirited manner. While there are moments of typical sitcom fodder, the show also has some interesting quirks and nuances of its own. It comes across as a curious hybrid of comedy and drama, with a subtle coolheadedness that runs just beneath the surface in each episode. Viewers at the time were used to their sitcoms being dumb and laugh out loud funny; The Bill Cosby Show was smartly-humored television that on many occasions worked. Even the theme song for the show was unusual, but should come as no suprise for fans of Cosby from way back. "Hicky Burr", a nonsensical, funky soul tune performed by Bill and written with Quincy Jones is fun and catchy- not unlike Cosby's later efforts when he released a few comedic music albums that were in large part parodies of famous artists of the day, yet also contained some nifty little tunes of their own. Cosby states that he likes to see himself as a "Jack Benny" in the musical field- good enough to participate, but not good enough to excel.
Cosby was a prominently rising star before the show aired, thus it apparently wasn't difficult to get some well known stars to make guest appearances. Among the familiar faces showing up during the season are Henry Fonda, Cicely Tyson, Elsa Lanchester, Wally Cox, Vic Tayback, and Lou Gossett Jr. Later on came a few other shows, "The New Bill Cosby Show", and "Cos" both of which had rather short lives. He did manage to find a great deal of success with his Saturday morning animated "Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids" show, which ran for several seasons, but the TV sitcom field didn't seem to hold much promise after "The Bill Cosby Show" until the juggernaut that was "The Cosby Show" came along.
This is a 4 disc, single sided set packaged in a foldout portfolio and housed in a slick cardboard case. Significant is the fact that the 26 episodes are uncut and fully restored, so the viewer is getting the same show that was originally broadcast in 1969-1970.
Aspect ratio is 1.33:1 fullscreen and looks great for its age; the transfers are incredibly clean, colors are lush, vibrant and seem to be rendered well, and sharpness is good. One would be hard pressed to find many 37 year old television sitcoms that have looked better.
The audio track here is Dolby Digital mono. I found it to be a bit on the weak side, but adequate overall for its purpose.
The Bill Cosby Interview- Clocking in at 20 minutes, this is a
very recent (the Cos is showing his age these days) interview with Bill
where he discusses all manner of things involving the series; how he
feels the laugh track influenced NBC to cancel the show, his
relationship with the various producers and actors on the series, getting Henry Fonda to appear on the show, how the theme song came to be recorded by Quincy Jones, reminiscences pertaining to his grandfather and his influence on both the song and the name of Cosby's production company, Jemmin, Inc. and that fact that he wrote this show with two basics that he would integrate into future works; his hometown of Philadelphia and the
importance of education. While not a must watch, it's an interesting piece.
Ahead of its time, The Bill Cosby Show is probably Cos' best television work before his "The Cosby Show" made NBC the place to be on Thursday nights for eight seasons. His Chet Kincaid character is no Cliff Huxtable, and that is the appeal of checking out this series; we get to see a thirtysomething Cosby take center stage and begin the process of bringing his standup persona to an acting role. Watching the first season you can see the series getting progressively better; it certainly deserved more than a two season run. While I'll personally take "The Cosby Show" over this early series, I like this show alot, and highly recommend it.