In the history of family sitcoms, has there ever been a woman so intelligent, so poised, and so willing to deliver impassioned monologues about gender equality as Clair Huxtable? As a kid watching The Cosby Show -- the only primetime program my parents permitted back in the '80s -- I was completely in awe of her. As an adult who's watched many, many hours of TV since (I do what I want!), I'm more impressed than ever.
Even in reruns, Clair plays like a modern woman. She has a full-time career that's never presented as being at odds with her family life. (In fact, being a lawyer actually helps her be a better mom! Remember when she put Theo on trial in the living room? Classic.) She openly discusses gender issues with her kids. She's never afraid to assert herself, and she never loses her composure when she does. 20 years after The Cosby Show's peak, Clair is still more progressive than most of the TV moms who've succeeded her.
The Cosby Show has been criticized for ignoring issues of racism in it's portrayal of a very successful Black family, but Phylicia Rashad's performance as Clair is, in my opinion, beyond reproach. She brought a new perspective to the "strong Black woman" archetype that had been a staple of Black sitcoms of the '70s (hi Florida!). Her multi-faceted interpretation of the role showed that women of color were just as capable of being educated and successful as they were of being feisty and outspoken.
From 1986–1990, The Cosby Show ranked #1 in the Nielson Ratings. No show with a Black cast has come anywhere close to that kind of popularity since. In fact, are there any predominantly Black shows on network TV right now, or have they all been relegated to BET?
Clair Huxtable may have been a trail-blazing character, but very few have followed in her footsteps, and none have met with the same success.... Or have they? Please tell me I'm wrong! In the meantime I remain in awe of Clair, my crush nonpareil.
[Now published at www.loveinthelivingroom.com]