Sunday, April 12, 2009

Power Rankings!: Cosby Show Opening Credits

Despite my prodigious consumption of sitcom television going up, in my life I've probably seen a grand total of maybe 3 or 4 full episodes of the "Cosby Show". In fact, the only episode I can actually recall is the one where Rudy and her friend Peter go to the dentist played by Danny Kaye. The bulk of its run was pretty much before my time and by the time it started entering excessive re-runs in syndication, I just didn't really get into it. Now before you start accusing me of network sitcom racism, to my defense I've watched practically every "Family Matters" from its TGIF heydays to it's sad, slow death on CBS. I also think that the "Fresh Price of Bel-Air" is totally underrated and is one of the few series that I still find just as (if not more) hilarious today as I had in middle school. There's just something about the Cos that I just didn't dig. I think it was because the humor was just too realistic and subtle for my tastes. There were no wacky neighbors or slapstick physical antics or cheap laughs, just ground breaking naturalistic family based comedy; not really my bag. On the whole I usually prefer more thrown pies and kicks to the groin when it comes to my network family sitcoms.

Despite the fact that the Huxtables and I never really hit it off, I was always a fan of their classic opening credits. During my elementary and middle school years I, like every other kid of my generation, would watch the Disney Afternoon after every long hard day of school. The conclusion of the programming block at 5 pm would signal the start of my homework time. However, after the final credits of "Darkwing Duck" or "Gargoyles" ran, I'd stick around just a minute more to catch the opening credits of the Cosby Show rerun that ran immediately afterward.

It was over these years of viewing that I developed an admiration for the Cosby show's dedication to providing new and ambitious opening titles nearly every season (7 opening credits over 8 seasons). In addition to new visual sequences, the general theme song to the show was performed in a completely different style (I was totally unaware it was the same song until I had a mind blowing epiphany a few years ago). Unlike most of the shows today where the opening credits, if they even bother to have one, stays stagnant and listless over multiple seasons (I'm pretty sure "The Office" has been using the same intro since the first episode, ditto with "30 Rock"), the openings to shows like "The Cosby Show" grew and changed with the characters. Whether it was watching Tempestt Bledsoe blossom into a young woman or following the wild fashion roller coaster ride of Malcolm-Jamal Warner or being introduced to a cute little Raven-Symone, every new opening credit provided a lasting, distinct snapshot of the season, while telling a general story of about the series.

While every intro was different, there were clearly ones I preferred over others. As the debate rages on among Cosby fans about which intros were superior, here are my definitive Cosby Show Opening Credits power rankings:

7. Season 8 Intro
According to wikipedia, the season 8 opening credits were suppose to be the for season 7 but legal issues regarding displaying the mural delayed it until the 8th and final season. While most of the other Cosby openings had a timeless, classic feel to them, this is by for the most painfully dated. It's a bizarre amalgam of what the show's producers must have thought mainstream hiphop culture was like in 1992, an ugly pastel colored mix of early Fresh Prince and TLC videos. I half expect Malcolm-Jamal Warner to come in with a condom over his left eye.

6. Season 1 Intro
Season 1 has the most strikingly primitive opening credits of the entire series. It's the only one that strays from the whole family dance sequence theme; in fact it doesn't even have moving pictures. The whole thing looks like something off of Cliff Huxtable's screen saver (complete with annoying wipes). While this generic 80s sitcom opening is defiantly the worst intro in terms of originality and production quality, its only saving grace is its version of the title song, a breezy sax flavored affair, that is in my personal top 3. Also, on a random note, doesn't it kind of look like the Huxtables are exiting out of the A-Team van?

5. Season 3 Intro
Season 3 doesn't really add much to the evolution of the Cosby intro. It's essentially a continuation of the Season 2 intro. You get the family out there doing their thing, this time to a spicy Latin take on the theme. I find Cosby far too spastic for my comfort here; as the continuing rankings will show, I prefer a more deliberate and restrained Cosby dance. I'm also going to have to give negative points for Tempestt Bledsoe's whole too cool for school, "I'm not dancing stance".

4. Season 2 Intro
Season 2's intro is more important than it is actually good. It's sort of like the Model T, it's notable because of its groundbreaking firsts but in relative terms it's not actually all that advanced or proficient. Season 2 lays out the fundamental blueprint for all other openings to follow: individual cast introduction shots, flamboyant dancing, reworked music, and (most importantly) a spastic Cosby. However, there were greater, more ambitious heights to be reached. Also, interesting to note is that Season 2 and 3 are only ones where the Cos is sporting those glorious sweaters.

3. Season 4 Intro
Season 4 is a truly noteworthy departure point. Given the high flying success of the show at the time, entering what would be their third of five consecutive #1 Nielsen rated seasons, the show could have remained with another conservative tweak to their previous two intros. A slight rework of the theme and another garish sweater would have been good enough, but they decided to up the ante. This is probably the classiest of all the intros: with everyone dressed in vintage formal wear (Phylicia Rashad looks absolutely stunning, definitely her best looking intro appearance), a minimalist jazzy soundtrack (a total Bobby McFerrin vibe), and a cool subdued Cosby grooving along. For better and for worse this would end up being the starting point for the grand experimentation for the rest of the series.

2. Season 6 and 7
An intro so nice they used it twice! By the 6th Season all the cast members had pretty much refined their dance techniques. What results is an intro with some of the fanciest footwork seen throughout the entire series. As soon as that wild sax comes in the whole crew puts on a show worthy of the Apollo theatre whose sign is used at the backdrop. Even the once, tepid, Tempestt is burning up the dance floor. This intro is also important in that it has the return of Lisa Bonet from her "A Different World" exile and the introduction of a young, cute as a button, Raven-Symone In an interesting contrast to the prolific dancing of the rest of the cast, Bill Cosby is at his most deliberate here, grooving along, in an almost penguin like display of subtle movies. I like it.

1. Season 5 Intro
The opening credits to the 5th Season of the Cosby Show is quite possibly the greatest opening credit in the history of television. When I first came across it, it positively blew my mind. The theatrics, the choreography, the grandness of it all. The theme had been reworked into some sort of majestic John Williams-esque score that just jumped off the small screen. The dancing, a colorful, hypnotic, maelstrom of organized chaos with the Cos being the goofy calm eye in the middle of it all. The whole thing felt like a classic Busby Berkeley musical number. It was ridiculous, it was totally removed from anything the show was about, it was amazing. Unfortunately with an opening so stirring and explosive, any episode proceeding it would be ultimately disappointing in comparison.


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