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Monday, October 29, 2012

Season 3, Episode 23: The Bald and the Beautiful

This week's episode has two parallel stories: Cliff and Clair have dinner with old friends, while Theo and Cockroach prepare to shave their heads for the chance to appear in a music video. Look, sitcoms were slow in the '80s. This isn't The West Wing.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Patrick Horgan
This also isn't Downton Abbey. See you later, Sir Snobby Accent.

I feel obligated to include the maître d' at the restaurant, even though reviewing a tux is pointless, especially when it's a work uniform. Regardless, say hello to Patrick Horgan, an actor whose career had already been well established by the time he delivered this performance. Though he might not have been particularly famous for any particular role, he made guest appearances in a whole slew of prominent series. His posh, authoritative voice might sound familiar to you if you're a Woody Allen fan: he was the narrator in Zelig. Anyway, here he is.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Robert Culp Scott Kelly
People in this show tend to take hardship well. Probably because they're rich.

Cliff's friend Scott Kelly is played by Robert Culp. His casting as an "old Navy buddy" is something of an in joke, as he costarred with Bill Cosby in I Spy for three years. A prolific television and film actor, he was performing right up until his death in 2010. His character in this episode shows up to deliver a bunch of exposition about heart attacks, what causes them, and how they can be prevented. This seems a little preachy and a lot redundant, given that the show has previously discussed one of Cliff's friends having a heart attack and the subsequent dietary restrictions Clair tries to impose. Anyway, this dude is wearing a suit, and I'm not a tailor, so I can't say much about it specifically. The gray is nice. I'm skeptical of the red and blue pattern of the tie over the matching navy stripe in the shirt, though. Stripes that thick are always a little dicey for me, and I'm not in love with the "colors of the American flag" palette. Those selections could have been improved.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Ann Reinking Jill Kelly
We Got Annie, indeed.

Star of stage and screen Ann Reinking pops up as Jill Kelly. You might have seen her in Annie or All That Jazz. A protégé of Bob Fosse, she is closely associated with the musical Chicago: she replaced Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart in 1977, and then 20 years later reprised the role in the revival, for which she also won a Tony for Best Choreography. I guess they were trying to reflect the glam of her stage presence with this look, but only in the '80s would someone dare to wear a three-piece outfit made entirely of gold lamé. We're talking jacket, blouse, and skirt. Its' much, much too much. While the fabric is vibrant to the point of getting obnoxious, I'm not mad at the shape of these garments. If she were wearing on gold piece surrounded by blacks and purples, maybe, I'd have fallen in absolute love with this. Here's an idea for a modern take on that look:

(I'm trying to get back to presenting modern equivalents for these ensembles. Full disclosure: these are ads, and I could make small amounts of money off them. But I'll only post relevant links, and to make up for the distraction, I'll stop begging for donations. Those of you with ad blocking software will see only a blank space. If it ends up being a terrible idea, let me know and I'll make it stop.)

One more side note: this is Ann Reinking's final IMDb credit. After The Cosby Show, she apparently lost all interest in on-screen work.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Ana D Zenon Lana Herman
Now sashay away.

Lana Herman is back one last time, and she's going out hard. Cowboy boots. Dark-wash mom jeans. Seafoam artist's smock. Purple zippered long-sleeved polo. Pink cami (or maybe that's just a straight-up t-shirt). Orange wedge earrings. I feel like every one of these pieces is from a different look. Like, are you a substitute teacher or an arty bohemian? Cowgirl or girl next door? Maybe she and Theo break up because she needs to do some soul searching. She's all, "Who is Lana Herman, really?" If this outfit is any indication, she's really going through it.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Carl Anthony Payne Cockroach Walter Bradley
This boy has literally never made a good suggestion.

Cockroach steps in with big ideas about haircuts and bigger ideas about what size his shirt should be. He and Theo could wear that big tenty thing simultaneously. The muted shades and vaguely pop art print are at least on the right track; he'd be doing great if this piece were slimly tailored. I agree with the charcoal undershirt, but am less sold on the neon green next to the yellow cars. Though they're not pictured here, he's serving some tasteful black pants downstairs.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Carl Anthony Payne Cockroach Walter Bradley
Like I said.

This whole presentation is just so weird. I'm assuming he was trying to be fashion forward because he thought he was going to be in a music video, but what was the thought process that created this mess? I can't say anything bad about an item as basic as a gray hoodie, but I have to question a shirt that matches his denim that closely. And speaking of denim, I want to talk about the high-waisted jeans situation. That waist is mad high, people. And to make sure it stays high, he's securing it with both suspenders and an industrial-strength belt. His only concern in the world is making sure that his fly extends up to his lowest rib no matter what. (Oh, and I'm not even going to go there with the bald cap.)

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Rudy Keshia Knight Pulliam
Cameo appearance.

Rudy only shows up for a short scene in the beginning of the episode. It's kind of weird, actually: a boy calls to ask Vanessa to the eighth grade dance, but Rudy forgets his name when she conveys the message. The story is left unresolved, however: no one ever mentions the phone or the dance again. Anyway, this is all we see of the littlest Huxtable, and that's a shame, because I love everything about the top quarter of this look.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Vanessa Tempestt Bledsoe
She's going out for Halloween as the Kool-Aid Man. OH YEAH!

To compensate for the fact that she's only wearing one garment, Vanessa makes sure it's the busiest single garment she can get away with. There are buttons, a banded collar, thick belt loops, six-inch cuffs at the ankle, and a wide plaid swath thrown haphazardly across her chest. And yet, despite these challenges, she comes within striking distance of pulling this off. No, guys, really, hear me out. The apple red is gorgeous. (At least, it's apple red in the kitchen; things skew a little pink in Theo's room for some reason.) But more importantly, there are some great things happening with the fit. The off-the-shoulder draping of those sleeves is audacious, but since they're short sleeves, it feels less egregious and more like a plausible fashion option. It's just a drapey top, you know? That happens. And then the lower half actually fits her. Those pant legs are tailored nicely, and just look at how the belted waist shows off her... ok, I know she's underage and we're not supposed to look at her butt, and I don't mean to turn this conversation in a direction that's going to put me on an FBI watch list (I swear, government agents, I'm gay as a goose and have no plans to go back in time and harass the Tempestt Bledsoe of yore), but if I had a booty that round, I'd be thrilled to find a onesie that displayed it with such majesty. Oh, the envy I feel! I'm even prepared to forgive the Tartan Rectangle of Confusion in light of this triumph in gluteal tailoring.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Theo Malcolm Jamal Warner
Is there a light at the end of this tunnel?

Theo's back to his simpler jeans, which is both good and bad: they're more fashionable, but less conducive to elaborate critique. Sticking to his shirt, as we always do, I'm seeing a slight upswing in his level of taste. I wouldn't call this a fantastic piece, but it's not a sweatshirt. The garment makes interesting use of the interplay between the bright, bordering-on-neon orange and the stonier slate and cadet blue accents. It doesn't fit properly and is a little aggressive in its hue, but at least it has a collar.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Theo Malcolm Jamal Warner
From a distance, I'm wondering if maybe the Ruby Rhod look is right for him.

If he went to school in an A-shirt all the time, he'd nab WAY more ladies than he does with his current selections. On the other hand, the lack of baggy sack top reveals that his jeans are pleated. One step forward, two steps back.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Clair Phylicia Rashad
I can't get enough of her judgment face.

Clair jumps on the button bandwagon with her first look, adorning the front of her shirt with a dense string of fasteners even though there's clearly no opening there and thus no need for any fastening. If I hadn't seen her looking so trim in other episodes, I'd assume that this outfit had been chosen to mask pregnancy weight, because that jacket is way tanky. She's not doing herself any favors by hiking up her trousers and throwing down that thick belt, either. Slathering her in beige also seems pointless since she wears jewel tones and vibrant prints so well. She's beautiful, and this poorly designed outfit is holding her back.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Clair Phylicia Rashad
Letting everyone know.

She brings it back with this red suit, though. I'd love to scorn this jacket, but it takes sizing incongruity to such a comical extreme that I have to call it a success. Look at those shoulder pads! And the sleeves that puff in the middle but taper at the wrist! In that first still, she has the upper body of a gorilla costume. But somehow, by sinning as fiercely as she can, she pulls out a win, turning the idiocy of an ill-fitting blazer into something chic and regal. And look at her from the front. Such blatantly sexual cleavage! In the space between the choker and the lowest point of her neckline, there's quite a bit of skin showing. I don't think it's a bad thing, I'm just surprised to see that much breast on this show. Her skirt won't win any awards, but it's not dragging the look down, either. And so much shimmery red! This is another one of those cases where owning it makes all the difference.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Cliff Bill Cosby
Flaws-by sweater. (I know, that one's weak.)

Not one of my fave Cosby sweaters. Having pushed the envelope so stridently with his previous showings, it's hard to watch him take a step back. This vaguely Mondrian-inspired foray into geometric details is nice and all, but it doesn't feel as dynamic as it could. It's not overwrought enough to be a precedent-setting sort of terrible, nor is it conceptual enough to be amusing in an intellectual sense, like his postage stamp or ponytailed lady. This is just a jumble of colors. I wouldn't say that it doesn't work, I'd just say that it doesn't do enough.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Cliff Bill Cosby
For someone "relatable," he sure has a lot of expensive suits and fancy dinners.

Lastly, Cliff's dinner suit. I find the pale gray to be rather dashing, especially with that subtle crosshatching that adds depth and finesse to what could otherwise be a more standard offering. The almost sparkly effect achieved by that patterning reads maybe a touch young for the doctor, but I'll allow it. It's not too flashy, it just has a hint of sass. The deep eggplant handkerchief in his pocket is divine, especially because it salvages that tie from the brink of disaster. It's a rather fussy piece of work. What are those details on it? Peacock feathers? Ferns? The cosmos? It's a Rorschach test, really: you see yourself in that neckpiece. He manages to make it all look suave, though, which ain't bad for a guy that isn't quite Denzel Washington, you know? Go ahead, Mr. Cosby.

Isn't it nice to get to the end of this entry and not have me try to verbally mug you? GIVE ME THE MONEY See you next week, all.


  1. what do you mean when you say sitcoms in the 80's were "slow"? how can you compare it to The West Wing, a political drama?

    1. They're jokes, this isn't my grad school thesis.

      I agree, the two comparisons are wildly different. To make more reasonable comparisons, let's look at "Modern Family" or "Family Guy" or "How I Met Your Mother." All of those shows use more outlandish setups, broader humor, and a higher volume of jokes per minute. "The Cosby Show" spends a lot of time creating a scenario and a plot and exploring the family dynamic. The overall situation is funny, but they're not necessarily trying to get a laugh out of every other line. It's a different style of comedy, and the older sitcoms feel slower by today's standards for that reason.