New York Times correspondent Rachel L. Swarns is “grieving,” but not necessarily for a person. Instead, in a new piece for the Times, Swarns mourns for a television show that was an important part of her life. From 1984 to 1992, NBC’s The Cosby Show broke new ground by presenting a prosperous, professional African-American family in a warm, friendly, relatable manner. This was crucial, Swarns points out, decades “before Shondaland, or Empire, or Black-ish. Before a black president sat in the Oval Office in 24. Or in Washington.” The sitcom debuted during Swarns’ senior year of high school and became a “weekly ritual” for her and her family. When she went away to college, the writer says, she and her friends watched via a 13-inch portable set. Clearly, The Cosby Show was more than just a funny sitcom for her. In the stern but loving Cliff Huxtable, the show’s main character, Swarns found a TV dad who reminded her of her own father. “I knew lots of Cliff Huxtables,” she writes. “We all did.”
But now, the actor and comedian who played Cliff Huxtable and who created The Cosby Show stands accused of sexually assaulting dozens of women, often drugging them in the process. Can The Cosby Show still be enjoyed? Swarns wanted to find out. Because of the multiple accusations against Cosby, The Cosby Show has essentially vanished from reruns. But all eight seasons are available for streaming on Hulu. Swarns reports that she “laughed out loud” at some parts and “cringed” at others. These days, the comedian is most likely a lost cause, and his show will likely perish with him. But Rachel L. Swarns argues that The Cosby Show can still be recognized as playing an important part in television history. As she puts it,
We tuck away the memories from our formative years, preserving them and reconnecting with them, sometimes in heady bursts of nostalgia. They remind us of how far we have come. They also remind us of what we have lost. These days, I take solace in the knowledge that Dr. Huxtable helped to lay the groundwork for the remarkable range of African-American roles showcased on television today. I like to think that I see him in the diverse faces of a new generation of characters.