"I am your father. I brought you in this world, and I'll take you out!"'80s Dom Com
that anchored NBC
's Thursday-night lineup from 1984 to 1992. The show was loosely based around some of Bill Cosby
's best-known standup routines, which were in turn based around his real-life family. Here he stars as loveable obstetrician Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable, alongside his gorgeous lawyer wife Clair (Phylicia Rashad), and their five children, ranging in age from post-collegiate to preschool (as of the first season): Sondra (Sabrina LeBeauf), Denise (Lisa Bonet), Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe), and Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam).
Featured a rare inverted Chuck Cunningham Syndrome
— in the opening episode the parents have the exchange, "Why do we have four children?" "Because we did not want five!", but it's later revealed that they do indeed have five.
In later seasons, when Rudy had outgrown Cosby's trademark 'kids do the darndest things!' gags, the show introduced a Cousin Oliver
in the form of Denise's stepdaughter Olivia, played by Raven-Symone.
In most important respects, this was one of the most successful examples of the genre, dominating the ratings in the '80s (it was the top-rated show for five years in a row). It was heartwarming and likely to end in An Aesop
if not a full-on Golden Moment
The show is still notable for being one of the earliest successful TV series to center on well-to-do African-Americans, without making an issue of (though not ignoring) their race. In fact they considered the key part of the premise being that Cliff and Clair were college educated and practiced prestigious trades, where most other sitcoms (white or
black cast) were blue-collar in nature.
Spawned a popular college-themed spinoff, A Different World
, in 1987. Not to be confused with Bill Cosby's earlier TV outing in the nearly-identically named
series The Bill Cosby Show
This show provides examples of:
- Acid Reflux Nightmare: Both of the All Just a Dream episodes in Season 6 are the result of Cliff eating something he shouldn't right before bed, to the point that Clair warns him about it in the second example
- Aesop Amnesia: Several of the kids never seem to remember just how bad the repercussions are when it comes to lying to Clair.
- Cliff seems to never learn that lesson either. (See Never My Fault below).
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parent: Cliff seems to intentionally be this most of the time when the children bring their dates or some other company to the house.
- An Aesop
- Subverted in a Season 4 episode where Theo and Vanessa expect Cliff to make a speech or do something to end the crisis of the episode but Cliff refuses because he's tired.
- And again in a Season 7 episode after Vanessa covers up being in a minor car accident with Cliff's car; the sit-down turns into a good-natured discussion about how much the parents do for the children and how the kids put up with some of the inane things the parents do, and Vanessa even avoids big trouble and the Aesop.
- Also when Vanessa confessed to Cliff that a girl was smoking in her room she thought he would be angry because of the reaction he had when he caught Theo and Cockroach smoking. Cliff explained to her that he was more upset at them for lying and trying to hide it from him (and how they almost set the house on fire in the process).
- And That's Terrible: Cliff's sarcastic reaction to Clair's complaints about what the city is doing in the Season 2 episode The Dentist. And it's not that he doesn't care, he just wants to sleep.
- Played Straight in another season 2 episode when Elvin "accidentally" drops his inedible cake on the floor so Clair doesn't have to eat it.
- All Just a Dream: There are two dream-based episodes during the 1989-90 season. "The Night the Spores Landed" has all of the men get pregnant. "Cliff's Nightmare" includes a Fake Cross Over with The Jim Henson Hour and an Or Was It a Dream? ending.
- Subverted in the first episode in Season 4 where Cliff thinks this is the case for Sondra and Elvin's shocking announcement. He is, of course, dead wrong.
- Another involving a night full of dreams for Rudy in which Olivia gets preferential treatment Up to Eleven (e.g. when covering the walls with crayon, Cliff and Clair gush about her artistic ability), complete with a Supremes-esque Greek Chorus played by actresses whose regular characters don't appear in that episode (Vanessa, Pam and Charmaine).
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Theo's friend Denny gives his girlfriend a stolen watch that he recovered from the street, he has to tell the truth about the story at the police station after she's arrested. It doesn't go well.
Denny: "She called me a 'Miserable, conniving cretin.' Then she turned to the desk sergeant and said, 'Have him arrested for impersonating a man!'"
- Author Appeal: Cosby is a huge fan of the blues and jazz, which is why several artists ended up on the show (see Celebrity Cameo).
- Batman Gambit: The most appropriate trope for how the family sets Theo up for his "real world" experience in season 2.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Explains in part how Sondra showed up.
- Beautiful All Along
- Because I Said So: The crowning moment came right off the bat, in Season 1, Episode 1 – Cliff calling out Theo for his continued poor academic performance at school. This was in response to Theo's misguided speech about accepting him for who he was and that he was doing his best. If Theo was hoping to enlighten his father (there was the requisite applause), he was quickly corrected when Cliff told him "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life!," then continued, "I am your father! I brought you into this world, and I'll take you out!" before telling him, in no uncertain terms, he expected him to do better, in essence, "because I said so."
- Berserk Button: Never under any circumstances let Clair catch you in a web of lies: being an attorney she's also an expert at unraveling them and trying to further cover them up only makes things worse.
- Phylicia Rashad stated that Clair only truly got angry at one of the children when she feels they've squandered their potential. Sondra's not going to law school to open a wilderness store and Denise's getting married to a navy man who already has one kid are the crowning examples.
- Clair also had a low tolerance for her children deliberately going behind her back to do things she specifically told them not to. The most famous example was Season 6's "Off to See the Wretched," where Vanessa lies to her parents by telling them she was going to a sleepover, but instead intending to go to an out-of-state rock concert with her wild friend and a few others. Things unravel quickly, and when Clair brings her daughter into the house that night, she really lets her have it. (Cliff remains calm during his wife's verbal rampage, but is clearly also very angry.) During that same season, she also is upset with Theo when she realizes he moved in with his girlfriend (purportedly to save money), contrary to an earlier rental agreement they had made, and kicks him out of the house.
- Don't say that Cliff would kick one of his children out of the house. When Denise tells him that she assumed he would kick her out if she dropped out of college, it's one of the only times in the show that we see him truly angry.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: Vanessa believes this applies to a woman in Sondra and Elvin's first apartment complex as she once saw a horror movie where a similar woman ended up being Ax-Crazy.
- In one early episode, Elvin says he never gets angry, but there are two instances in the show when he finally does. The first is during Cliff's dream where the men get pregnant and Elvin ends up shouting at Martin repeatedly to "Shut up!" and even smacks him. The second is when Cliff goes a little too far with the teasing about not co-signing Elvin's home loan and he delivers an epic, "SIGN IT!"
- Big Applesauce
- Big Brother Instinct: Having four sisters, Theo exhibits this fairly often, even though two of them are older than he is.
- Big Eater: Theo, especially after he enters college
- Cliff too, occasionally, especially when it comes to hoagies.
- Big "NO!": Vanessa, after she learns she has a pimple that she can't easily cover up with a headband.
Cliff: "What is she trying to do, outrun it?"
- Also done by Rudy and her friends when Cliff pretends(?) to ditch them after the Vaudeville show.
- Black and Nerdy: Elvin.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done by Olivia and Clair after Clair demonstrates a majorette's baton twirling routine and Olivia says, "Look, Mrs. Huxtable, those people over there love you!" Clair turns to the audience and says, "They do!"
- Brick Joke: One in season 8. Kenny was about to give his girlfriend, Deidre, tube socks for her birthday but changed his mind at the last second. In the next episode, he gave them to Theo as a graduation gift (but kept one pair for himself).
- A lesser example in season 1 when Clair describes that dancing with Cliff is like being a part of a pro wrestling match. That's exactly how he dances with her at the end of the episode.
- Broken Aesop: This exchange from a Season 1 episode:
Cliff: "Well, I'm pretty sure you've learned your lesson."
Theo: "Oh, I've learned it, Dad! Whatever it is, I've learned it!"
- But Not Too Black: Pretty much averted in the case of only casting lighter skin African-American actors. Clair, Elvin, Denise, and Sondra have lighter skin while Cliff, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy are darker.
- Subverted entirely with Pam and her friends. They are the most stereotypically black characters in the show.
- Catch Phrase: Several were attempted: "Bacon burger dog!" and "I zrbtt you!" Only Kenny really got one that lasted with, "My brother says-".
- Two of David Langston Smyrl's characters can easily be remembered by their, "Well, hello, Mrs. Huxtable."
- Rudy always tends to say, "Awww, man." when she's told to do something she doesn't want to do.
- Celebrity Cameo: Quite a few, including Sammy Davis Jr., Dizzy Gillespie, B.B. King, Robert Culp (Bill Cosby's co-star on I Spy), Lena Horne, and Stevie Wonder. See Muppet Cameo below for another example.
- Character Development: By the end of the series it's very easy to see just how much Sondra, Elvin and Theo have matured.
- The series almost Book Ends this: The first episode features the memorable scene of Cliff reprimanding Theo for bad grades and that he will never go to college at the rate he's going. The Series Finale features his graduation from college with plans of becoming a teacher himself. (As a Lampshade Hanging of this, while sitting in the audience for the graduation, Cliff thinks back to that first episode scene.)
- Denise also gets a serious upgrade over the course of season 6 and into 7.
- Chekhov's Gun: The joy buzzer in the season 3 episode where Elvin and Sondra announce their engagement.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Theo's best friend Walter "Cockroach" Bradley appeared frequently during the first half of the series, was very close to the family, and even started to get some individual development ("An Early Spring"), then abruptly stopped appearing without explanation. The episode after his final appearance is even focused on Theo and Cockroach's gang of friends' locker room antics, which Cockroach would normally have been present for. Word still has it that his actor, Carl Anthony Payne II, refused to cut his hair as per Bill Cosby's wishes (the kids all changed hairstyles regularly throughout the series) and was eventually fired or left the show as a result. Sad stuff. And the haircut in question, that was apparently worth leaving the cast of what was currently the most beloved show on television? Snip.◊
- Rudy's friend and neighbor Peter also went poof after the first episode of season 6 and was never mentioned again. He did appear in one last appearance in a season 8 episode, but had no dialogue and wasn't referred to by name.
- Anyone remember Vanessa's best friend, Janet, from the first few seasons? She appears once or twice per season for most of the series. Her final appearance is in season 6.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Denise seems to have become this after her return to the show.
- In season 8 there's Mrs. Minnifield. She needs to be seen to be believed.
- Robert becomes one over the course of his appearances on the show from seasons 2-4.
- Vanessa begins to show signs of being one through her roundabout ways of revealing she has cold feet about her engagement in the final season. Just what is an "Emotional map?"
- The Tibideauxs' neighbor Bob.
- Comically Missing the Point: Mr. Lucas the handyman compares his job with the medical profession because, "They both work with their hands, spend years in training, and wear beepers."
- Content Warnings: Played with; The Slumber Party episode opens with Keshia Knight Pulliam saying (in voiceover) that the episode in question is meant for kids.
- Continuity Nod: For example, in one seventh-season episode, Vanessa refers to her father's scaring a boyfriend off with an object lesson involving apples; and in another, Rudy mentions Theo's object lesson with Monopoly money from the pilot.
- Averted at the same time since Vanessa continued to see him even after that object lesson but broke up with him after catching him with another girl.
- Several other subtle ones exist over the course of the show. One example is Cliff mentioning a chair he broke in Elvin and Sondra's apartment in season 4 when he visits it again in season 5.
- There's one in season 6 that doubles as a Brick Joke: Cliff gives Olivia a hint about where her birthday present is hidden that makes absolutely no sense. Several episodes later, she pulls the same thing on him.
- In season 4, Cliff mentions he has a suede tool belt. In season 8, he gives it to Dabnis.
- Cool Big Sis: Sondra.
- The Couch
- Cousin Oliver: Olivia.
- Later, Cousin Pam. Much older than most examples of this trope, but she clearly serves the same purpose.
- Dancing Theme: Except for season one.
- Deadpan Snarker: Cliff and Sondra are the primary examples. (Well, this is Bill Cosby, after all.)
- Dr. Foster as well, especially in his first episode.
- Deliberately Cute Child: Rudy, later Olivia.
- D.I.Y. Disaster: Cliff has never successfully repaired anything in the house on the first try. His attempt at the dishwasher in season 1 can be considered Epic Fail while many other off-screen ones are used against him as a Noodle Incident reminder.
- Subverted in that he does finally fix the doorbell at the very end of the final episode...after an entire season's worth of bizarre malfunctions, including nasty shocks to Kenny and Clair.
- He tries to fix a loose tile in the bathroom, only to make a sloppy mess of it and have a dozen others fall off within seconds. The cause turns out to be a leaky water pipe.
- Clair believes that she has managed to fix the toaster while following the instructions from one of Cliff's books...
- Dom Com
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Clair does not like the idea of needing to accept help from and rely on other people when she needs a hand. After breaking her toe, she refuses to use a cane and endangers herself by hopping up the stairs. When she needs to lose weight by going on a diet, she does all of her exercising in secret and snaps at Cliff several times when it makes her miserable.
- Double Standard - While no one equaled Theo for stepping in it with his words, sometimes his sisters did do or say things that at least approached his level. Yet nowhere in the series it is even discussed pulling a lesson prank on any of them like Theo's 'real world' lesson. Also, as noted in Harsher in Hindsight, where was any sort of 'sorry for leaning on you when you really did have a problem' after his dyslexia was revealed? Granted, it would be hard to know where the dyslexia stopped and being Theo started, but they really put the screws to him on that.
- One example that averts this is Vanessa. After sneaking out at night to be with her boyfriend, coming home an hour late, and lying about the whole thing while also dragging Rudy into it, Clair grounds her for at least a month. That's the harshest declared punishment dished out to any of the children on the show (Cliff's "appliance probation" was longer, but didn't last). Vanessa's punishment for her "Wretched" adventure was never declared on air.
- In the episode where Theo was found to be dyslexic, there was a scene where Vanessa called out the parents' treatment of Theo over the years. It was mostly played for laughs.
- Drop-In Character: Several, the most notably being Cockroach, Peter (early seasons) and eventually Kenny.
- Early Installment Weirdness: While the basic formula of the show remained the same through the whole series, it took Clair a good number of episodes in season one to finalize her look.
- It's also interesting to watch the pilot and seeing half the house look different as it does compared with the rest of the series.
- Not to mention the name plate on the door to their house, Cliff's office, etc., reads "Clifford Huxtable". His name later became "Heathcliff".
- In some early episodes, Theo was sometimes referred to as Teddy.
- Sondra did not exist in the pilot, introduced halfway through the first season. This is reflected in the following exchange between Cliff and Clair:
Clair: "Why do we have four children?"
Cliff: "Because we did not want five."
- In early episodes, Vanessa was played as a sort-of girl genius, but the further she got into puberty, the more air-headed she seemed to get (see Love Makes You Stupid). Also lampshaded by both Clair and Vanessa herself in later seasons.
- See also, "you look familiar" as Joseph C Phillips made a one-off appearance as a date for Sondra years before playing Martin.
- The first season's opening segment was the only one not to feature the cast members dancing.
- Education Mama: And (especially...) Education Papa.
Cliff (When asked to help raise money for the cause): I just wrote four college tuition cheques. I AM The United Negro College Fund!
- Epic Fail: Ideas and plans perpetrated by the characters often end like this. Cliff's attempts at fixing things around the house without professional help always end like this too.
- Theo's prom night, bar none.
- Theo holds a "colloquy" for him and his friends while Cliff and Clair are gone for the weekend. About 200 people show up and the house gets destroyed.
- Clair decides to unwind in a cabin at a mountain resort. There's no heat in the cabin and one of the maintenance workers is hunting nearby.
- Vanessa and her friends try to sneak off to Baltimore for a concert. Having their car stolen in Delaware is only the beginning.
- The Eponymous Show: Bill Cosby in The Cosby Show: Created by Ed. Weinberger & Michael Leeson and William Cosby, Jr., Ed.D.; Theme by Stu Gardner & Bill Cosby; Executive Consultant: William H. Cosby, Jr.; A Carsey Werner production in association with Bill Cosby.
- Establishing Series Moment: The first episode has Cliff confront Theo over his poor grades while Theo tries arguing he doesn't need an education and has an inspired bit with where his money will go while living as a bus driver. "You plan on having a girlfriend?" "Oh yeah!" [takes the rest of his money] Theo's overall argument demonstrates his intelligence by how their love for each other doesn't depend on college degrees and received applause by the audience. Cliff nods politely, then says, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life! It's no wonder you get D's in everything!" and that, being a kid, Theo doesn't get to negotiate with his father on the matter. (A moment later, Cliff tells Theo that he loves him, which makes it clear that he's only being strict for Theo's own good.)
- "Friends" Rent Control: Averted. Cliff is a doctor, Clair is a lawyer, and can easily afford their large beautiful home, although it still seems like a stretch that they can afford college tuition for all of their children. On the flip side, yet in the same vein, recent college graduates Sondra and Elvin live in a crappy apartment and can only afford a new one with help from their parents and don't move into a house until Elvin begins his medical residency.
- From Bad to Worse: Vanessa and Clair's relationship over the course of the whole series fits this, especially in season 6 when Clair calls her a wench (though not to her face) and, later on after the Baltimore incident, outright tells her that she cannot be trusted. Vanessa doesn't appear often enough in the final two seasons for this to be pursued further.
- This may also be a good argument for why Vanessa would have graduated from high school early by attending summer school between seasons 6 and 7: to get away from Clair!
- Generation Xerox: Cliff and Clair Huxtable, doctor and lawyer by trade. Elvin and Sondra Tibideaux, doctor and lawyer in training.
- Genre Savvy: Played for laughs when Vanessa begins noticing similarities between current affairs and old movies she's been watching- even though there's no real connection.
- Both Clair and Pam have a knack for predicting the twists in romance movies they watch.
- The Ghost: Kenny's older brother who gives him very sexist advice on women, or just bad advice in general.
- Gratuitous Spanish: Clair will occasionally display her ability to speak Spanish, which is treated as a big deal.
- Funnily enough, when Phylicia Rashad was auditioning for her role, the director asked if she spoke Spanish. She then went on a long spiel in Spanish and ended it with saying, "No big deal."
- Cliff attempts this in one episode and fails miserably. "Rice y con zapatos," anyone? So he just listens for his name.
- Happily Married: Cliff and Clair, Cliff's parents, Clair's parents, and for the most part, Elvin and Sondra and Denise and Martin.
- Harsher in Hindsight: In-universe example. Theo's poor grades are a focal point of earlier seasons and even lead to a classic example of Stupidest Thing I've Ever Heard when he tries to make excuses for it, especially since they appear to be due more to laziness rather than a lack of intelligence. In a later season, it is discovered that Theo has dyslexia. Suddenly his academic struggles make perfect sense and Cliff and Clair look pretty bad for berating him.
- Henpecked Husband: Cosby of course. Elvin too, most notably in the episode where he innocently goes to dinner with two girls that he once knew—at Sondra's insistence and over his own insistence that he NOT go out without Sondra. When he gets home, Sondra won't speak to him when he comes home one hour late and tells her that he paid the cheque. Elvin ends up completely bewildered as to why Sondra's so angry with him.
- In the episode "Last Barbecue," where Theo wants to hire a stripper for Martin's belated bachelor party, ALL the husbands are a little hen-pecked.
- Heroic BSOD: Clair gets one in Season 6, prompting Cliff to send her on a mountain retreat. Cliff is also noted to have a minor one after every time he has to deal with Mrs. Minifield in season 8.
- Hide And No Seek: In one episode, Cliff sends Olivia upstairs to find his slippers because he doesn't want to play with her. He then tells her to find his yellow robe. However, Olivia becomes wise to his game because Rudy tells her that she's being tricked.
- Hide Your Pregnancy: Phylicia Rashad was visibly pregnant for much of season 3, and the writers ended up having her baby bump obscured by various props (most notably having Clair hold a giant teddy bear for no explainable in-universe reason).
- Bill Cosby hilariously lampshades this in some behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes where he continually pointed out the baby belly and even planned to have a car in the living room to hide it in one episode.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Cliff is a very impulsive shopper when it comes to appliances, so every time he goes shopping for one at the local store, Clair tends to call ahead to tell the owner not to sell him any more than what he said he was going to buy. Cliff finds a way to get around it and spend even more money than originally planned because Clair made the call.
- Hypocrite: There are several examples of hypocrisy throughout the series, though a lot of it is well intentioned or at least comedic. Some examples:
- The season 2 episode Halloween- Cliff doesn't want to go trick or treating with Rudy,calling it "Begging". Clair points out that...
Clair: "I remember a boy who still trick or treating when he was fifteen. All the other kids were half your size, you'd get to the door, reach right over them and put your bag up front. And the day after Halloween had THE NERVE to go around the neighborhood, knocking on each door begging "What have you got left?"
- Vanessa's Bad Grade- Vanessa asks Denise several times if she can borrow her sweater for the school dance, to which Denise refuses. Vanessa ends up taking the sweater without permission, which causes an all out brawl between the two. After separating the girls, Cliff discovers several items of his clothing in Denise's wardrobe, which were taken without permission.
- Theo and Cockroach- Theo and Cockroach use a study guide to prepare for a test on Macbeth without reading the actual play itself. Theo does okay, as his study guide covered half of the questions on the test. To get Theo to actually read the play, Clair very smugly tells him that she will give him a test on Macbeth Acts 1-5 and that he's not to leave the house until he is finished. When Theo leaves to get started, Clair reveals that she only remembers a couple of passages and begs Cliff to read half of the play with her to help her prepare.
- The biggest example by far is Clair in Season 5's If the Dress Fits, Wear it wherein she finds out she needs to lose some weight to fit into a dress and complains to her dressmaker about how much she's nagged Cliff to take his diets serious and, in previous episodes, she's had the entire family keep an eye on him to stop him from eating what he likes. She swears her dressmaker to secrecy (though Cliff does overhear but opts to not say anything about knowing) and enters a demanding exercise regimen and strict diet by herself without telling anyone. She ends up suffering from major cramps, tries to sneak eating the wrong food (and only stops because she gets caught), doesn't ask for any kind of help or support from her family (as she's trying to keep it secret) and ends up with a very short fuse throughout that in-episode week- but is only shown taking it out on Cliff. At the end of the episode, Cliff is more angry with her during the final scene than he is with anyone in the whole series and his anger is only diffused because her hard work succeeded. However, she does not apologize to anyone for her behavior.
- Idiot Ball: While Cliff often has some wonderfully funny plots at sneaking food that he's normally not allowed to have (due to his wife's concern about his health), his excuse for eating Elvin's egg salad in Season 8 is such an example of holding the Idiot Ball that it proves how the show had jumped the shark by that point.
- To clarify, Elvin's family was living with the Huxtables while waiting to close on their new house. Elvin made himself an egg salad to eat after work and left it in the fridge with the label of "E T," his initials. Cliff's excuse for stealing it was he thought it meant "Eat This."
- It's All About Me: No it isn't, Cliff.
- Vanessa often gets this attitude too, though she's also often called out on her selfishness.
- Ivy League For Everyone: Averted with Theo, though he did end up in a rather elite school.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Kenny is a good friend to Rudy. He's also very sleazy and fairly sexist. These two facts are mutually exclusive. He'd almost count as a Poisonous Friend if Rudy wasn't too sharp to listen to the things he says, usually at least.
- Kangaroo Court: Clair sets one up to get Theo to confess to telling half-truths over a recent incident.
- Karma Houdini: Subverted every single time one of the kids tries to hide something from the parents as they always get caught.
- Vanessa is the best example because Karma catches up with her and her friends numerous times when they try to go to a concert by The Wretched.
- To elaborate: Their car gets stolen, a con artist steals their tickets, a pickpocket steals their remaining money to leave them stranded in Baltimore, and then she has to face Clair. Facing Clair is probably the best example of From Bad to Worse in the show's history, as the normally mild-mannered Clair loses her gourd.
- Kent Brockman News: A reporter named Harriet Waters shows up to interview Theo after a fishing trip in which he accidentally hooks the corpse of a murdered mobster. Even more applicable is the newspaper that severely inflated the events of the story earlier in the episode.
- Large Ham: Jade, girlfriend of Theo's friend Dennis and a drama student: "If truth shall be my companion in the FUHLAAMES...so be it!"
- Just don't call her a ham to her face.
"ME? A HAM?! I cannot BELIEVE it! I'm so distraught, I MUST have a cappucino!"
- Lethal Chef: Averted. Cliff is a very good cook, but it's his ingredient choices that often scare people away.
- Elvin starts out as one, but he gets better.
- Literal Metaphor: In the season 2 episode "The Card Game", when Cliff invites one of his old college professors over for a card game, he explains one of the rules: that the expression "rubbing" involves actual rubbing of the head.
- Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: In the second season episode "Close To Home", Samuel E. Wright (AKA the voice of Sebastian the Crab) guest stars as a friend of Cliff's; his daughter has a drug problem. We never hear from the friend or get any updates on the daughter after this episode.
- Lost in Translation: In the Italian dub, the surname "Huxtable" has been adapted into "Robison". The show itself is titled "I Robinson" (The Robinsons) in Italy. The characters' first names remained unaltered.
- Love Makes You Stupid: A lot of the incidents where Vanessa gets in trouble are due to her being boy crazy. It begins in season 2 and never really stops.
- Made of Iron: Cliff's neighbor Jeff Ingols relates a time how, when he was nine years old, he fell out of his treehouse, landed on his head on a concrete pavement, the treehouse collapsed and fell on top of him, and it was still a better experience than giving birth.
- Manipulative Bastard: Vanessa has one for a boyfriend in Season 5 as he does not respect her wishes and gets her to do things that are against her parents' wishes. While she gets caught in the web of lies that result, she continues to date him for a while longer until she catches him cheating on her.
- Men Can't Keep House: Averted. As mentioned under Lethal Chef Cliff is actually a fairly good cook, he also helps out with household chores and cleaning.
- In fact, we see that his time as a sailor made him a perfectionist in this area. The kids have learned to dread his use of naval terms, because it means they're going to have to do chores under his critical eye.
- Misblamed: One of the few aversions to Never My Fault below is that Cliff is blamed for Theo getting thrown out of his apartment in Season 6's "Surf's Up," but Cliff only told a story. Theo and his friends were the ones who got the idea to copy the event and ended up damaging their apartment.
"I also told them the story of John Henry and how he was a steel-drivin' man! He didn't go out and drive any steel! I told them about how my wife worked hard
to raise up children while going to law school! He didn't go out and have a baby!
- Muppet Cameo: Gonzo, Sweetums, and several other Muppets (including Leon and Digit from The Jim Henson Hour) turn up to add to the trouble in "Cliff's Nightmare".
- Never My Fault: Cliff. When he asks Elvin what his kids say about him, one of the responses is that he never admits his own mistakes. Clair is even worse than Cliff, mainly because she gets away with it.
- The driving force between the longtime feud between Jake and his longtime friend Stanley as the two of them had been involved in a minor car accident and neither would accept responsibility for it. During the resolution, Stanley confesses that he had planned to apologize right away, but an argument with his wife had left him in a very bad mood and, when seeing Jake angry, he felt he had to win at least one argument that day.
- Newscaster Cameo: Explains the setup of the All Just a Dream episode "The Night the Spores Landed", in which the men end up pregnant. Unlike most examples, a real newscaster provides the voiceover (in this case, John Palmer of NBC News). Also, a couple of times Ahmad Rashad is heard doing sportscasts (also a Shout-Out as Ahmad was Phylicia Rashad's husband at the time).
- Noodle Incident: Played straight in Clair constantly reminding Cliff of his escapades as a teenager, most especially with Eunice Chantille.
- In one early episode Theo apparently has one in order to blackmail Denise.
Theo: "Are you afraid?"
- No Periods, Period: With the exception of one Very Special Episode centered on Rudy starting hers, played ridiculously straight, considering this was a house chock full of women.
- OOC Is Serious Business: Near the end of the episode where Sondra and Elvin get engaged, Cliff's loud "Shut! Up!" to Clair leaves her with a completely befuddled expression that just screams, "You've never acted like this before."
- Oh, Crap: Theo's face just screams this when he sees just how badly the people at his "colloquy" have destroyed the house. His quote is, appropriately enough, "I'm dead."
- Theo is the master of this trope over the course of the whole show. Other examples include his reactions to his friends seeing him in the shirt Denise made, seeing his math teacher change her appearance to what she looks like in class, walking in on two girls who like him while half-dressed, realizing he'd just been scammed, and many others in episodes where he's a major part of the plot and said plot involves him getting into some kind of trouble.
- Or Was It a Dream?: In "Cliff's Nightmare", Cliff has an encounter with talking (Muppet) food in the fridge after waking up from his Acid Reflux Nightmare.
- Out-Gambitted: Clair gets sick of Cliff changing the channel on the TV on her, so she takes the batteries out of the remote. Only Cliff has a second remote ready.
- Overly Long Gag: Not very many, but perhaps the worst offender is when Cliff tempts Clair with multiple birthday cakes on her 46th birthday.
- Every clip show shows the entirety of the Monopoly money scene from the pilot, making it more of an Overly Used Gag.
- Palm-Fist Tap: One of Eddie (a one-shot boyfriend for Denise in Season 2)'s mannerisms.
- Parental Bonus: Elvin being unable to find the words to describe how wonderful his and Sondra's honeymoon was and Cliff telling him to not talk about it in front of the children.
- He gets another one in Season 8 when, fearing that he and Sondra could die at the same time if they always stayed together, they should do everything separately including sleeping in different rooms. He quickly changes his mind on that one because, "Some things are worth dying for."
- Parenting the Husband: Averted. While Cliff did have moments of being a Bumbling Dad, and Clair was portrayed as more practical than Cliff, she was not necessarily morally superior to him. There were a few times Clair was shown as clearly being in the wrong.
- Playing Gertrude: Phylicia Rashad, who played Clair, is only ten years older than Sabrina LaBeauf, who played her daughter Sondra.
- The actors who played Cliff's father and mother are eleven and ten years older than Bill Cosby, respectively.
- Preemptive "Shut Up": Done by both Cliff and Clair when they get angry enough.
- Poor Communication Kills: The reason behind all of the conflict in the Season 7 episode The Last Barbeque.
- Also the source of Theo's angst about Cockroach taking the spot on Dance Mania when he expected Cockroach to insist that he take it.
- Put on a Bus: Denise, twice. The first came as a fallout due to her appearance in Angel Heart, and clashing with Bill Cosby. In order to get her out of his hair, she got moved to spinoff A Different World. Ironically, she quickly dropped out of that show as well (arguably, for the better).
- Radish Cure: Cliff and Claire do it when Rudy complains about not being allowed to stay up late, choose her own clothes, etc. They agree to let her stay up as late as she likes.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: All five of the Huxtable children were loosely based on Cosby's real life kids, with Theo most-closely mirroring Cosby's late son, Ennis.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Cliff has a lot of pink outfits in season 1.
- Rearrange the Song: The theme tune changed arrangements in every season except the 7th. To wit:
- Season 1's was full of 80's synth brass. (Also the only intro not to feature the actors dancing in some fashion.)
- Season 2's was jazzier, with a heavy bass line.
- Season 3's was Latin-influenced.
- Season 4's was an a cappella jazz version performed by Bobby McFerrin.
- Season 5's was an orchestral piece performed by the Oregon Symphony.
- Season 6-7's was a smooth saxophone jazz version by Craig Handy (ending with Cos saying "This is the best elevator music I've ever heard" in season 6).
- Season 8's was somewhat of a hip-hop beat with Lester Bowie on trumpet. (Originally intended as the Season 7 opener, with Cos saying "Yo! Chill out! Don't stick your face in the mud, pally." Shelved due to legal issues over the mural used as a backdrop for the actors.)
- Rebellious Princess: While not a princess, Vanessa becomes the most rebellious of the children. So much so that it feels like she starts getting cold feet about her engagement after her family starts to approve of it.
- Rich Bitch: Vanessa is accused of being one in one episode, leading to her getting into a fight.
- The Rival: Any time Cliff and Dr. James Harmon are placed in the same room, expect them to try and one-up each other in every single possible way. Hilarity Ensues.
- Running Gag: Several. Some interspersed over the whole show, some limited to various seasons. In Season 8, for example, Cliff kept trying to fix the broken front doorbell only to have it malfunction in bizarre ways; he got it right in the series finale at last..
- Peter running out of the house whenever something bad happens.
- The broken doorbell in Season 8.
- During the second half of the show, Russel increasingly made connections between Elvis and modern-day events.
- Any time the script said, "Cliff is cooking dinner," Bill would play the scene in different ways.
- In Season 2, Clair would put Cliff in a headlock anytime he couldn't remember anything about the details of their early relationship.
- Early seasons have Cliff's unusual ingredient choices whenever he cooks.
- Later seasons have Cliff's tendencies to tell stories that don't go anywhere.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Many of the causes of Rudy's arguments with her friends is that she always changes the rules of the games they play in order to make sure she always wins.
- Shoot the Money: The Season 3 finale/A Different World backdoor pilot "Hillman" was shot at Spelman College in Atlanta.
- Shout-Out: The name of Vanessa's fiance in Season 8 is Dabnis, which is "Sinbad" backwards. Quite possibly named after the comedian of the same name and one of Bill Cosby's good friends. Sinbad himself was a guest star as a car salesman in an earlier season and later became one of the stars of the Spin-Off series A Different World.
- Another example of this involves Cliff's old Navy pal, Scott Kelly in the Season 3 episode, "Bald and Beautiful." The role was played by Robert Culp, Cosby's longtime friend and former co-star in I Spy. In addition, in another Season 3 episode, "You Only Hurt the One You Love", the story partially revolved around Mrs. Granger, one of Cliff's co-workers at the hospital where he works. The role was played by Rita Moreno, whom co-starred with Cosby in The Electric Company.
- In Season 7, Cliff can be see wearing a button that says "SD Jr." in memory of Sammy Davis Jr. who guest starred in one Season 5 episode and had recently died at the time.
- In the episode where Theo wants a Gordon Gartrelle shirt, here's Cliff (paraphrasing): "A teenage boy does not need a $90 shirt unless he's on stage with his four brothers."
- Gordon Gartrelle was also the name of one of the show's writers and producers.
- The Silent Bob: Peter Chiara, Rudy's friend from across the street. He has more lines in the episode "A Girl and her Dog" than all of his other episodes combined.
- His younger brother Paul, who only appears twice, is the exact opposite.
- Sit Comic
- Sliding Scale of Beauty: The unseen waitress that Theo and one of his track teammates made fun of at the fast food restaurant in "Theogate," which resulted in him being kicked off the track team. The waitress was obese (to a point where she was anywhere from Flawed Average or Normally Ugly to Lovecraftian), and Theo and his friend – perhaps disappointed that an attractive waitress was waiting on other customers and not them – made jokes about her, causing her to run off in tears. Theo learns a tough lesson and is made to apologize.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The show managed the very rare feat of being on the very pinnacle of the idealistic side without being barf-inducing or narm-ish.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Cliff honestly believes that he is the most distinguished graduate to ever come out of Hillman College.
- Vanessa has a moment when she thinks the tryouts for drum major were redone because people saw how good she was and protested.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: He's never named, but Denise's friend in the Jitterbug Break episode shows off some Crazy Awesome dance moves.
- The last two season put more emphasis on Pam and Rudy's social circles.
- Once Lance becomes a regular character along with Pam and her group in seasons 7 and 8 it's hard to find a single scene where he doesn't deliver a hilarious line.
- Olivia, to the point where the series lampshaded it. Olivia was pretty obviously meant to bring back the Cosby-with-cute-kids antics of the earlier seasons that had been missing more and more as Rudy grew up. She and Cliff started having so many scenes together that it was almost like she was his child instead of his step-granddaughter.
- Standardized Sitcom Housing: Front door on the right, back door on left, Check. Oddly enough, the set also has a window upstage with a view of the sky, despite every single exterior shot being of a building cheek-by jowl with the one next door.
- Stay in the Kitchen: Sondra's boyfriend Elvin has this attitude in his first few appearances. Though he's usually treated as a Butt Monkey because of it, especially by Clair.
- Kenny's never-seen brother also seems to dispense "wisdom" of this sort.
- “Stop Having Fun” Guys: In-universe examples being Cliff and Dr. Harmond, in an episode of Season 7 centered around a pinochle tournament.
- Stupidest Thing I've Ever Heard: Played literally in the very first episode when Theo makes excuses for his poor grades and Cliff blasts him for it.
- Clair often invokes this trope when dealing with a child who attempts to lie to avoid punishment.
- Take That: In the latter part of its run, the show battled with The Simpsons for the Thursday night 8:00 pm time slot. In one episode, Olivia approaches Cliff wearing a Bart Simpson mask, and he tells her to take it off. At the time, The Simpsons was still considered a crass children's show.
- Teen Pregnancy: The driving force behind the plot of Season 7's two-parter.
- Toilet Humor: Used only once when Cliff predicts how a little could would react to seeing the batter for Denise's "health" food.
Cliff: "The child will take one look at this stuff and say, 'It's already been in my brother's diapers!'"
- Troll: Cliff can be one when he wants, especially when it comes to teasing Clair. Notable examples are ribbing her on her 46th birthday and continually spoiling the plot of a novel that he's read and she hasn't.
- Title Drop: Only for a different show when Clair talks to Denise about how college is A Different World.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Cliff and hoagies. Clair loves Spanish and Caribbean food.
- Tranquil Fury: The only time you ever saw Cliff fly off the handle was in one of the early 1st season episodes with Theo. Other than that, he pretty much remained calm on the outside whenever one of his kids did something insane. But he often reacted in this manner.
- Best emphasized after he learns about Vanessa's antics in Off to see the Wretched as he very calmly explains, after jumping eight feet, "Add another three, because when I see Vanessa, that's how far away from her I'll have to be."
- Unlucky Childhood Friend: Kenny to Rudy, once she starts dating. It takes him quite a while to get over it.
- Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Sondra and Elvin's children (Nelson and Winnie.)
- Very Special Episode: Surprisingly averted as several episodes did deal with the kids potentially getting involved with drugs/alcohol but they never reached Anvilicious levels and rather poignantly dealt with those issues and their consequences in a refined, realistic manner. Even the two-parter episode on Teen Pregnancy in season 7 drives the point home well with Cliff recognizing that Pam is free to make her own decisions on becoming intimate with her boyfriend but is willing to offer her advice and refer her to a friend of his, but also point out the hard reality of dealing with potential consequences.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Cliff and Sanford "Tailwind" Turner love to talk smack to each other, but they respect each other's talents as runners.
- Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Sondra towards Elvin in Season 2. Especially when she gets mad at him for never getting mad himself!
- Well Done Daughter Girl: Olivia's mother, Paula, who threw away her own desires to please her parents, up to and including getting married and having a baby until she realized just how much it was suffocating her.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Given to Sondra by the audience(!) when they boo her after she attempts to make Elvin angry by saying she doesn't care enough for him to work through their current problems. It's the only time the audience boos a scene in the whole series, and well-deserved.
- You Look Familiar: Joseph C. Phillips played a potential boyfriend for Sondra in a Season 2 episode, then returns as Denise's husband beginning in Season 6.
- David Langston Smyrl played three different roles before settling into his third and final role as Mr. Lucas the handyman. It should be noted that all three of his characters were attracted to Clair.
- Vanessa Williams first appeared as the Large Ham Jade in season 5, then returned as Cheryl, an exchange student from Barbados (which led to a fair amount of What the Hell Is That Accent? when the episodes aired there) and Theo's Love Interest for season 7.
It is notable for averting: