Annoyed by the thought of conscripting mirth, conscious that no one looked or talked like me, I didn’t watch many sitcoms growing up except The Cosby Show, which to a ten-year-old was queer enough in the archaic sense to play like a documentary of an Inuit tribe. I was hep to the benign cruelty of Bill Cosby’s Heathcliff Huxtable: yes, he’d help with science projects, repairing cars, putting you up for the night (or the year), but he didn’t hide his essential contempt for the enterprise. He loved his children, and he wanted them out of his life. This struck me as a sensible conclusion, an adult one even. As the show unfurled, Clair Huxtable revealed herself as Lady Macbeth or, better, Khan Noonien Singh, able to quote Melville and John Kenneth Galbraith and bake corn muffins and give second daughter Denise (Lisa Bonet) a lecture and kiss-off so stern that my eyes bled while watching it As played by Phylicia Rashād, Clair was smug and often unbearable, but no one on television matched her verve and comfort in her own skin.
To imagine Rashad/Clair playing scenes with Cosby knowing or at best suspecting that he was forcing wine and pills on young hungry actresses has required some adjusting of my antenna. Millions of people will never watch The Cosby Show after the litany of obscenities that the man playing its weird eponymous hero perpetuated on women whose crimes were to trust him. It is not beneath Cosby — a wily businessman worth hundreds of millions — to have created the sitcom, Cliff and Clair, and the kids as part of the facade of goodness with which he lured these women; The Cosby Show may have existed as an excuse for Cosby to rape actresses. Thanks to Cosby’s pathology, Rashad and the rest of the cast are denied residuals. His villainy consumed whatever it touched. Three to ten years is a mercy for an eighty-one-year-old legally blind wreck of a man; he deserved thirty years per victim; if the pillory existed he’d be tied to it.