If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the first episode and working your way forward. Of course, that's entirely your call.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Season 1, Episode 19: Clair's Case

The show often shows Clair coming home from work, talking about work, and occasionally even working at the office, but it's a rare treat to see her litigate as we do today. After Sondra (yes, Sondra is back) gets ripped off by a mechanic and her lawyer has the audacity to suggest settling out of court, Clair takes matters into her own hands. Since she's working overtime, the other children chip in with chores around the house, giving Cliff a chance to deliver some memorable lessons about how to make a bed or mop the floor.

Since this story takes place over multiple days, several family members wear multiple outfits. Also, the people who leave the house throw on their best duds; distance from the home continues to increase presentability among the Huxtable clan. On the other hand, the younger children spend the whole time cleaning up, meaning that they are relegated to sweats or sweats-like attire. With that being the case, let's get the young ones out of the way first.

It's a 10. You'd rewear it, too.

Theo gets two looks, but the first one is a repeat. At least it's a wise repeat; this shirt-over-shirt combo from episode 5 was half my reason for starting this blog in the first place. I don't have more to say about it other than LOOK AT IT. Resplendence.

I had to widen my screencap format to get all that shoulder in there.

Once it's time to get down to business, though, he goes from infallible to inexplicable. In terms of color, he's right where he should be. As he proved in episode 8, he looks terrific in pink. On the other hand, I'm thrown by the whole "fleece tunic" configuration: the hugeness of the cut, the way the fabric changes texture near the collar, the giant buttonholes... it's almost built to imply that he's wearing an awful undershirt beneath an awful v-neck sweatshirt. If his first outfit was a layering risk done right, then this is certainly layering done wrong. Or really, not done at all.

"The Huxtable Girls Variety Hour!" with special guest, Moppy.

I'll get to the girls individually, but I figured it would save time to give them a group shot. Besides, I remembered this little mopping dance fondly from when I first saw it air, so I couldn't very well skip it.

Cage? Triage? Underage? Garage?

Vanessa has missed the mark here for the most part. Taking a page from her older sister's book, she's opted for something absurdly oversized, but hasn't really made any of the styling choices that would support such a move. Given how long this top is, it should really be belted. I know she's not going anywhere, so some sloppiness it to be expected, but if I give everyone free passes then there's nothing to write about. This is a lot of pink, and even though the text breaks it up some, a division in the middle to give it shape and variation wouldn't have hurt. (Side note: I was convinced for most of the episode that her shirt said "RAGE" across it, but it actually says "ON STAGE.") Despite these obstacles, she manages to pull of a couple wins. I'm a fan of the daring day-glo, especially paired with the stark black leggings and pointy boots (which are maybe a tad old for her but whatever), and the goldfish earrings are just phenomenal. They might be the best accessory I've ever seen on her. New edict: I want Vanessa to sport more animals. If only I could affect change in the past. And how sad that this is how I'd waste that superpower.

Phoney Stalloney.

Denise is in full-on lounge mode, so actively critiquing her outfit seems somewhat futile. She obviously didn't wear it with the intention of looking good, so why bitch about how she doesn't look good? This is what you would expect her to throw on for a day off: a baggy, assertively hued shirt with some wide pants that don't reach her ankle. I'm bemused by that headband. Functionally, yes, of course it makes sense, but there seems to be an attempt at a fashion statement happening here. Like, it's not just pulling hair away from her face: it's actively creating height and volume in a manner too extreme to be accidental. It's a move so bizarre that I have trouble forming a clear opinion of it. I'm trying to envision this hairstyle ("hairstyle") in another context, perhaps with a formal dress. My gut says that this is an outright fail, but something about Denise's ability to pull truffles from the scraggliest, murkiest depths makes me wonder if I should just have faith that it's a kind of amazingness that I don't quite appreciate yet.

As usual, I'm none too keen on clocking Rudy's duds. She's a child. I'm feeling that cardigan, though. I would wear it if it came in my size.

Keshia Knight Pulliam hid iron weights in her shirt for this scene.

Rudy also wore pajamas during this episode, though really I'm only using her as a means of segueing into Cliff's attire. This shot gives us a good look at his pants, which have a kind of heathered texture to them that I enjoy. Pants can get too loud pretty quickly, so he adds just the right amount of pizzazz with the unevenness of the khaki. I should develop a shorthand for dealing with pleats so that I don't have to mention them each time; maybe I'll just start calling it out in the caption to avoid taking up further space. Captions are hard to think of anyway. The blue shirt goes well with the trousers, but we've seen it before.

"I'm a grown man and I will put buttons wherever I damn well please."

I was confused by this look in episode 8, and I'm still confused now. The details are odd, and I want them to go away. Cliff looks best in classic pieces. His triumphs come not from the individual garments so much as the interesting ways in which he combines and accessorizes them.

It's so nice when the director actually gives me a full-length shot of someone.

This outfit feels almost too old for Dr. Huxtable. Something about the gray pants, lavender sweater, and chestnut loafers makes me think of a grandfather. He pulls it off, though, because he's got personality, and you know that he wasn't just throwing some random configuration of clothes together. This here is a man who thinks about his style. The pattern of soft pastels is stellar on him. It's weird to see so much subtlety in the wool numbers he wears this season. We've come to think of this character in terms of his brashest choices, when really he pulled off some delightful moves early in the show's run. I'm bracing myself for when the true Cosby Sweaters make their way into the vernacular. I'm not sure if they'll make my job easier or harder.

His Julia Child voice is kind of upsetting.

For cleaning day, Cliff opts for some sweatpants that I won't discuss at all, and a shirt that I'll mention only briefly. The length was compelling to me when I first saw it. Something about it seemed international in its styling; I pictured an Indian or Middle Eastern man in a kurta as the inspiration. I don't necessarily think that was anyone's plan when this top was pulled off the rack, but it was an interesting flavor to get thrown in nonetheless. Also: new apron. Fun!

It's kind of sinister that this man shows up at his house months later
using an assumed name and pretending they hadn't met before.

His fourth and final ensemble is his accompanying-Clair-to-court look, which rescues his episode 8 blazer by pairing it more prudently with his episode 5 sweater vest. It's tough for me to discern whether his collared shirt is white or palest pink. I think the colors as shown are a little deceiving; for instance, the lines on his vest look pretty white here, but were clearly yellow last time around. I'm going to guess that it's a trick of the light or a flaw in the video adding redness to the shirt, but I wouldn't bet money on it or anything. It doesn't hugely matter; either option would look lovely.

We should also talk about David Langston Smyrl, who guest stars here as the nameless man in court who converses with Cliff about Clair's prowess both as a lawyer and as a person in general. The casting people obviously enjoyed his performance, because he comes back a handful of times throughout the show's run to play two other characters. I can't argue with their opinion: he's a compelling performer and has good screen chemistry with Mr. Cosby. 

He also wears this outfit like a champ. The attention to detail here is fantastic. He's clearly meant to look like someone who doesn't have a ton of money to buy new clothes for court every day: this is a hobby for him, but he's stretching to look like he belongs. The shirt is a little casual, the blazer is maybe ten years old, and the tie is probably twice that. As a character, Man in Court probably threw together a blue striped tie and a brown plaid shirt without thinking about it; as a costumer, Sarah Lemire (who was the queen of wardrobe for the entire series) obviously pondered pretty carefully. The pieces fall into place effortlessly. I just love this look.

What a depressing courtroom. Everyone loses this case.

Since we're talking about guest stars, I'll also get to another two: Lloyd Battista plays the lawyer (whose name is never given). He's held small roles in a wide array of film and television projects, including a couple movies over the past decade. His client, Mr. Wilson, is portrayed by Shawn Elliott. This marks one of the only times in Elliott's career that his ethnicity is not overtly referenced in his character's name. His resume is bursting with credits like Judge Santos, Detective Ortega, Paco, Domingo, and even a highly specific listing in Do The Right Thing as "Puerto Rican Icee Man." There's enough else going on in this episode that I don't want to spend forever talking about these two, but it's worth mentioning that they share a common design theme. Their styling is just a little off; they're not quite dressed for a mid-80s hearing. The client looks too casual in his corduroy, and the lawyer's suit looks a few years out of date. As the eventual losers in this case, we're given subtle cues about their lack of polish from these costuming decisions. Legitimate contenders are validated with awesome clothes; shabby litigants get bargain-bin leftovers.

Damn you for making me say nice things about you.

We could only coast by for so long before Sondra made another appearance. She's at least less annoying in this episode; the script focuses on her ability to eat Cliff's cooking when no one else will, rather than stressing her know-it-all tendencies. (For a sitcom about a lawyer and a doctor raising children, they get a lot of mileage out of "listen to how the hoity-toity Princeton girl talks" jokes.) Also, she looks kind of nice here, at least from the neck up. The shaggy, breezy hair is a better choice than the various half-up configurations she's previously tried, and I wish she'd stick with it more often. While the make-up is pretty, I worry that it matures her slightly. She doesn't look old, it's just that she's playing a college student and she's 27. As a woman who's only a decade younger than the actor playing her mother (who is, as alluded to in previous entries, too young to be playing the mother role), Sabrina Le Beauf needs to be styled carefully.

Ignoring the pretty face, she's delivering some pretty gross clothes. This suit seems to have been purchased from the David Byrne collection. It's just so gravely broad! I can't complain about the color combination, and the brooch isn't terrible, but she looks like she's wearing someone else's belongings. The fit is that off. Maybe it was fashionable once, but it's really plainly bad from any reasonable perspective.

How can we work it so you are only ever seen sideways?

This one came so close. Look at it from the side. The rusty slacks, blue oxford shirt, and charcoal sweater vest deliver the exact pairing of youthfulness and studiousness that the character requires. In profile, the fit is pretty great, too; some puff in the sleeve, but an overall slim silhouette that makes her look young, bright-eyed, and collegiate. But then she turns straight on, and the whole thing just spirals out of control. More wideness! Flagrant pleating! Strange faux-suspender stripes! Sondra, why you do this? I was prepared to give her praise, and then she trolled me. Ouch.

Objection, your honor. The plaintiff shops at Talbot's.

Her last look is her courtroom suit. This is what she wears to convince the judge that she is an honest, upstanding citizen. Her eye for color is really showing through in this episode; I'm not sure that anyone else in the family would have opted for quite this shade. It looks great on her, and it's professional without conforming to stodgy expectations of gray and khaki. On the other hand, this is yet another outfit that was built without real consideration for her shape. Her family has money, they can afford to buy her a nice suit, or to have a tailor take a stab at it if the off-the-rack purchase is malformed. Apparently she enjoys looking like this, though I just can't comprehend why. The desk prevents us from ever knowing if she was wearing a peasant skirt or gauchos or lycra leggings or what. It could be anything! It doesn't matter, nothing would have made this OK in my eyes.

And finally: Clair, my true love and only muse.

That's a wrap, folks.

Remember how I said that no one else in the family would attempt that color? I lied a little; Clair is rocking a closely related shade at the beginning of the episode. (It's practically blasphemous to say that I prefer Sondra's choice, but it's true.) This slightly darker, dustier slate-ish color is alright, though. She's coming home from work, so it makes sense that she'd be rocking a more corporate vibe. Her affinity for atypical draping is back again, this time with less success than in the past. I don't adore this neckline; its height and sag suggest a turkey wattle. Similarly, she's baggy in all the wrong places around the waist. The wrapping is fun in theory, it just doesn't always work. The pearls are fabulous, though.

Crime spree. This lady will steal your clothes and your heart.

This sweater is just totally Clair's now, huh? I wonder if the production team did this intentionally, or if some assistant just saw this and assumed that it was a lady's garment and the rest is history. I kind of hope that Cliff picks it up again down the road. It'd be interesting to see it reclaimed. Maybe another character will wear it at some point. This cardigan has a bright future ahead of it, regardless. It's pretty stellar. The rest of the outfit isn't quite so grand. This coral-y number isn't bad, but it's a little dowdy. The pants could fit better. Whatever, she's not actually in court, she's just going through the motions. This outfit says, "I don't really care." Reading you loud and clear, honey.

Turning in? More like turn it out, am I right?

This is another entry in the "Nobody Looks Like This At Bedtime" series. Do we see the smoky eye? The raspberry lips? The pajamas? Her attire says "I'm about to retire for the evening," but the rest of her says "I'm just getting started." When her husband finally falls asleep, she's going to hit the town.

Look at that face. He's done for. She's a lioness going in for the kill.

And finally, we have Clair's lawyer realness. It's funny: from the close-up shot, this almost looks like an emerald judge's robe. It gives the impression that it should be fuller and baggier throughout. Maybe that's part of her strategy; she's playing psychological tricks on people, subliminally suggesting that she holds even greater authority in some sort of Oz-like judiciary system. Once we back up, though, we see that this isn't a fantasyland barrister costume, but more of a businesslike zoot suit. I'm thrilled to finally see Clair move into new territory on the color wheel, but a little saddened by the rest of this. The dress underneath (or blouse/skirt pairing, who knows?) seems solid. You can't really go wrong with a basic: good length, classy cowl neck... this is foundational. I just wish she had done something else with the coat, which is poorly tailored and has awkward sleeves and just doesn't do a lot to make me happy.

Before we end this, I have two more screencaps. They are my favorite images that I have ever taken from this show. I know, you'd think that Clair holding the joint would be a clear winner (and until today, it was), but these are both so phenomenal that I just have to share them. They're both of Phylicia Rashad, of course. First, there's this moment right after the trial, where Cliff pretends he's never met her and asks her out on a first date. When he first gets her attention, she turns around and hits him with this:

"Who, me?"

Just brilliant. It's all right there. Clair Huxtable is an almost impossible role to play: she's smart enough to be a lawyer, sassy enough to cut you with her wit, maternal enough to raise five intelligent and well-behaved children, beautiful enough to captivate every man around her, and on top of it still in love (and sexually active) with her husband after all these years. She is the perfect woman. And it's all there, in this one look. This person is flawless. This, however, is my second-favorite shot. You see, above is an actor who knows what she's doing. Below is a moment between moments; she's mid-turn, doing something accidental, not quite thinking, and it to me is a moment of true beauty.

The ascension.

I don't know, it just speaks to me. She looks like she's ready to rise to a higher plane. I'm even rethinking my critique of the dress when I look at this.

We'll end with Rudy, because I overlooked an outfit of hers that was a repeat, though I don't think I commented on it last time, either.

Does a body good.

Thanks, Rudy. It's been a long day. We needed that. Until next time, kids.


  1. I'm sorry but this captures Claire Huxtable:
    Clair Huxtable is an almost impossible role to play: she's smart enough to be a lawyer, sassy enough to cut you with her wit, maternal enough to raise five intelligent and well-behaved children, beautiful enough to captivate every man around her, and on top of it still in love (and sexually active) with her husband after all these years. She is the perfect woman

    I meeeeeeeaaaaaan she is my role model!! I want to be her, and be her friend and be her groupie etc liiiiike i don't even know what to do ! Can u imagine being in her presence, such grace, such eloquence. I'm a stan, it's so sad. Also i really love this blog. God bless you

  2. Still me appreciating your blog:And it's all there, in this one look. This person is flawless. This, however, is my second-favorite shot. You see, above is an actor who knows what she's doing. Below is a moment between moments; she's mid-turn, doing something accidental, not quite thinking, and it to me is a moment of true beauty.