The Ten Best THE COSBY SHOW Episodes of Season Six

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday and the continuation of our series of posts on the best episodes from The Cosby Show (1984-1992, NBC), the early linchpin of the peacock network’s Must-See-TV lineup and a show often cited as responsible for resurrecting the situation comedy! I’m happy to report that all seasons have been released on DVD.


A doctor and a lawyer juggle their two careers with the raising of their five kids. The Cosby Show stars BILL COSBY as Cliff Huxtable, PHYLICIA RASHAD as Clair Huxtable, LISA BONET as Denise Huxtable Kendall, MALCOLM-JAMAL WARNER as Theo Huxtable, TEMPESTT BLEDSOE as Vanessa Huxtable, KESHIA KNIGHT PULLIAM as Rudy Huxtable, SABRINA LE BEAUF as Sondra Huxtable Tibideaux, GEOFFREY OWENS as Elvin Tibideaux, JOSEPH C. PHILLIPS as Lt. Martin Kendall, and RAVEN-SYMONÉ as Olivia Kendall.


Last week, in reference to the mediocre plateau on which the series found itself in Season Five, I foretold of a shake-up that needed to occur if the show ever wanted to once again become comedically potent. (You have to take a risk if you want a reward — always true in television, regardless of era or genre.) Although I was writing with a knowledge of what eventually transpired, it seems that The Cosby Show‘s creative team were thinking exactly what I was, for they decided to launch the sixth season with probably the biggest premise change it ever enacted during the course of its run… so far. As most of you know, I’m alluding to the return of Denise Huxtable, now Denise Kendall, along with a new husband, played by Joseph C. Phillips (who had previously played a suitor of Sondra’s — another character — in a previous season), and a young step-daughter, played by future Disney star Raven-Symoné. Now sometimes these risky maneuverings and late-in-the-game character additions end up backfiring, and instead of reinvigorating a show, only hasten its demise. But The Cosby Show pulls these changes off seamlessly, and even benefits from the risk-taking, presenting a season much stronger than the few prior, and frankly, the most satisfying we’ve seen since the second. With character-driven stories, a focus on the relationships among the main cast members, and scripts that make comedy a priority, this is finally a season about which Cosby fans can be proud.

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There are several reasons why these creative developments work. Narratively, with only Vanessa and Rudy left in the house, the addition of three more mouths to feed — including another child — is a source of great consternation for both Clair and Cliff (especially), and from their evident pain comes exploitable comedy. (We’ll see the same kind of thing enacted in the ill-fated pregnancy arc on Married… With Children this January.) Furthermore, although I maintain a belief that Denise’s absences are not responsible for the show’s periodic declines in quality, I absolutely think her presence has proven itself a boon to the series — even when she’s acting exaggeratedly foolish and flighty, an element of her persona that was heightened last season when Bonet’s surprise pregnancy had everyone on The Cosby Show (not to mention A Different World) scrambling to cover. Yes, Denise has changed a lot from the years in which she was a regular, but when an episode can justify her behavior (which is about 75% of the time here), she works wonderfully — humorously, believably, and fundamentally connected to the show’s origins. In other words, we’re glad she’s back — and her shocking return with a husband and kid make for an interesting mirror of the actress’ own rebellious nature.


Also, Raven-Symoné aids the season by already proving what a capable comedienne she’ll become, and while I think the series occasionally runs the risk of making her overly cute (which they often avoided with Rudy, thank goodness), her presence gives Cosby the chance to once again work off a young child, something that he does with miraculous ease. In fact, the moments between these two performers constitute some of the best and most memorable material of the season; she’s never better than she is here. Elsewhere in the house, Clair continues to get meatier material (and you’ll notice that ‘angry Clair’ rears her head more often in these episodes), allowing Rashad perhaps her best season out of the entire run, while Vanessa, Rudy, and Theo maintain the trajectories on which they were headed last season. Rudy gets heavier stories (and is doing a better job handling them), Vanessa gets more teachable moments (but the show is doing a better job of handling them — with the parents), and Theo gets continued growth (in mediocre stories, but many comedic moments). Now, I don’t believe this season is not perfect — the quality isn’t spread evenly throughout, there are a few bombs, and Denise isn’t written as sublimely as before — but I do enjoy Season Six a lot and think its quality extends beyond the re-developing: the scripts are better too. So both the stories and the storytelling are stronger. (And, boy, The Cosby Show really needed this now!) So I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.

THE COSBY SHOW -- "The Day the Spores Landed" Episode 8 -- Air Date 11/09/1989 -- Pictured: (l-r) Geoffrey Owens as Elvin Tibideaux, Joseph C. Phillips as Lt. Martin Kendall, Bill Cosby as Dr. Heathcliff 'Cliff' Huxtable, Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Theodore 'Theo' Huxtable (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Six. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)


01) Episode 127: “I’m ‘In’ With The ‘In’ Crowd” (Aired: 10/05/89)

Vanessa gets drunk at her friend’s house.

Written by John Markus, Carmen Finestra, & Gary Kott | Directed by Tony Singletary

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Here we have the first of two offerings on today’s list that I like to call the “Vanessa is a rebellious teen and educates the kids in the audience about what not to do” episodes. Both of them make this entry not just because of Bledsoe’s consistent rendering of the character (she doesn’t really elevate material, but her reliable performance does mitigate some of the other issues with which many of her stories are saddled) but also because of the moments afforded to the others, specifically Clair. The climactic scene, in which Cliff, Clair, and Rudy(!) teach Vanessa a lesson about drinking by making her join them in the same drinking game that she played the night before is a classic Cosby Show riot. (“Chuck-a-lug!”) It’s a surprising scene and actually one of the series’ most memorable, justifying the sappy story and the moments with Vanessa (and some of her obnoxious friends) that otherwise fall flat. My choice for this season’s MVE.

02) Episode 131: “Shall We Dance?” (Aired: 11/02/89)

Rudy has a crush on a boy that disguises his own feelings by picking on her.

Written by John Markus, Carmen Finestra, & Gary Kott | Directed by Jay Sandrich

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Elaine Stritch makes the first of three appearances this season as Rudy’s teacher, and although she’s a little bit stilted, particularly in this episode, she does engender a more laugh-delivering type of humor — and I’m not just writing this as an admitted fan of the woman. Also, the premise itself is nothing novel, but it is something new for Rudy, and typifies the sort of stories that her character is starting to receive. Rather, this is an outing that finds its worth in the individual moments — like Rudy’s fight with her crush, or Cliff’s attempts to help Rudy, and even more delightfully, the moments between Stritch’s Mrs. McGee and Kenny, who is painfully embarrassed to be dancing with her at the conclusion of their “manners” lesson.

03) Episode 132: “The Day The Spores Landed” (Aired: 11/09/89)

Cliff has a dream in which he and the other Huxtable men are pregnant.

Written by John Markus, Carmen Finestra, & Gary Kott | Directed by Neema Barnette

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The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s “It May Look Like A Walnut” crosses with Bewitched‘s “A Very Special Delivery” for this outstandingly comedic installment that’s predicated — and lets the audience know in the beginning of the structure — as a wild dream after Cliff has a meal too close to bedtime. The premise has Cliff, Theo, Martin, and Elvin all pregnant, and there are a lot of laughs from the gender role reversal gags that the script naturally employs. But the real “meat” of the installment comes in the delivery room scene, where the men don’t deliver babies, as we’re anticipating, but deliver foods. Cliff delivers a long loaf of bread and a two-liter soda. It’s hysterical, and although the episode is one big gimmick, it’s worth it (unlike some other dreams).

04) Episode 133: “Cliff’s Wet Adventure” (Aired: 11/16/89)

Denise invites Martin’s ex-wife over for Thanksgiving dinner.

Written by John Markus & Carmen Finestra | Directed by Jay Sandrich

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Admittedly, this is a fan favorite episode that I find to be overrated. I appreciate the long-running gag of Cliff having to go out in the storm to get food for the big Thanksgiving meal that the family is preparing (for the entire cast: all members of the Huxtable family, and non-members like Kenny). I also like the premise in theory, as Denise is finally going to meet Martin’s ex-wife and Olivia’s mother. However, the scene between the two of them ends up being a terrific let-down, for it purposely refuses to deliver the laughs towards which the otherwise comedically solid episode had been building. The two women play the scene earnestly and it’s character revealing, but the dialogue feels forced because there’s no humor in support.

05) Episode 134: “Grampy And Nu-Nu Visit The Huxtables” (Aired: 11/30/89)

Denise panics when her in-laws come to visit.

Written by John Markus & Gary Kott | Directed by Tony Singletary

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Angry Clair returns in this important and humorously rewarding installment that finds Martin’s parents coming for a visit. The conflict comes from information that we’ve actually learned in a previous episode, as Martin’s mother, so he claims, “can’t stand” Denise. This naturally makes her self-conscious when her new mother-in-law visits, and when Denise confides to Clair about what’s going on, Mama is ready to give the woman a piece of her mind. Of course, it turns out that Martin is the cause of all the drama, misinterpreting his mother’s words and her temporary anger. It does feel like a bit of a cop-out, but it makes sense, and actually maintains its needed humor — even if the moment in which a fight seems likely is the episode’s strongest.

06) Episode 135: “Cliff La Dolce” [a.k.a. “Cliff La Douce”] (Aired: 12/07/89)

Cliff has trouble handling the kids when Clair goes out of town.

Written by Carmen Finestra & Gary Kott | Directed by Jay Sandrich

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We’ve seen the “Clair goes out of town and Cliff has trouble with the kids” story before, but because it remains a relatable basis for laughs, we’re rarely disappointed. This particular installment gains points from both Cosby’s fine performance (and it must be noted how consistently wonderful he is throughout the series, grounding the stories and defining its sense of humor), but also for an extended scene between Cosby and Stritch’s Mrs. McGee, in her second — and best — appearance. They share a lightly combative dynamic and it’s welcome to see them engage in a repartee from which this series usually shies away. Also, the scripting is particularly sharp, combining laughs and logic (a needed combo) with an effortless mastery.

07) Episode 136: “Getting To Know You” (Aired: 12/14/89)

Cliff bonds with his son-in-law and Olivia inquires about Santa.

Written by John Markus, Carmen Finestra, & Gary Kott | Directed by Tony Singletary

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Holiday shows, particularly Christmas episodes, are a difficult trope because there’s a tendency to infuse an abundance of sentimentality where it’s arguably undeserved. And for a series with a reputation of sentimentality (although, I think it’s not totally warranted, as the show usually tries its hardest to put a laugh before anything else), these installments leave me apprehensive. But this particular offering has a lot going for it. For one, it gives us some much needed bonding between Cliff and Martin, a character who never gets the amount of definition I think he needs, but is nevertheless an amiable presence up against Cosby. Also, this excursion boasts some funny moments for Symoné as she has a lot of questions about Jolly Ol’ St. Nick.

08) Episode 137: “Elvin Pays For Dinner” (Aired: 01/04/90)

Sondra is mad when Elvin stays out late with an old girlfriend and her sister.

Written by John Markus & Gary Kott | Directed by Jay Sandrich

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A Sondra/Elvin episode here? I’m just as surprised as you are. Well, maybe not — I’ve always found Elvin to be a comedic addition to the series (even and especially through his chauvinistic origins), and with the right script, Sondra can be moderately welcoming (primarily when she doesn’t push). Unfortunately she’s never as likable as Elvin, even when the story needs him to be in the wrong, and while that’s easily the case here, there’s more humor in her material than usual. (Of course, most of it, as always, comes from the others, like in the brilliant scene she shares with her mom.) Also, I love the subplot involving Vanessa, Rudy, and the old movies. The line about Rudy and Kenny being like George Raft and Ida Lupino always makes me laugh!

09) Episode 145: “Isn’t It Romantic?” (Aired: 02/22/90)

Cliff, Elvin, and Martin compete to see who can make their wife the happiest with a gift.

Written by John Markus, Carmen Finestra, & Gary Kott | Directed by Tony Singletary

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After a string of classics that preceded a string of “mediocrics,” this installment sticks out as a bright spot in the otherwise good-but-not-great latter half of the season. Sure, it’s very story-heavy, utilizing the old competition premise, which sometimes favors narrative manipulations more than character beats (and laughs), but there’s something to be said for an episode that surprises — as this one does. Not only do we have the twist of the women finding out about the men’s bet and trying to scheme against them, but we also get a wonderful turnaround of the women being unable to remain impervious to the men’s romantic gestures. Lots of laughs, lots of fun — especially in the early scenes with the guys (whose bet is sparked by Theo).

10) Episode 148: “Off To See The Wretched” (Aired: 04/05/90)

Vanessa lies about going out of town for a concert.

Written by Mark St. Germain | Directed by Carl Lauten & Malcolm-Jamal Warner

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This is the second of those aforementioned “Vanessa is a rebellious teen and educates the kids in the audience about what not to do” episodes and features a lot of the same girls as the first one. Unfortunately, this outing isn’t nearly as strong as its predecessor, but it’s interesting for presenting a Clair who’s more enraged than we’ve ever seen her. By now, Angry Clair is starting to become a gimmick unto itself, but we’ve never really had it like this, and it’s refreshing to see a television mother actually go to this place of infuriation — something to which every parent and child can relate. Therefore, more than being just comedic, it’s also satisfying, especially because Clair’s anger at Vanessa’s stupidity mirrors our own feelings. Get her, Clair!


Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Surf’s Up,” which features some really funny Cosby stuff in the first half but loses way too much steam in the second, Denise Kendall: Singles Counselor,” in which Denise intervenes between Vanessa and a boy she likes (who has a controlling girlfriend), “Mr. Sandman,” the last appearance of Elaine Stritch and a gimmicky dance-heavy show, and “Theo’s Dirty Laundry,” in which Warner’s Theo gets some of his best material of the season.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Six of The Cosby Show goes to…..

“I’m ‘In’ With The ‘In’ Crowd”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the seventh season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!