A Union of Equals

Huxtables 2

A coincidence facilitated by insomnia, Ramadan and a never-satisfied thirst for pop culture brought me to a YouTube treasure trove of full episodes of one of my favourite shows of all time: The Cosby Show. Listen. The Cosby Show is… everything. And if you don’t know – or perhaps forgot – then you better ask somebody.

Re-watching the show, I was struck anew at how absurd and disappointing it is that there hasn’t been a good family sitcom like it for so long. Years, in fact. The Cosby Show seems so effortless, so simple; and it wears its perfection very lightly indeed. It’s only in unpacking the show’s layers that you really appreciate how bloody difficult it must have been. To make a comedy is bloody hard, sure. To make The Cosby Show must have been ridiculous. And it ran for so long (admittedly dipping in the final seasons), and reached so many people, and stayed so good… I love The Cosby Show. Can you tell?

The allure of The Cosby Show was of course, The Huxtables. As a kid, I was mostly obsessed with Denise – she was my girl crush prototype, and with no fronting, I can admit she remains untouchable in my affections to this day. But now that I’m older, my attentions have shifted a lot more to the heads of the Huxtable clan, Clair and Cliff. When I watched them back in the 80s and 90s (Nigerian telly was a little behind) I paid their marriage as much attention as I did my parents’ i.e. not very much at all. They existed, and it was nice that they did, but their union was not really my area of interest, not when I could be daydreaming about being a Huxtable sibling/friend. I enjoyed their little conflicts and squabbles (hey, remember when Clair put on weight and asked the dressmaker not to tell Cliff, as she had been bugging him about his unhealthy lifestyle? FUN) but never looked at their relationship that closely. In watching the show as an adult however, my eyes have been opened to the outrageous idea that underpins the Huxtables’ marriage: Clair and Cliff are equals.

*GLASS SHATTERING SOUND EFFECT*

In every way that mattered, Clair was Cliff’s equal. She was just as educated, just as smart, just as accomplished. She was not a simpering idiot. She was not a silly woman. She was kind and fair and tough and wise. She was not ‘lesser than’ in any way. He was her friend, he respected her (and she him), he loved her. They were partners, putting equal amounts into their relationship and reaping the rewards. And that is pretty shitting radical. They loved one another, but they also liked each other. Plus, you know they fancied the pants off one another, which is just… well, it’s excellent, innit?

In the same way that I re-evaluate my parents’ marriage and spot depths that went unnoticed by my then-juvenile eyes, I now watch the Huxtables and thank the telly gods they existed. I appreciate The Cosby Show and I am so glad we had the Huxtables.

Images via Cosby Show Caps

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6 responses

  1. One thing I’ve noticed is that when you get Americans of roughly my age together, one shared experience we inevitably had was being at home on Thursday night to watch television – anchored, of course, by the Huxtables.
    It’s funny, until I actually thought back to different programmes, I’d never really considered just how rare that sitcom marriage of equals really was. It wasn’t just humour based on snappy put-downs; it was humour based on how you keep a happy marriage going. (And other than the couple on Malcolm in the Middle, I can’t think of any sitcom couple who were quite clearly at it all the time as much as Cliff and Clair.)

    Also, as a personal sidenote, when I was about eight I started answering the phone “Petersen residence” for no reason other than Theo always answered it “Huxtable residence”. When my parents’ friends were impressed by what a polite little fellow I was, they kept quiet about how it was nothing to do with them.

  2. LOVE THIS SO MUCH!

    Watching the Cosby Show was de rigeur in my house. The Huxtables felt like my own family, from miming along to songs in the living room, to the slightly errant older siblings and their life/fashion/partner choices/children, the Cheeky Youngest One (enter moi) and, of course, the happy and loving parents with their one-liners.
    Friday night, Channel 4, press record on the VCR, snuggle up with the folks.

    And I hadn’t really thought about how quality the show was, in terms of writing and characterisation, until I read this.

    Thank you for making me see this show in a light I hadn’t previously viewed it in, and thanks in advance for the hours now surrendered to Youtube rinsing out the clips…

  3. I alway tell people I learnt to speak English (well, American) watching the Cosby Show (Holland uses subtitles). I loved that entire familiy so much!

    There’s one particular episode where Rudy gets her first bike. She spends most of the episode pointing out cute bicycles she would like to have in a catalogue of sorts. And then she gets her bike. It’s a hand me down from the older siblings. At first she is deeply disappointed, but when she’s told the background of the bike, she bipedals off happily (bipedalling, is that a verb?).

    “It’s not the one in the picture” has been a running gag between my sister and me since.

    Thank you for bringing back the warm fuzzies.

  4. “As a kid, I was mostly obsessed with Denise – she was my girl crush prototype, and with no fronting, I can admit she remains untouchable in my affections to this day.”

    Now who couldn’t resist emulating Denise Huxtable and her style? I’m a huge fan too. Kudos to them for showing a quirky black girl on TV.

    As for the Cliff and Clair’s relationship, it’s all thanks to the chemistry and great acting of Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad. Watching them you forget that they’re simply actors playing roles, and believe them as a devoted and loving couple.

  5. This post is awesome! Thank you so much for allowing me to reminisce with you! I totally agree that The Cosby Show was a programme that represented more than entertainment, they certainly set a standard on many levels and for me-they made me feel like I belonged.
    The relationship of Claire and Cliff was amazing, I too struggle to think of a black TV couple like them but I think Michael and Janet of My Wife and Kids do an excellent job for this time period.

  6. Until I read this, I’d never thought to compare my parents to the Huxtables, but now I realize my parents WERE the Huxtables: they were equals (despite a significant age gap), and their marriage was a partnership, they were crazy about each other, and they were best friends. Pretty unremarkable until you consider that that was in Nigeria. Growing up, I thought all families were like mine, so it was odd when I saw friends’ mothers being submissive and their fathers lording it over everyone.

    Good throwback. It was a fantastic show.

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