Black humour: a force for change

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Few programmes have faced the mixture of high ratings and constant criticism that The Cosby Show has had to contend with. Bill Cosby's brainchild, born in 1984, has been attacked consistently for failing to confront major issues like racism, for a lack of realism, and for "blandness" in its depiction of the life of an upper-middle class black American family.

At the same time, millions tuned in to follow the family's fortunes, and Cosby himself became a multi-millionaire playing obstetrician Dr Heathcliff Huxtable. Moreover, however "bland", the show offered a refreshingly positive image of blacks prospering, in contrast to the damaging stereotypes of crime-ridden blacks living in poverty which often fill our screens.

The Cosby Show also raised the profile of black comedy, providing much- needed parts for black actors (how many black characters are there in popular shows such as Cheers, Roseanne and The Golden Girls?) and opened the door for other affirmative black TV, like Desmond's, to be made.

As you will see when the whole series is repeated from tonight's pilot episode (6pm C4) onwards, the show has its share of cutesy children and gentle humour. How valid it is to show black kids from a strong, successful family unit going to college and succeeding rather than succumbing to drugs and crime, you can now decide for yourself.