Judge Gordon Sullivan takes the occasional pratfall.
"Bill Cosby returns as Chet Kincaid, the dedicated and hip gym teacher at Richard Allen Holmes High School in Los Angeles."
Before he was Fat Albert or Cliff Huxtable, Bill Cosby cut his sitcom teeth as Chet Kincaid, a high school PE teacher who manages to get into all kinds of humorous situations. The show was fairly popular, but this second season was its last (curtailed, in part, Cosby's return to school to pursue graduate work in education). It's vintage early Cosby that Shout Factory has done the world a service by releasing, but it might not be to everyone's taste.
The Bill Cosby Show can be summed up prettily easily by saying that Bill Cosby plays a gym teacher, but the show is a bit more subtle than that. Although each episode deals with a typical sitcom situation, The Bill Cosby Show isn't afraid to get a little deep and show real people in real situations. For instance, the first episode of the season features a football player whose career has been cut short by injury. In between all the funny moments, Kincaid guides this young man towards an alternate career. The show even goes so far as to mention that the injury means the young man won't have to go to war, referencing the then-current conflict in Vietnam. This kind of depth and realism isn't very common in the sitcom world. It sets The Bill Cosby Show apart in its formula.
Shout Factory has released all twenty-six episodes of the second season on four discs:
Bill Cosby's comedy has always been rooted in the absurdity of the everyday, especially those experiences which we all seem to have in common growing up in America. So, it seems almost natural that Cosby would choose high school as a setting for his comedy since it's an absurd institution that most people have at least some experience with. Casting himself as a gym teacher is also a perfect choice as well. It gives him the opportunity to act as the paternal authority, dispensing his down-home wisdom. At the same time, Kincaid can mix it up a bit and take the occasional pratfall. That's pretty much the Bill Cosby formula: a guy in tenuous authority must deal with the absurdities of life. The Bill Cosby Show provides an excellent vehicle for that formula. Fans of Cosby's early standup work or later incarnation as Cliff Huxtable will find much to love here.
In his review of the first season of The Bill Cosby Show, Judge Dennis Prince explicitly mentioned the lack of a laugh track on the show, and that carried over into the second season. Cosby did it on purpose so the audience could decide what to laugh at themselves, and Judge Prince noted that it could cause viewers to feel "a bit uneasy." I have to second that observation. Because the show was produced four decades ago at the time of this set's release, enough cultural water has passed under the bridge to make watching the show a strange experience. I had the feeling while watching that while I was laughing at some of the clothing choices (like paisley shirt plus plaid pants), a viewer from 1970 would have been laughing at the dialogue. I guess the best way to put it is that The Bill Cosby Show might not be a laugh-out-loud funny sit-com for all of Chet Kincaid's antics, and the dated costumes and situations might put some viewers off.
Whether contemporary viewers laugh along with every episode, The Bill Cosby Show is an important part of the career of a comedy genius, and I'm glad Shout Factory has seen fit to preserve it—and preserve is the word: these episodes look absolutely fantastic. The show was obviously shot on Seventies film stock, so it doesn't quite look contemporary, but it's absolutely as clear as if it was shot yesterday. Color saturation is spot-on, there's no print damage or excessive grain, and the episodes aren't overly compressed. The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack keeps everything audible and the mixing between dialogue and music is perfect. Like the last season, the only extra is a new interview with Cosby about the show, and it's worth watching to hear his thoughts on such an old show.
The Bill Cosby Show is a blast from the past that holds up surprisingly well thanks to Bill Cosby's fairly timeless brand of comedy. Although it will look dated to a lot of viewers, those who can get past the funky hair and fashion will find an interesting show that goes a little beyond the standard sitcom formula. Shout Factory has done the TV world a favor by releasing the show in a pristine-looking set so everyone from the diehard Cosby fans to the curious can enjoy these episodes.
The Bill Cosby Show is not guilty.
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