Unless you've been living under a rock you’ve heard of Bill Cosby’s alleged misconduct toward women. This caused conflict in a lot of people who had been fans of his work for decades. The man killed his own legacy by doing these alleged vile acts, there is no disputing this. Of course, the half brain section of the world wanted to immediately cry out conspiracy, because they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that this can be anyone, your friends, your family, your neighbor, or a guy you grew up watching and did so many good things in his life. The same argument came about when PewDiePie went off the deep end with his content. “Well, look at just how much he’s raised for charity!” Then there is the Harvey Weinstein and his issues with women, as well as what’s going on with Kevin Spacey. Their takedown created a sort of quake throughout the celebrity realm, and its aftershocks are still being felt today.
Unlike a lot of people, Bill Cosby never surprised me. No one person could be as perfect as he portrayed himself to be. Sure, I watched his television shows and listened to his old stand up records, but I never invested too much into the man himself. The first red flag I ever got was an interview with Larry King where he talks about spiking women’s drinks with “Spanish Fly,” an aphrodisiac made from Cantharidin, the principal agent secreted by blister beetles. Apparently, it’s a libido enhancer first used by the Romans back in the day. Some people took Cosby’s words as a harmless joke, while I took it as the first sign that things weren’t right with the man.
After the allegations came out, it became hard to watch his stuff. I threw out my old records, and stopped watching favorites, such as Bill Cosby, Himself. Now, The Cosby Show was something that I always felt indifferent toward. I didn’t hate it, but it never truly appealed to me 100%, especially after Bill’s treatment of Lisa Bonet after she made Angel Heart. Their clashes have been well documented, and it lead to her eventual banishment from the Cosby camp. Fat Albert never appealed to me, probably because I always felt I was one generation too late. The clothes, the funky 70’s music turned me off as a kid, as it looked and felt extremely dated to me. I didn’t come to appreciate his old movies until I was in my 20’s. Uptown Saturday Night and Let’s Do It Again were two of my favorite. Bill was also on The Electric Company, from which I always felt one generation removed, thus, never appreciated.
The show that stood out to me was 1996’s Cosby. People often refer to it as “the bad Cosby show,” mainly because they were expecting a relaunch of The Cosby Show with Cliff and Claire living out their golden years in a house in Queens. What people got instead was Hilton Lucas, a man who was downsized into forced retirement living in a house in Queens with his wife Ruth Lucas, and their only child Erica Lucas. People rejected this and refused to watch it. Cosby surprisingly lasted four seasons and introduced a world to a number of future stars, like Michael B. Jordan, Nicole Ari Parker, Dule Hill, and Jurnee Smollett. It was also the final performance of one of the greatest comediennes of our time, Madeline Khan. Cosby was adapted from a BBC show called One Foot in the Grave. The writing was brilliant, the acting was top notch, and it was one of my favorite shows of the late 1990s.
After the Cosby allegations came out, I was immediately turned off by the show, which I hadn’t seen on television since maybe the late aughts when it was broadcast on GMC, the Gospel Music Channel. When the show became available on Amazon Prime, I questioned whether I should watch it or not. Madeline Khan was in it. I shouldn’t punish her for his misgivings, should I? Then there was the comedian Doug E. Doug. Before Cosby he was in the movies Class Act and Cool Runnings, and the sitcom Where I Live. If anything, I could watch for Doug, whose portrayal as Hilton Lucas’ boarder and surrogate son Griffin was simply brilliant. T'Keyah Crystal Keymáh, who I was already familiar with through her work on In Living Color, played Hilton’s only child, Erica. This role eventually lead to her playing Tanya Baxter on That’s So Raven. I stewed over it for a bit, and then I decided to rewatch the show despite what was going on in Bill Cosby’s life. I did this to see if the allegations changed anything about the show for me. Boy, did it ever.
I didn’t watch the show during its original run. Around this time I missed out on a lot of television and movies because I was the self proclaimed "hardest working teenager in America". I began watching Cosby when it was already in daytime syndication around 2002, when I was 21-22 years old. I loved the show at the time and thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. Rewatching this show as a 37 year old adult, after all that’s been going on, I have to admit there was a lot of cringing on my part. Just looking at Bill Cosby on television was enough to put me off completely. Then there was Phylicia Rashad, the woman who ran to Cosby’s defense when these allegations were first brought up. My original thoughts were why did she say these things? Is this something her character Ruth Lucas would say when it came to her daughter Erica Lucas?
After watching all four seasons of this show and noticing its distinct conservative slant, the answer is yes, probably. If not yes, then at least there would be some blame directed toward Erica. The reason I say that is based on one particular episode where Hilton and Ruth mistakenly assume Erica is pregnant because they found a positive pregnancy test in her waste basket. The test actually belonged to Erica’s friend. What follows is a blatant preachy lecture by Ruth on unwed motherhood, raising a child alone, and ultimately, finding the father and marrying him. At no point did Ruth truly try to comfort Erica in what she thought was a dire situation for her.
Another uncomfortable moment happens in season one, as Hilton takes up an art class and there is a nude female model posing in front of the class. Hilton springs into action, trying to cover up this young lady. Seeing Bill Cosby interact with a gorgeous young lady is a truly horrid thing to watch, because I start to imagine that he’s been in a situation before, but trying to disrobe the girl instead of impatiently attempting to put her clothes back on because he is uncomfortable with her nudity. After the class is over, Hilton is the last one in the room. The model appears, still nude, but with a towel around her. She claims that someone stole her clothes, and could he take her home before her super jealous husband starts to think she’s out with a man. Again, uncomfortable Hilton wants no part of this woman, simply because he probably thinks looking at her will give him impure thoughts. Never mind the dilemma she’s going through, his feelings are more important. More lecturing happens on Hilton’s end, mostly shaming the woman for her chosen profession.
The person who gets hit with this odd treatment the worst is young Jurnee. Little Jurnee Smollett is a tween girl who lives in the neighborhood. Her father is always working and can’t take care of her. She spends her days hanging out with the Lucas clan, even though she has a mid 20’s older sister named Stephanie, who ceased to exist in season 2, possibly because she didn’t fit Jurnee’s latchkey child narrative, and how the Lucas’ family had to save Jurnee from her own self, and teach her conservative life lessons.
In one episode, Jurnee is down about something. When they finally get her to open up, she tells Hilton how there is one boy at school that always picks on her, and does really mean things to her. Instead of giving actual advice, Hilton just shrugs and gives her the tired old rhetoric of, “Boys will be boys.” That sort of thinking doesn’t help the situation, and she’s left with having to defend herself against this bully, who ultimately reveals that he does it because he likes her. Jurnee’s father Dell, played by Sinbad, is rarely seen on camera. There is an episode where Dell has to give Jurnee “the talk” because of the misinformation about sex that is being spread around her school. Hilton and Dell go back and forth about this uncomfortable topic. Their issue isn’t about trying to protect Jurnee or make sure she gets the right information. Their dilemma is about their own masculine feelings on the subject, and how creepy crawly it is having to talk about this with your daughter.
Doug E. Doug’s character of Griffin has to be the biggest blatant reflection of Bill Cosby I think I’ve ever seen. It was as if Cosby created this character with his younger self in mind, ready to take revenge on every woman who ever said no to him when he was growing up. Griffin is a Nice Guy™. During the first season Griffin was roommates with Erica. For some reason he thought this entitled him to sex and a relationship. He would make her feel guilty at times for rejecting his advances, and constantly hounded her for company, even though she just wanted to be his friend, and wanted nothing to do with a relationship outside of those boundaries. Griffin was also a hypocrite, who while chasing Erica around and professing his desires toward her, he tried getting with other women at the same time, always making sure that whomever was around didn’t tell Erica. One day Griffin gave Erica an ultimatum, and when she didn’t budge he moved out.
Griffin’s Nice Guy™ tendencies didn’t stop there. Whenever he was successful in getting a woman to go out with him, he would put all of his insecurities on display. The girl leaving him for another man, one with a physique and money, was always what drove him during these relationships. The worst one of these is when he was dating a woman played by Vivica Fox, and she spent a lot of time with rich lawyers. Griffin was freaked out when she had to spend a weekend at a conference, and the only thing he could think about was how she was probably off shagging an attendee. Griffin did the only thing he knew, he flew out to see her at the conference and catch her in the act. A similar thing happened to Hilton Lucas, when Ruth had to go to Atlantic City with her small business group, and Hilton’s mind started to wander.
Nice Guy™ Griffin was also in effect when Robin Givens guest starred as one of Jurnee’s teachers. Griffin lusted after her so much that he went out of his way to see her, yet never attempted anything with her because of fear of rejection. When Robin Givens met Dell she was immediately smitten with him. Of course, this was a sin in Griffin’s book, and he blamed her for her having her own preferences. She gave him her phone number in order to give to Dell. For an entire episode Griffin stewed over it and pondered on whether or not to hand the phone number over to Dell.
All of these things made for a very weird show. Rewatching it after these allegations came out you start to see how it is very possible that someone like Bill Cosby could do the things people allege he did. Just take one look at this show and you’ll see the answers in his interactions with women in storyline. I had to step back a few times during the in your face scenes where Hilton tries to creepily convince Ruth to have sex with him. For what it’s worth, there was some positives to the show, it introduced some great actors, it shined the spotlight on some amazing artists like Sonia Sanchez, and Maurice Hines, and it brought back a few legends like Madeline Khan, Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee, and Tom Postone. But for all the good the show did, it cannot begin to outweigh all the bad, disturbing, and toxic masculinity that engulfed every aspect of Cosby. I won’t even get into Bill Cosby’s attitude toward the LGBT community in the episode Older & Out. I wonder now how I didn’t see it before. All I can say is that I was in my early 20’s and I didn’t know what to look for. Even if by some odd chance that Bill Cosby is not guilty, this show is disgusting to me, and is a shining example of conservatism and patriarchy at its finest.