A classic series in every sense of the word, "The Cosby Show" ran on NBC from 1984 to 1992. The series was immensely successful (a remarkable record of 5 years at #1 in the rankings; it's only one of two shows to ever have achieved that amazing accomplishment) and was based - at least in part - on the legendary comedian's stand-up act, which often dug into the sort of family issues that are covered in the series. The show was the first of many where comedians got sitcoms that were an expansion on their act - "Drew Carey Show", "Seinfeld" and "Home Improvement", among others. The show launched a spin-off, "A Different World", which managed to be a sizable hit of a its own.
The series focused on the life of Heathcliff Huxtable (Cosby), as well as wife Clair (Phylicia Rashad) and kids Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe), Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam), Denise (Lisa Bonet) and Sondra (Sabrina LeBeauf). As the series went on, the kids grew up, got married (in the case of Sondra, to Elvin, played by the funny Geoffrey Owens, who wasn't that funny on his own, but was terrific playing off of Cosby and Rashad) and new characters were eventually introduced, such as Olivia (Raven Symone).
The series managed to play to both children and adults remarkably well, with children finding situations that they could relate to that were presented in a way that didn't seem overly sappy and didn't talk down to them. Adults understood what the parents were going through and parents felt that the series was a wholesome one where the whole family could sit together and get a good laugh and a good lesson.
Given Cosby's background in education, he does an exceptional job weaving in lessons to the series without making them heavy-handed or making the series feel like a "crisis of the week" that had to be solved before the inevitable happy ending. The situations with the children felt realistic; they respected and loved their parents, but made mistakes and found themselves in situations that required the guidance of their parents.
The series also often did an excellent job shifting between issues with one or more of the kids within an episode, as well as shifting back-and-forth between drama and comedy. The series explored serious issues at times, but in a way that was thoughtful and often moving without being heavy-handed. Although one can argue that the latter seasons aren't as good as the earlier efforts, they are still excellent television and it's remarkable how well this series as a whole stands up years later.
For adults, Clair and Cliff provided an example of a supportive, realistic relationship that felt remarkably genuine and honest. While she often called him on his bluffs or mistakes, the character still felt absolutely supportive and loving to her husband - whereas sitcoms these days often position the wife as mainly there to correct the husband with their particular screw-up of the week. Clair and Cliff had a relationship with heart and depth, and that sort of thoughtful, rich portrayal of a married couple in a sitcom (the other example from the same time period being "Family Ties") is missed these days.
This hefty box set provides all 8 seasons of the series, presented in the original network broadcast format. Lift the outer cover and a set of fold-out cases are enclosed, each of which houses a season or pair of seasons.
VIDEO: "The Cosby Show" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame by First Look. The presentation quality does vary somewhat throughout the seasons (with the most recent ones looking moderately fresher, understandably so), but the majority of the series looks pretty good, especially considering the age of the early seasons. Some slight wear on the original elements is seen, but only very rarely. No edge enhancement is spotted, but a few minor instances of pixelation did show up. While not flawless, these presentations are likely to please fans, and it appears as if the elements have been handled well over the years.
SOUND: Clear stereo soundtrack.
EXTRAS: There is an interview with Dr. Bill Cosby that lasts about 45 minutes, and the interview has been broken up into two parts. The newly recorded interview has Cosby chatting about the legacy of the series, as well as the development of the show from square one, starting with the casting process - along with Cosby's comments on what initially hooked his interest in each of the performers that wound up in the roles. We also hear about the shaping of the series, the chemistry with Rashad and the reactions that Cosby has gotten around the world about the show, among other topics.
22 minutes of bloopers are absolutely, totally hysterical. This is structured as an episode with bloopers played throughout. Not sure when or if this aired, but it's certainly a good time. Director Jay Sandrich also provides an audio commentary for "How Ugly Is He?" (season 1) and "Denise's Friend" (season 2). An interview with Sandrich is also offered, as well as the terrific "The Cosby Show: A Look Back", which is a 90-minute reunion with cast and crew. Also included are a photo gallery and bloopers for the second season. Additionally, there's also a sketch of Cosby and letter from Cosby thanking fans.
Final Thoughts: A tremendous success, "The Cosby Show" offered an outstanding cast, marvelous writing and a wonderful mix of laughs and emotional moments. I've always thought the series was a classic, but watching it again after many years, it still remains just as funny. The DVD set provides a fine presentation of the episodes, along with some nifty bonus footage (some of which is new, some of which has been taken from the previously released season sets.) The set is very highly recommended for fans, and makes a great gift.