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The Cosby Show - Season 1


TITLE: THE COSBY SHOW - SEASON 1


Info:

Release: August 2, 2005 (UrbanWorks Entertainment)
Color/1984-85
MSRP: $49.99
Number of Discs: 4
Number of Episodes: 24
Running Time: 528 Minutes
Total Run Time of Special Features: approx. 1 hour 30 minutes
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English Audio; Closed Captioned.
Special Features:
• “The Cosby Show: A Look Back” (NBC 2002)
• Extended Preview Trailer for Cosby Show spin-off “A Different World: Season 1”


Introduction:

The Cosby Show appeared on NBC from 1984 to 1992, becoming one of the most popular programs in the history of television. The series depicted a close-knit and prosperous African-American family (The Huxtables) that dwelled in New York City. Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable , OB-GYN (Bill Cosby), and his wife Claire, a prominent NYC attorney (Phylicia Rashad), a happily married, dual-profession couple had aspirations of raising their five children Sondra [Sabrina LeBeauf], Denise [Lisa Bonet], Theo [Malcolm-Jamal Warner], Vanessa [Tempestt Bledsoe], and Rudy [Keshia Knight-Pulliam] in an uplifting, positive environment. The Huxtables were truly a groundbreaking family for television.

The Cosby show was an instant smash hit, holding TV’s #1 slot for a record 5 consecutive years, from 1985-1990, remaining in the top 20 for all 8 seasons of its run on NBC. The Cosby Show’s popularity was so intense that it’s carried over into the 21st century, and in 2005 the show is as relevant as ever. The Huxtables are adored around the world.


Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:

First of all, before you consider watching any other episodes, watch the pilot. This is how one of the most watched and remembered series of all time began--with Dr. Clifford Huxtable, and only 4 children (they even specifically joke about having 4 children because they didn’t want 5). The episode’s a great introduction to, well, most of the kids – with Theo getting a bad report card, Dennis going on a date with an older former Marine, and the tension caused by a little sister are illustrated, and when Rudy keeps Vanessa up, claiming that the Wolfman is in her closed. This is classic television at its finest. Episode two is another fine episode, with the memorable “funeral” for Rudy’s deceased goldfish. Episode number Nine (OAD: 11/8/1984), “Play it Again, Vanessa” isn’t really one of my favorite episodes, but it does feature the first of many notable guest stars in the shows run – legendary musician Dizzy Gillespie guests as himself.

The prerequisite “sitcom teen gets caught with marijuana” episode occurs in show 17, in which – yes – Theo gets caught with a joint in his book, but claims it’s not his. Show #20, “Back to the Track, Jack,” is the well-remembered “race” episode of the series, in which Cliff and his old teammates from the Hillman track team face off in a grudge match against Norton University…and Cliff is 25 years out-of-shape. In the next episode, “The Younger Woman,” Terry Farrell (Known to millions of Star Trek fans everywhere as Jadzia Dax, from Deep Space Nine; as well as Reggie on the TV series “Becker”) plays the MUCH younger (same age as Sondra) woman, the new love interest of Cliff’s old widower friend. Show #22, The Slumber Party, is a rather crazy episode, in which Rudy has a slumber party with her various friends…and all insanity breaks loose. The 23rd show is a “different” episode, as it is set nearly entirely at the Community Center. Theo finds a young boy at the playground of the Comm. Center, and takes him to the director of the center, guest star Tony Orlando (playing Tony Castillo). Theo and Tony try to help the boy but get no response. Tony, however, is determined to win over the kid. Finally, the season finale – featuring guest star Lena Horne – is based around Cliff’s birthday. The family arranges for the family to go see Lena Horne, while Cliff continually sneaks around the house trying to find his “special birthday surprise.”


Packaging:

If you guessed the Cosby Show S1 packaging would be Digipak…how did you know (Aside from the fact 90% of 3+ Disc sets use them)? The outer box has a shot of Cliff and Claire in the bottom right corner, with various stills of them faded along the left side. The stills are partially translucent against the black reflective background. The Cosby Show logo is raised off the box surface, creating a nice effect. The five kids of the Huxtable family adorn the top of the box, above the Season 1 bar. The back cover has various still shots, and a cast photo of the gang.

The inner box is where it gets fun. Behind the four discs (more on them in a second) are various B&W stills fused together in a collage. The collage spans the entire inside cover. The outside cover if the inner box is quite nice too. The center panel is the same as the front cover of the outer box; however, they expand it from there. To the two panels to the right of the center are still photos from the show in the top, followed by a continuation of the bronze bar, then a quote from a cast member, and then a picture of certain cast members at the bottom. From Left to right: Panel 1: Cliff/Sondra, Panel 2: The entire family, Panel 3 is the front cover, Panel 4 is Denise and Theo, and the last panel is Rudy and Cliff.

Discs are well-done, and consistent with the box art, but their character choices for featuring on each disc are slightly puzzling. Disc 1, containing episodes 1-8 has Cliff on it. Disc 2, containing episodes 9-18, has Rudy. Disc 3 has Vanessa on the cover, and contains episodes 19-24. The fourth disc, which contains the 2002 Special and A Different World trailer, has Claire on the cover. One small thing did cross my mind about this - why was Vanessa given a disc cover, but not the vastly-more-popular Theo, who was just as important as Vanessa, even in season one, not?

The booklet, something I don’t normally talk about, is fairly well-done. There are a few words from Bill Cosby in the beginning, followed by liner notes on the series. The liner notes include the events leading up to the Cosby show, the show’s debut, and the aftermath of the show. Also included is a “Dates to Remember” timeline, with the dates of important milestones of the first season. Following that are biographies of the cast, and finally the requisite episode information section.


Menu Design and Navigation:

Menus are amazingly well-done, and are one of the highlights of the set. The set starts with a clip of Bill from an episode, and then the animated logo flies in, leading to the main menu. At the main menu, various clips from the first season play in a half-circle in the right side of the screen. Two clips play side-by-side in a long, horizontal strip extending out from the half-circle. The logo sits atop this strip. Below the strip are the Play All and Episode selection options. The gray/black background stays animated the entire time, while the main theme plays. Choosing Play All will cause one of the catchy transition music pieces from the show to play, while the show logo flies out, and your episodes start.

Choosing the selection menu (ex: “Episodes 1-8”), causes a different transition piece to play, and the episode selection menu to fly in. A circle with clips from the episode, with Play Episode text, adorns each selection menu. Extending from the circle is a bronze bar with the episode number and title, as well as a rarity among TV DVD releases, the option to choose which act of the episode you want to start at (Opening, Act 1, Act 2, or Credits…I kid you not, you can choose to view nothing more than a show’s end credits). The scene selection is a rare treat for TV DVD releases, and is greatly appreciated.


Video and Audio Quality:

I’d like to quote a line from the press release in my hand right now. Had I a scanner, I would scan a copy of this and place an image for your viewing, however, that’s not possible. Anyway, it states: "The discs will feature all original NBC network versions, including the pilot episode, which are approximately two minutes longer than the syndicated versions." Sounds great – with many releases swapping the original airings for edited syndicated versions, it’s great to see a production company outright mentioning that their airings were the original, as-intended, versions.

Unfortunately, there appears to have been a miscommunication/change of plans/deception that occurred between the writers of the press release and the people in charge of the set itself. You see, upon opening the set and playing an episode, to my great surprise, the episode – as well as every subsequent one on the disc, ran between 21:50 and 22:00. Seemed a bit short for “original NBC network versions,” so I timed several season 1 reruns that have been airing on TBS in order to compare runtimes (hence the delay in the review). The runtimes turned out to be the exact same – the DVD version matches, frame by frame, the TBS airing – which use the syndicated prints. In a subsequent e-mail to SitcomsOnline.com DVD Review Director pavanbadal, UrbanWorks DID confirm that the episodes were syndicated prints; however, no explanation was given as of the time this review was posted.

Sets with syndication cuts bother me even more than episodes with music replacements. At least with music replacement, the episode is still there, it just sounds different. With edited episodes, entire sections of episode are lopped off, occasionally causing awkward cuts and strange gaps in the continuity of the episode. However, had UrbanWorks marked the box saying that the episodes were edits, which would have been fine? Wouldn’t have been happy, but it was fine.

What gets my goat – what REALLY gets my goat – is the fact that the press release sent with the set went so far as to promote “original NBC network versions…which are approximately two minutes longer than the syndicated versions,” and then they INCLUDE THE SYNDICATED VERSIONS. It’s not just that the episodes were edited – that’s bad enough. But – for the release sent to all parties connected to the set, including promotion outlets for the set – to say that the episodes were something they obviously aren’t…its outright deception and the person who made the judgment call – on whichever end the problem occurred on – should be ashamed.

The lie aside, syndicated episodes are incomplete, and are amazingly disliked by the entire TV DVD community. While it’s nice to get good-quality, commercial-free, bug-free versions of our favorite shows – fans want their favorite shows COMPLETE. It gets even stranger when you take in to account the set running time published in all reports about the set – 575 minutes. A quick bit of math gets you ~24 minutes (give or take a few seconds). 22 minutes [the runtime of the episodes] times 24 episodes gets you the runtime you see at the top of the review. I thought that, perhaps, the reunion was factored in, however, that gives you 615 minutes.

Slicing and dicing (no Julian fries, unfortunately) aside, the set looks decent, and sounds NICE. There’s some minor compression artifacting in the video, and I’ve seen many sets whose colors are more vivid. Still, there’s no grain, and the video is neither too sharp nor too fuzzy. The set sounds good – there’s no detectable hiss, the volume is nice and loud, though there’s only a marginal distinction between the left and right audio tracks. There IS a closed captioning track, but no subtitles – in any language. Also, English is the only audio track. Chapter stops are placed at each fade-to-black. A neat feature is the aforementioned scene selection which allows you to start at the start of a chapter.


Special Features:

The special feature – yes, singular – is the Cosby Show: A Look Back special that aired on NBC in May 2002 sweeps. Interestingly, the box manages to promote the one feature – the special – as several features including deleted scenes, bloopers, audition footage, and cast retrospectives. All those features are staples of TV DVD special features, however, not as they exist - in a prepackaged special made FOR AIR. The retrospective itself is good stuff, though most fans of the show probably already remember that from its NBC broadcast. Nonetheless, it should be a treat, regardless of whether you’ve seen it or not. The feature runs one hour and twenty-six minutes.

Also on the special features disc (disc four) is an extended trailer for the eventual (no date given) release of A Different World. It was nice to see some classic clips from the show, but I wish the trailer had mentioned the release date (November 8, 2005 for those of you not keeping score at home).


Final Comments:

I don’t know what happened along the way to cause the syndicated episodes to be used, but the fans of this show – many whom have already pre-ordered the set – would appreciate some sort of official explanation (or at least a plausible rationalization). The press release, as well as the published runtime, both at retailers AND ON THE BOX, indicate that the episodes will be NBC airings (the PR directly, the retailers and box based on the runtime and simple math). In addition, the “special features” consists of nothing more than the Cosby retrospective that aired on NBC in 2002, and a trailer for future release of the spin-off. There’s really no content available on the set that’s not available in syndication (the episodes) and eBay or tape trading (the retrospective). So, to market a set with those contents for $50 MSRP is just….sad.

For all the complaints about the set, there were some high spots. Aside from the shows themselves, the sets looked and sounded pretty good. The menus were impeccable, and the packaging (Theo snub aside) was quite well done. UrbanWorks has the foundation for quality releases down the pipe, and I hope they realize that potential, and put more effort into future release of both The Cosby Show and A Different World. Season 2 is probably an inevitability – and with that inevitability I hope there’s change. Fans of the show want NBC episodes, and are far more likely to buy the show if they’re complete. However, if some issue or reluctance is going to stop you from using the original masters of the show, at least pepper the set with more special features. There are quite a few more bloopers, outtakes, and various materials that weren’t even scratched in the reunion special…use those. Something a recent set I reviewed did that I loved was to include the original NBC preview for each episode as a selectable option in the episode selection menus – to make it feel as if you were watching the show on it’s original network again. Also, based on the love that most of the actors have for the show, it shouldn’t be hard to get them, or the crew, to come in for commentary. Things like this are what viewers want to see.

I love The Cosby show, and I’d very much like to see a 2nd season. However, I, and all the other millions of fans of the show, would prefer to see the set done *right*. NBC airings at their 24-minute glory…special features high in quantity that they justify an extra disc...the actors doing commentary…these are what viewers want. I hope, I genuinely hope, that future sets will be up to the standards of a legendary show like The Cosby Show.

I’d love to recommend the set, but it feels incomplete. The episodes can be seen, as they exist on the discs, in syndication, and the reunion special can be found on eBay usually. Really, you’re paying $40-$50 for packaging and really nice menus. However, if you still want the on-demand availability that comes with DVD sets, get this set. If you’re looking to see the episodes in their full glory, or looking for features that enhance the experience of the show, then sorry this is not for you.


Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)

Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Menu Navigation/Design: 5/5
Special Features: 2/5
Overall: 3/5 *

* Final Score was docked one full point, as the entire set features syndication edits with 2 minutes less of material than the show originally aired with.

-- Reviewed by Seth Thrasher on 07/15/05.

To order the DVD click below and help support SitcomsOnline.com:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0007ZSHR6/ref=nosim/happydaysonline4-20


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