DURING THE HUXTABLE FAMILY REIGN that stretched from 1984 until 1992, Bill Cosby was occasionally criticized for his show’s unapologetically sunny portrayal of African-American life. The criticism was ludicrous: Sitcoms are supposed to make people feel good, and who said programs about minorities have to be dour, while sitcoms about white people usually try to cultivate that I Love Lucy/Brady Bunch ambience? Why should white people have all the fun?
In any case, Cosby has now returned to TV with a series about a working-class man who gets downsized after 30 years, and, yes, in true Bill Cosby tradition, the show is quite upbeat. Based on the acerbic British series One Foot in the Grave, Cosby (CBS, Mondays, 8 p.m. ET) centers on a crotchety, eccentric senior citizen who, now finding himself jobless, starts driving his wife completely mad. Because Cosby is again paired with Phylicia Rashad, the show inherits some of the goodwill viewers have long felt for the previous hit. And the stars get solid support from Madeline Kahn, playing Rashad’s ditzy business partner.
As is often the case with new sitcoms, the debut takes a while to get rolling, but the show does pick up steam in subsequent episodes. And there is some very good writing: After his car breaks down and he is forced to get a lift, via a car service for senior citizens, to an interview for a job he fails to land, Cosby explains, “I got to the interview. I was sweaty, I was shaky, I was nervous, incoherent. The man thought I was James Brown.”
Set in Queens, New York City’s least glamorous borough, Cosby relies on a series of standup routines involving moronic dry cleaners, inept mechanics, ridiculous neighbors—in short, Bill Cosby shtick. This program does not have the lightning pace of Seinfeld, the cleverness of Home Improvement, the grit and bluster of Roseanne, the pep of Mad About You. But neither did the old Cosby show. What Cosby has is Bill Cosby. That’s often enough.