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, November 12, 2012

Season 3, Episode 25: Hillman

I'm not going to beat around the bush here: the season 3 finale pretty much sucks. The intention was to establish Hillman College as a location so that they could promote Denise's spin-off, but they largely fail in that excluding Lisa Bonet, literally none of the series regulars from A Different World appear in the show. Additionally, the script abandons its assumed purpose of making people laugh about midway through and instead presents us with a long stretch of footage depicting a graduation ceremony. No one we know is graduating, mind you: the family is there to support the college's president, since this will be his last year running the school. That's a remarkably thin reason for making the children sit through this ordeal, let alone forcing it on the general public. There is a single saving grace to this interlude, but I'll save it for later. Right now, we have a LOT of recap to get through. Between the guest stars and the costume changes, I have 21 looks to go over, so we'd best get started.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Gloria Foster Barbara Bracy Hillman
"And I tell you this, Hillman graduates: don't worry about the vase."

I'll kick things off with an easy one: this is Gloria Foster as Dr. Barbara Bracy, the new president of the school. You most likely recognize her as the Oracle from The Matrix. She only ever wears this robe, but she showed up and gave a long talk, so I threw her into the mix. She's also one of the guest stars in this world who never appears in the spin-off, so I'll take this opportunity to highlight once again how preposterous it was to make the audience sit through her speech.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Joe Seneca Zachariah J Hanes Hillman
Why introduce this character if the whole point is that he's going away?

The outgoing president, Dr. Zachariah J. Hanes, is played by Joe Seneca. His career was consistent, if not illustrious, including roles in A Time to Kill and the 1988 remake of The Blob, along with a steady stream of television gigs. He worked until his death in 1996 from a heart attack. His three-piece suit delights me, for the most part. The color looks a little cool in some lights, with more blue undertones than red or yellow, and I would have preferred a warmer shade. But the plaid is terrific, catching the eye without assaulting it, and the patterned plum tie is just the right match. I particularly love the crisp white handkerchief in his pocket; matching his shirt rather than his tie was absolutely the right choice in this context. Well done, sir.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Dr Harris Hillman
Cee-Lo Green, Ph.D.

This is Dr. Harris, Cliff's old philosophy professor. He also appears in the pilot episode of A Different World, but after that only pops up once more. It's not as though a character of that size demands an introduction. Nonetheless, here we are in his classroom, having a sizeable discussion about what it was like being taught by him in the old days. And mind you, in real life this man is only three years older than Bill Cosby, so he must have been on the Doogie Howser track at grad school. Anyway, we should check his style. He's going for an interesting approach by matching his jacket and tie and then making the vest the center of attention, unseating one's usual expectations of formal attire. Can't hate that bravado. To avoid letting the train run off the tracks, however, he adheres to a fully conventional palette of navy, brick red, gray, and white. The loud swatch of fabric jutting from his pocket is a step too far, however: everything else coheres so well, and that element is too disparate. Careful with your accent pieces, guys: there's a good way and a bad way to get attention.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Phyllis Yvonne Stickney Denise roommate Hillman
Let's just repeatedly say yes to everything that's happening here.

This is Denise's freshman roommate Phyllis, who she apparently never talks to once sophomore year starts because Phyllis Yvonne Stickney (the actress, making her debut here) never had so much as a cameo appearance on A Different World. Which is a shame, because she looks fabulous. Clearly, she's pulling heavily on African influences with her jewelry, and the more-is-more approach works incredibly on a monotone foundation. The abundance of beads adds color and texture, while the use of multiple layers give depth to what could have been an exceptionally flat peach getup. The split in the back of her top shirt is a particularly inspired touch, but I also love the tunic-y length of the one beneath it. She's so sure of her fashion dominance that she's created a crown for herself out of her own hair. Denise and her roommate were obviously the two best-dressed people on campus.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Clarice Taylor Anna
A structured sack is still a sack.

Grandma and Grandpa also return to Hillman for this event. Anna opts for a paler pink than I'd have chosen; she looks a little washed out, and could have benefited from a richer hue. The cut of her suit is also extremely conservative: nothing says "prude" like having a coat that buttons straight up to your chin, and the scarf only exacerbates the issue. A widely pleated skirt like that really doesn't do anything for anybody, especially at that awkward mid-calf length. She's worn better before and will hopefully wear better again, because what we have here is a disappointment.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Earle Hyman Russell
How to ruin a good suit in three easy steps.

Russell, who seldom struggles to create a flawless outfit, is also a little off his game today. The suit itself is right, but everything else is a bit at war. The rigid blue stripes on his shirt make the strong print on his tie seem too outrageous, and the choice of a differently patterned pocket square throws everything further out of whack. Truthfully, I think that tie is too ugly to wear ever, but it's for sure misapplied here. There's no lineup between any of the colors; things don't have to match, but they should at least coordinate. It shouldn't look like each shade was chosen at random.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Sabrina Le Beauf Sondra
I like it when I can like her. Really, I want us to be friends.

Sondra also sneaks in to say hello. Against all odds, I'm going to be largely complimentary in describing her outfit. There's an experimental vibe to this creation that pleases me. The topmost layer is unexpectedly flattering in its tone; she's a little sallow in her complexion and the bright buttercup hue basically turns that problem into an advantage, bringing her natural yellow tones to the forefront to brighten her face. Other than the overly wide cut of that garment, I'm a fan of its shape: the not-quite-a-blazer front opening is unique, and the lack of full arm coverage sets the stage for her next triumph: by wearing a buttoned-at-the-top tan cardigan with past-the-wrist sleeves, she makes optimal use of the negative space created by the jacket thing, playing with the emptiness rather than simply filling it. I'm a little wary of the necklace peeking out under that (enough is enough, lady), but I'll bite my tongue. It's entirely likely that her skirt is perfect, and I wish I could see more of it. From what I can tell, it's high-waisted and draped like the toga on a Roman statue, injecting elegance and grace. Not bad, all around. This is a complicated creation, and it all holds together.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Sabrina Le Beauf Sondra
I'm keeping my fingers crossed for season 4. Maybe it gets better?

While I'm not enamored with her second look, I'd still place it above her usual standards. Most of the credit for that goes to her willowy lavender-gray coatlet which, without shoulder pads, would be completely fabulous. It's bordering on silly, but I'm choosing to enjoy it. The purple dress is decent, I'm sure, but none of the kids get much of a chance to show off their formal duds, so a lot of this is going to be estimation and outright invention on my part. Her main error is the giant necklace, which has an earthy feel that isn't mirrored anywhere else in her outfit. Now is the time for metals, dear. Something silver would have been right, I think.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Lisa Bonet Denise Hillman

Denise starts out in another winner, mixing conventional and innovative approaches to deliver a chic impact that isn't too over the top. The trousers look like a runway version of a man's formal attire, while the high-collared vest recalls women's styles at the turn of the century. By combining the two (plus leaving the vest open and wearing a simple t-shirt underneath), she modernizes the whole ensemble. You can tell she thought hard about this by the way she tucks her hands into the giant arm opening of the vest like pockets; she's making small physical moves that highlight the fun details of her look. Since everything is charcoal and cream, the zany, colorful stone necklace keeps things from getting flat. Gold star.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Lisa Bonet Denise
So nice she wore it twice.

To dress up for the ceremony, she confoundingly repeats her look from episode #3.20, right down to the inscrutable brown jewelry. I'm not surprised that we're seeing it again, only that we're seeing it in this context. To me, she looks more casual now than she did before; I would have switched the order in which these pieces were worn.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Malcolm Jamal Warner Theo
I'm sorry to have captured him making that face.

Theo makes it through the entire episode without wearing something that he had to pull over his head. All buttons, all the time! I'm going to call that a personal victory even though I personally had nothing to do with it. This lilac shirt of his shows potential. A nehru collar is a fresh and unexpected choice, and the seam across the chest might look great. We don't get to see it in full, of course, because he has that sloppy jacket on over it the whole time. He also opts for those gray pants today instead of jeans, even though he's going to change later for the graduation. I wouldn't call this an outright success, but he's at least made some effort. Without the khaki top layer, I'd probably approve of this.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Malcolm Jamal Warner Theo
It's tough to catch him not making one of those faces, actually.

None of the children get featured much in the second half of the episode, but Theo in particular tends to get pushed into the background. As a result, I have to make some inferences about his slacks based on limited data. Though it's tough to tell from the brief exposure they get, I'm pretty sure they match his (exceptionally ill-fitting) jacket. At least something matches his coat, because the shirt and tie certainly don't. Both shades of blue stripe are too medium: he needs something much lighter or much darker to contrast with the grayish tan. The black/white print is jarring and grabs more focus than it deserves. Things aren't looking up for this one.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Tempestt Bledsoe Vanessa
I don't see buttons on that collar. How does it fit over her head?

Vanessa starts the day in an all-purple mess, but I understand. She's about to get on a plane, she wants to be comfortable! Also, bear in mind that the family wakes up, gets dressed, packs, flies to see Denise, tours the campus, meets with the outgoing president, and watches a procession of graduates all before the sun goes down. It must be 5:30am right now, she shouldn't be expected to make apparel selections at this hour. (Also, whoever's on the other end of the phone can't be pleased if that's the case.)

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Tempestt Bledsoe Vanessa
And now, we all say "NO" loudly and in unison until the demon is banished.

Playing with proportion can be like playing with fire, and Vanessa got burned. The wide shoulders, low-slung waist, reflective fabric, and confusing bunching all unite to contort her form in nearly impossible ways. She was correct in her assessment that a suit would be appropriate for this occasion, but this one looks like it was made to be worn by a different species. I'd urge her toward a brighter color, too: something more golden or yellow than this wan catastrophe.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Keshia Knight Pulliam Rudy
Even at this age, she was world weary.

I'm sure Rudy has worn this before, but I might not have captured it last time. She also has other pink and yellow outfits, so I might be getting confused. Regardless, I like this, and if I reviewed it before, I probably liked it last time, too.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Keshia Knight Pulliam Rudy
It's dresses like this that wore her out.

Someone in this family, either Rudy or one of her parents, has a real fondness for ruffles. This, however, is out of hand. I don't think it's necessary to make small girls into Victorian dolls when putting them in formal situations. She looks preposterous.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Cliff Bill Cosby
I rarely mention it, but it still bothers me that they wear shoes in the house.

Cliff brings back his episode #3.20 suspenders (the ones with the flying birds) but pairs then with the wrong shirt: the bluish-greenish hues are too close for comfort. Otherwise, this is a fairly sedate look for the doctor. Without a lunatic pattern somewhere, I almost don't recognize him!

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Cliff Bill Cosby sweater
I didn't realize until I paused it how bad his handshake face was.

There it is! Once he gets to Hillman, he puts on a Cosby Cardigan. I love that he's branching out, bringing the bizarre to new corners of his wardrobe. There's something comforting about the wild cardigan. Part of it is that it's a cozy garment in and of itself, but I think there's also a psychological component. You can see more of the shirt underneath, anchoring you by assuring you that you're still in the real world where people wear real clothes. Also, this can be taken off more easily than a pullover sweater, which is no doubt a relief. While I love the mixture of various textures, I outright hate the cruddy-looking knit that runs from his shoulders down the tops of his sleeves. Everything else looks like it could stand on its own, but that section looks filthy, like it was used to line a litter box or something.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Cliff Bill Cosby
Even when there's only a sliver of her, I'd always rather look at Clair.

God, I hate reviewing suits. It's all just shirt and tie choice, maybe with something in the pocket. Should these be added to the list of things I don't talk about on this blog? No, maybe I'm just saying that because this entry has gotten really long. Anyhow, everything's dark and blue, and then there's a little bit of red. The white collar leaves me torn; I like the concept, but think it's too much brighter than everything else in this particular instance.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Clair Phylicia Rashad
From the side, it turns out that this lean against the door isn't sexy at all.

This is not the all-yellow getup Clair wore in episode #2.23, though the impact is remarkably similar. The fabric here looks thinner (I'm judging by those wrinkles at her hips): maybe linen? It's also got a higher collar and an off-center opening that gives it a slightly Asian feel. If she's cold, she needs a different colored sweater, though; the red necklace and orange cardigan make this appear costumey, as if she's going out for Halloween as "fire" or trying to invoke a desert goddess. Too much in the same family for me. Where's a purple or a blue or, dare I invoke it, a neutral when you need one? She's capable of better.

Cosby Show Huxtable fashion blog 80s sitcom Clair Phylicia Rashad
Pure radiance.

I'll say this about Mrs. Huxtable: she knows how to dress up. I'm not usually eager to support overlarge items, but the tent-like white coat works for me somehow. I think it's the giant, bunchy end of the sleeve that takes this from "oops, I bought something three sizes too big" to "I meant to do that and you love it." It's impossible to argue with black and white solids: they'll always look classic. Obviously, she'd look even better in a well-tailored suit. W, but wouldn't we all? I'm making do with what's available, and I don't have it in me to hate on Phylicia's clothes twice in row.

And now, as teased in the first paragraph, the reason to watch this episode at all: Phylicia Rashad singing! Coming from a Broadway background, she's no stranger to delivering a live vocal, and this rendition of "All Good Things Will Be Added Unto You" is so delicious that it gets replayed while the credits roll. If it's good enough to end a season of The Cosby Show, then it's good enough to end a season of Huxtable Hotness, so I've included the video below. Watch and enjoy. (If you're like me, you'll watch it a hundred times. You'll also notice that the brief opening with Cliff is from season 4, and that will get you excited in advance for next week's entry, in which I review the new credits sequence!)


  1. this makes me just want to watch a different world. and read a different world fashion blog. dwayne wayne could inspire several tomes.

    1. I love that idea! Will someone who's not me please get on that? Anyone?

  2. My partner has recently been going through the DVD box set of a TV show that I believe is simply crying out for a review similar to this - Charmed! I'm a decent writer, but I know nothing about fashion so I won't even attempt it, but for someone with the right knowledge, it's the perfect show for a sartorial review blog.

    1. I'll let you in on a not-so-secret secret: I have no idea what I'm talking about half the time. I've watched a lot of "Project Runway" and I've read some catalogs and I'm CONSTANTLY running to Google to look things up, but really I'm just a guy with opinions. I don't know the first thing about fashion. The only things someone needs to do a blog like this are free time and a broken brain.

  3. Hi, a good friend of mine appears in this episode. She was one of the graduates and they show her up close several times. I'm trying to find this video for free online so that I can include some screencaps for a 50th birthday video we are making for her. Do you know if this entire video is online for free anywhere? I'm looking for the speech and when they march in - she's featured in both those sections. Thanks - Robin

    1. Robin-

      I'm not sure where you could find the video online. I'll see if I can grab the relevant sections and email them to you. Contact me at thisischriskelly at gmail dot com and I'll try to help as best I can.

  4. It was interesting to read the fashion commentary of the characters. Good eye. While I enjoyed the read in general, I disagree with your statement that the episode sucked. Actually, it was one of the strongest episodes in that it provided multiple lessons about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In his own way, Bill Cosby showcased those elements and traditions of importance to HBCUs, including convocation (which looked liked a graduation, but wasn't) and exposing the next generation to the HBCU to begin a legacy at the insitution.

    1. I agree totally, watching the video of Claire singing made me think back to the 80's and the boom of students going to HBCUs.

  5. Just came across your reviews while looking for this episode; I thought I knew every Cosby Show episode. Well for the record Yvonne Stickney was suppose to be on A Different World but made the mistake in an interview and shed some story lines about the show. You know you do not mess with the Cos and he had told all cast members to stay quiet about the show; bam she was fired and enters Dawn Lewis.