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Series / The Cosby Show

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"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-Symoné.

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 Aesopnote  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, or his much later series Cosby (which reunited him with co-star Phylicia Rashad).

This show provides examples of:

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    Tropes A-M 
  • 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.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Theo gets his 15 minutes of fame after accidentally fishing up the dead body of a gangster and lets it go to his head. Vanessa quickly calls him out on the fact that he didn't actually do anything other than get lucky.
  • 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).
  • All for Nothing: After all their scheming to sneak off to Baltimore for a rock concert, Vanessa and her friends get to the venue and have their tickets stolen by a con artist claiming to be with the band. What's more, by now, their parents have found out, so their miserable night can't even be salvaged by having gotten away with everything.
  • 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 Crossover 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).
  • 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 friend 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 in fact he was actually very proud of Vanessa for how she dealt with her friend by not smoking herself and for trying to convince her friend to stop.
  • Anchovies Are Abhorrent: Clair and her partner at the law firm order a pizza one night. The partner loves anchovies, Clair does not. Being lawyers, they manage to negotiate; the anchovies will not come into contact with any part of the pizza until it arrives, kept in a sealed, separate container. They draw the line at Clair's suggestion of the anchovies being delivered in a separate car.
  • 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.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Clair's infamous rant at Vanessa "Off To See The Wretched" was largely about how because of her lies, Clair assumed she was dying in a fire.
    Clair: You bring yourself into this house right now! And, if you think that 30-minute ride home was something, believe me, we've only just begun! Here we are, thinking you're lying on the floor of some burning building dying of asphyxia and you're down in Baltimore, having big fun! Weren't you, Vanessa? Isn't that where you were? Didn't you go down there to Baltimore and have big fun, Vanessa? Tell me, didn't you go for big fun?
    Vanessa: Mom...
    Clair: Shut up! Don't you dare open your mouth when I'm asking you a question!
  • 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).
  • Author Tract: Over decades of public speaking, Cosby made it abundantly clear that he believed that black parents were not setting high enough expectations on their children. In the pilot episode of the show, Cliff and Theo have a long conversation about Theo's poor scholastic performance. Theo begs his father to accept that he will get low grades and work menial jobs, but Cliff unequivocally refuses, saying that he expects Theo to try harder.
  • Babies Ever After: In the series finale, the family receives a phone call from Denise informing them that she's pregnant.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Done by Rudy In-Universe when she's writing a fantasy story with characters based on people she knows and Vanessa tells her she doesn't want to be an evil, ugly old witch. Later on when the story is read out loud for the family, "Vanessa" is introduced as a witch, but then clarified to be a good witch.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • The most appropriate trope for how the family sets Theo up for his "real world" experience in season 2.
    • After Cliff breaks Clair's mug, he intentionally does a shoddy repair job with glue and try to hide it, because he knew she would have accused one of the children and not believed them when they denied it.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Explains in part how Sondra showed up.
  • 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, bad grades and all. 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 try harder, 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 not telling them that the rock concert she and her friends were going to was out-of-state, instead of in the city like Cliff and Clair assumed. 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.) Earlier 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.
  • Big Applesauce: The vast majority of the series takes place in New York and the majority of that time is at the Huxtable's home in Brooklyn Heights.
  • 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 and dashes up the stairs.
      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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The conclusion to Season 7's two-parter has Pam decide to not get intimate with her boyfriend (who she later dumps) and avoid the risk of Teen Pregnancy. As the episode closes out, Cliff gets a call from one of his patients who is going into labor, can't get a ride to the hospital, and has to take a taxi. The way Cliff speaks after hanging up the phone illustrates this is just the latest of such cases he's seen.
    Cliff: There's one right there: Still in high school, her parents want nothing to do with her, and the father said, "It's not mine. You can't prove it."
  • Black and Nerdy: Elvin.
  • Bland-Name Product: In the episode where Olivia and her friend introduce Russel to video games, they ask if he has a "Game Guy" when he describes an old favorite of his that can be played any time, any place.
  • Bookends: The series starts with Cliff warning Theo that he won't get into college with his terrible grades and ends with Cliff flashing back to that very same conversation—at Theo's college graduation.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: In "Play It Again, Russell" Cliff tells Clair she's "looooooking gooood". This was a nod Freddie Prinze, who used the phrase on Chico and the Man.
  • 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!"
    • At the conclusion of the series finale, Cliff and Clair dance off the set.
  • 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.
    • The episode "A Shirt Story" has Cliff reminding Theo about a necktie that flashed "MIAMI" in lights. A few episodes later in "Father's Day", Cliff puts on that tie.
  • 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!
  • Buy or Get Lost: In the episode where the Huxtables show Theo "the real world", Theo walks into Furniture City (a shop run by Clair in one of the house's rooms). The saleslady says that Furniture City accepts personal checks and all major credit cards. When Theo confesses that he doesn't have either of those, she answers coolly that he's going to leave Furniture City.
  • The Cameo: Quite a few, including Sammy Davis Jr., Dizzy Gillespie, B.B. King, Robert Culp (Bill Cosby's co-star on I Spy), Rita Moreno (Bill Cosby's cast mate on The Electric Company (1971)), Lena Horne, and Stevie Wonder. See Muppet Cameo below for another example.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Several episodes, as Clair looked for inconsistencies and oddities in her children's behavior like a hawk. Most notable examples:
    • "Theogate": When Theo comes rushing into the house to eat supper after coming home later from a cross-country meet. Theo tries to bluff several explanations until a family court is convened and Clair asks some tough questions. When it is revealed that she and Cliff got a call from the principal summoning them to the school to talk about an unstated matter involving Theo, he eventually confesses that he had violated a team rule and was kicked off the team; he and another teammate had cruelly made fun of a waitress at the restaurant the team had stopped at, and the coach immediately ushered the team out of the restaurant.
    • "Off To See the Wretched": The episode where Vanessa and her friends conspire to travel unchaperoned to a rock concert out-of-state, under the guise of staying overnight at a friend's house. The whole thing comes unraveled when a news bulletin announces an industrial fire threatening the friend's house and that the girls were unaccounted for, and Clair learns of other details that really make her blow her stack.
    • "Theo's Dirty Laundry": When a pair of his girlfriend's laundry becomes mixed up in Theo's and Cliff finds it, it reveals that behind their backs he and the girlfriend had been co-habitating together (to save money) rather than Theo living in an apartment the parents were paying rent for. Again, tough questions reveal the truth.
  • Catchphrase: 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.
    • One that came close for Clair was, "Let the record show-!"
    • Cliff would yell "gotcha!" whenever he pulled a prank or a joke on someone.
  • Catharsis Factor: In-Universe, when Theo goes to visit Vanessa and Rudy after they get exiled to the basement in season 5, he tells them, "After all of the trouble you two have gotten me into over the years, I can't tell you how good seeing you like this makes me feel right now."
  • Centipede's Dilemma: Explored when Clair breaks her toe and Cliff has to show her how to hold the cane in conjunction with her natural walking rhythm.
  • 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.
  • Characterization Marches On: Denise Huxtable went from a fashion forward, very popular teenager to a granolaish, hippie, step mother with no clue what she was doing with her life, to a pregnant wife who seemed like she was finally starting to get her act together. While all the characters matured, the changes in her character in particular were quite noticeable.
  • 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:
    • 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.
    • In a second-season episode that revolves around Clair's sister getting engaged, Vanessa fantasizes about her dream wedding. Denise calls traditional wedding ceremonies "primitive" and says that she'd rather have a small wedding ceremony in the living room of the house. In season 6 Denise comes home after getting married in a village in Africa, and the family stages a mock ceremony in the living room so that Cliff can have the chance to give Denise away to Martin.
    • In "Cliff's Nightmare", Clair warns Cliff about eating a hoagie before going to bed, reminding him of the events of "The Day The Spores Landed"—"The last time you ate one of those before you went to bed, you dreamed you gave birth to a 7-foot hoagie and a bottle of soda."
  • Cool Big Sis: Sondra. She's the only one of the older siblings who never get tormented or teased by the younger ones.
  • Copiously Credited Creator: 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.
  • Cousin Oliver: Olivia.
    • Later, Cousin Pam. Much older than most examples of this trope, but she clearly serves the same purpose.
    • Even with the original Cosby kids—later season episodes focused on Rudy and her friends far more than previously, and grandkids Winnie and Nelson got more screentime also.
  • Dads Can't Cook: Averted in that Cliff is an excellent cook.
  • 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.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • In "Off to See the Wretched", everything than can go wrong with the girls' scheme does, including their parents discovering what they've done. As Clair points out in her rant, "Did you really think four of you could go careening off into the night and not one adult would find out about it?!" Speaking of which, Clair is the angriest that we've ever seen her- to almost frightening levels- and she is still that way at the episode's conclusion while Vanessa isn't sulking or pouting, but in tears. It doesn't help that this is just the latest of screw-ups by Vanessa, and indeed, it's the final straw, as Clair finishes up her rant by declaring, "You have proven to us that you cannot be trusted. It's going to be a long time before we even think of trusting you again."
      • Vanessa does apologize, but it doesn't fix things. Right after the lecture is done, she tries apologizing again and uses the "This won't happen again," line, but Clair shuts her down with this:
    • One episode has Theo get kicked out of his apartment when he and his friends decide to emulate Cliff's cleaning methods he told them about in a story: Dumping buckets of soapy water on the floor and sliding around on sponges. This ultimately resulted in a lot of water damage to their apartment and the one below.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: At the end of "Off to See the Wretched," Clair has spent several minutes chewing out Vanessa for her stupidity. When Vanessa finally gets a chance to speak, she asks for her punishment before going to bed. The nerve Vanessa has of treating the situation so lightly causes Clair to nearly lunge at her, requiring Cliff to hold Clair back.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Cliff reminds Clair of one time Clair loaned some Tupperware containers to a neighbor who lost them. When the neighbor offered replacement containers, Clair took them out to the driveway and ran them over with her car because she was still angry about the originals being lost.
  • Ditzy Genius: Cliff is a successful doctor, being the first obstetrician to win his hospital's Surgeon of the Year award. He gives excellent life advice and in his youth was a gifted athlete. He's also a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, whose monologues lead off to the wildest tangents.
  • 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: It was the #1 Sitcom for 5 years running.
  • Don't Do Anything I Wouldn't Do: When Theo is about to head out to his Senior Prom he assures Cliff "I won't do anything you wouldn't do." Cliff responds, "Just remember: I married my prom date."
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty:
    • The aerobics instructor who Clair hires as her personal trainer in one season 5 episode has a reputation as this, but she actually ends up as more of a Reasonable Authority Figure as the episode progresses once she realizes Clair is serious in her effort to lose weight; she still runs her ragged but is very supportive and encouraging as time passes.
    • Theo paints his math teacher in the 2nd season as this, but upon actually meeting her it's revealed she is a strict, challenging teacher who doesn't want her students to squander their educational opportunities and also reveals that Theo had been genuinely learning from her.
  • 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.
    • Compared to the rest of the series, half of the house looks completely different in the pilot.
    • The name plate on the door to their house, Cliff's office, etc., reads "Clifford Huxtable". His name later became "Heathcliff".
    • Clair, when she was really upset, would start speaking in Spanish. Cosby admitted in interviews that this was inspired by Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy doing the same thing. However, this trait was dropped very early in season 1, though Clair is still shown to speak fluent Spanish throughout the series.
    • Vanessa's original nickname for Theo was, "Teddie." It didn't last beyond early season 1.
    • 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.
    • Cliff Huxtable's trademark sweaters didn't become a thing until Season 2.
    • Cliff was much more of a strict disciplinary in season 1. By season 2, much of this role fell to Clair, with Cliff still discipling the children, but not nearly as strict or stern about it.
  • Ear-Piercing Plot: In "Independence Day", Theo gets his ear pierced to impress a girl without telling his parents, only for the piercing to become infected.
  • Education Mama: And (especially...) Education Papa as Cliff and Clair repeatedly stressed the importance of a good education for their kids and would often spare no expense in making sure they got one.
    Cliff (When asked to help raise money for the cause): I just wrote four college tuition checks. 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
  • 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, and doesn't expect perfection from Theo, just honest effort)
  • "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.
    • It's also possible that some of the kids received scholarships and other financial aid. Sondra is depicted as bright; Denise is a legacy at her (fictional) college and doesn't get her first "D" until she starts to attend (plus she drops out after only one year). So while it would still be a big expense, it's feasible.
  • From Bad to Worse:
    • Vanessa and her friends' attempt to attend a favorite band's concert in Baltimore without their parents knowing that they're going out of state. The car is stolen in Delaware, their tickets are stolen by a con artist, and their remaining money is stolen by a pickpocket and they are nearly stranded in Baltimore. Then they get home to New York...
    • 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!
  • Freudian Excuse: Discussed. Cliff's kids believe the reason he won't allow pets in the house is because he once accidentally sat on his pet finch, Charlie, as a kid. Cliff's given reason is the kids have proven time and time again they aren't responsible enough to take care of pets and he wants to protect the pets from them.
  • Furniture Assembly Gag: Clair hosts a baby shower at the Huxtable house. To keep Cliff busy, she has him and Theo try to assemble a piece of furniture. They quickly run into trouble when it turns out the instructions are in French which Theo barely reads. (He translates two instructions as "Pound your ankle into slot A" and "Put your mother on a horse.") After the shower ends, Cliff reveals that they weren't able to complete the project and Clair gives him the English instructions.
  • Generation Xerox: Cliff and Clair Huxtable, doctor and lawyer by trade. Elvin and Sondra Tibideaux, doctor and lawyer in training.
    • There's no doubt that Theo gained his Big Eater habits from Cliff's example.
  • 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.
    • Meta example with a hint of irony: 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.
  • G-Rated Sex: Cliff and Clair would share many moments of affection that would lead to "going upstairs." Given that they had five children, it is fair to assume they had a healthy and active love life.
  • 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.
  • I Have This Friend: Subverted. In one episode, Denise says she has a friend with a medical issue. Cliff jokingly expects it to be Denise, but there really is a friend who is scared of what might be wrong and is absolutely insistent her parents not know about this. Instead of an STD or anything like that, it's just a minor bladder infection, but she still waited four weeks to go to any adult for help.
  • 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:
    • In "Mrs. Westlake" in season 2, Theo describes his very hard math test, then talks about how, the last time he saw Cockroach, the poor guy couldn't even get out of his chair and was and muttering, "I never made it past number three..."
    • 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.
  • 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?
      Cliff: And that's when your parents gave me you.
    • "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 and Vanessa's room, which were taken without permission (though Vanessa claims that she got his socks from Sondra).
    • "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 seriously 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.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: How Clair manages to figure out that Cliff was the one who broke her favorite mug and attempted a sloppy repair job to fool her into blaming one of the kids, only he blurted out the fact it was hidden "way back" in the cupboard when only the one who hid it there would have known that was the case.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Robert Culp, Bill Cosby's I Spy co-star, guest-starred in "Bald and Beautiful" as Cliff's navy buddy Scott Kelly. His character was named after both of their characters from the show.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Early on, Cliff tells Theo not to let whoever is at the door in the house- unless it's a pregnant woman in labor- because he's tired. Said visitor is Russel, who Theo sends away because of a Literal-Minded interpretation of Cliff's order. When Cliff finds out, he replies with-
      Cliff: You are not that stupid! You are not that stupid!
    • In Season 6, after Vanessa's misadventures in Baltimore, Clair mercilessly calls her out on her idiocy.
      Clair: "A normal individual with half a gnat's brain [after having their car stolen] would've said, 'I'm going home now!' But, you? [laughs] Oh no, not you! You and your three friends put yourselves on a bus and go joyriding off to Baltimore. All the way to Baltimore!"
    • In Season 1, Theo gets his ear pierced to impress a girl he likes, but it's a botched job and becomes infected. Cliff hopes that Russel will punish the boy, but instead Russel talks about how Cliff tried to wax his head for a girl (Clair!) and ended up burning it all off. Then Anna shares the story of how Russel tried to get her name tattooed on her chest, but said "Ada" instead because of a cold (and Ada happened to be the name of Anna's rival), and later had to have it removed. The Huxtable women comment that the men in their lives are idiotic for doing such ridiculous things.
      Denise: You Huxtable men are crazy!
      Cliff: But we always get our women!
      Clair: But not because of the things you do...despite them.
    • In one episode, one of Vanessa's friends smokes in her room and they get caught by Theo, who tells her about a time when Cliff yelled and him and Cockroach so loud that the paint almost fell off the walls when he caught them smoking. When Vanessa talks to Cliff about it, he's not angry with her for not smoking herself and trying to stop the friend, then tells her what Theo didn't: He and Cockroach nearly burned the house down trying to hide the still-lit cigarettes under the bed (on a carpeted floor) and claimed the cigarette smoke coming from their mouths was due to "really hot beef jerky."
  • Insane Troll Logic: Cliff calls Rudy out on this when she skips out on tap dance lessons for a school presentation by arguing that learning the steps and doing poorly in the performance would sully the family name. Cliff asks her how skipping practice entirely and making an utter fool of herself when the time came would be any better.
  • Ironic Echo: Russel and his friend Homer try to psyche Cliff and Dr. Foster out before their Pinochle game by scaring away the "buzzards" circling around the latter pair's heads. After Dr. Foster helps Cliff turn the tables in one trick, Cliff starts flapping his arms like a buzzard and hones in on both Russel and Homer.
  • It's All About Me: Vanessa is the biggest offender throughout the entire series as she's constantly called out for her selfishness. The best example comes in season 6 when Clair is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Vanessa constantly pesters her for money for a new CD, considering it life-threatening if she doesn't get it and not even considering what she's doing to Clair.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: While Sondra did go to Princeton University, it's averted for Denise (who goes to Hillman, drops out, then later goes to Medgar Evers College), Theo (who ends up at NYU, which is still an elite school), and Vanessa (who attends Lincoln University in Pennsylvania).
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In one episode, Elvin and Sondra are supposed to go out to eat with two of Elvin's female friends from college, but Sondra pulls out at the last minute to work on her law school application. When Elvin offers to stay at home with her Sondra insists that he go. He checks in with her several times to ensure that she's not upset. Sondra tells him she's fine, only to get angry later (especially because the dinner goes late and Elvin pays for it, which is a polite thing to do when someone visits). She takes out her bad mood on everyone around her until Clair bluntly tells her that she has no reason to be upset because she was dishonest with Elvin in the first place—he gave her several opportunities to tell him not to go or at least share how she was feeling, but she ignored them. It's not exactly a kind thing to say, but Sondra ultimately realizes that Clair is right and apologizes.
  • 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 tries to be a Toxic Friend Influence 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 and in Charge: Cliff's great-grandfather is described as such.
    Cliff: With a bit more practice, you'll be able to tear up the field like your great-great-grandfather, General Theodore Huxtable.
    Theo: I was named after a general?
    Cliff: Not quite. Because, you see, he was a very big man. And when someone like him says, "Call me 'General,'" you listened to him.
  • Large Ham: Jade, girlfriend of Theo's friend Dennis and a drama student: "If truth shall be my companion in the 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 cappuccino!"
  • Left Hanging: We never find out what Vanessa's final punishment was in "Off to See the Wretched".
  • Lethal Chef:
    • Played with but ultimately subverted with Cliff. He's a very good cook, but it's his ingredient choices that often scare people away.
    • Elvin starts out as one, but he gets better.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Played with in Season 8 when Cliff's excuse for eating Elvin's egg salad was to claim that the "E.T." initials on the food container stood for "Eat This."
  • 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.
  • Loophole Abuse: When Clair is filming a TV show, she requests the janitor keep an eye on Cliff to keep him from eating the donuts in the dressing room. However, there are more pastries than just donuts on the plate so both men dig in with the realization, "That is not a donut!"
  • 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.
    • Invoked by Cliff at the start of Season 6 when Denise drops the bombshell that she and Martin got married without her telling Cliff and Clair.
      Clair: Denise is married and I don't even know her last name.
      Cliff: Mrs. Stupid.
  • Made of Iron: Cliff's neighbor Jeff Engels 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, Jeremy in Season 5 as he does not respect her wishes and gets her to do things that are against her parents' wishes. When she gets caught in the web of lies that result, Cliff and Clair have words with Jeremy about the matter, and he seems to get the message, and promises to do better. Vanessa 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.
    Cliff: "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!"
  • Mood Whiplash: Played for Laughs in Season 2's "Close to Home" when Cliff offers to help his friend's daughter with her drug problem, breaking the tension in an otherwise downhearted moment.
    Dr. Morgan: No, she's had people she respects speak to her-
    Cliff: I beg your pardon!
  • 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".
  • My Beloved Smother:
    • Played for laughs in "I'm In With the In Crowd" when Theo talks about Vanessa getting drunk because she broke under the pressure placed on them by the parents to work hard and do well in their educational pursuits.
    • Played straight with Paula, Olivia's mother, and her parents who would not let Paula make her own life decisions. After years of doing things according to her parent's wishes, including getting married and having a child, she finally broke free.

    Tropes N-Z 
  • 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, then the longtime newsreader on Today). 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).
  • No Periods, Period: With the exception of one Very Special Episode centered on Rudy starting hers and another that had Clair beginning menopause, played ridiculously straight, considering this was a house chock full of women.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Played straight in Clair constantly reminding Cliff of his escapades as a teenager that are never elaborated on for the audience, most especially with Eunice Chantille.
    • In one early episode Theo apparently has one in order to blackmail Denise.
      Theo: "Are you afraid?"
      Denise: "No."
      Theo: "Good!"
  • Not So Above It All: Clair tells Denise and Theo to calm down over being excited about meeting Stevie Wonder. The minute they're out of sight, she starts shrieking and screaming the same way they were.
  • O.O.C. 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.
  • Only One Finds It Fun: A comedian tells jokes to Cliff, Rudy and a bunch of other kids. Cliff is the only one who laughs.
  • 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.
  • Panicky Expectant Father: Elvin plays this to a T in the two-parter where Sondra gives birth to their twins.
  • 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.
  • 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 when Martin says no to having a stripper at his overdue bachelor party and Denise thought he was sarcastically saying yes. It gets worse and affects the whole family.
    • The source of Theo's angst about Cockroach taking the spot on Dance Mania when he expected Cockroach to insist that he take it.
    • In "Elvin Pays For Dinner", where Elvin genuinely doesn't realize that Sondra repeatedly telling him that it's okay if he has dinner with an ex actually means that she doesn't want him to go out, and ends up equally genuinely confused as to why she's so angry with him when he gets home.
  • 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 Clair 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. The end result though, after Rudy is allowed to stay up late: She ends up falling asleep in class and throughout the day.
  • 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.
    • Vanessa attended summer school to graduate high school early between seasons 6 and 7 so Tempestt Bledsoe could attend college in real life and reduce her number of appearances.
    • Cliff's love of hoagies came about due to the crew loving hoagies from a particular sandwich shop. So hoagies were written into the script whenever the crew wanted said sandwiches. But, combined with a dose of realism, that came to an end when Bill started gaining a lot of weight because of them.
  • 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 slap 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 a New Jack Swing version 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.)
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Cliff to Theo in the first episode when the latter tries to justify his bad grades.
  • 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.
  • Rejected Apology: In "Off To See the Wretched," to say that Vanessa's repeated attempts to say "I'm sorry" don't work would be a huge understatement. Clair, in fact, becomes unnerved at the final attempt, telling Vanessa, "For all I know you're lying to us right now! GO TO BED!!!"
  • Retool: Though the show remained relatively unchanged once it hit the airwaves, the early version that was being developed for ABC before the network rejected the series featured Cosby playing a limousine driver and the family being more working class. The character Rudy was also intended to be a boy. Once development moved to NBC, Cosby was encouraged by Brandon Tartikoff to bring in elements of his own life to the series, so the family was made to be upper middle class and to mirror his own family more closely, Rudy was changed from a son to a daughter.
  • Rich Bitch: Vanessa is accused of being one in one episode, leading to her getting into a fight.
    • Subverted when Clair and Cliff make it very clear to her that she is not rich
      Cliff: "Your mother and I are rich. You have nothing!"
  • Right Behind Me: When Elvin stays over and borrows a pair of Cliff's pajamas, he starts acting and talking like Cliff for fun, who walks in on him from behind in the middle of it.
  • 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.
  • Rousing Speech: Subverted. The first episode has this occur when Cliff is listening to Theo try to justify his poor grades with a typical sitcom "Why can't you love me the way I am?" speech. When Theo's finished, Cliff stands up, walks over to him and says:
    Cliff: Theo... that is the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life! No wonder you get Ds in everything!
    • Long story short, the speech does not work and Cliff insists that Theo needs to put effort into his studies for a good future.
    • The payoff happens in the series finale when Theo graduates from college.
  • 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 1, Cliff would often pick up a baseball bat and jokingly contemplate using it whenever he had to confront one of the children about something, but usually Clair would shoot him a look and he'd put it down.
    • 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.
  • School Is for Losers: Theo's friend Cockroach had this attitude, and it sometimes rubs off on to Theo. In one episode, he says he doesn't need to study because he's got a cushy job waiting for him running the family junkyard. Cliff asks him how is he going to weigh the scrap if he can't count. Cockroach says he has a foreman to do that. Cliff then asks how he is going to do the books if he can't count, and Cockroach replies he has an accountant to do that. Cliff then declares that he is going to go broke. Cockroach asks why, and Cliff says that if his foreman can count, and his accountant can count, but he can't, then he is going to go broke.
  • 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.
  • 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 (1971).
    • 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: "No fourteen-year-old boy should have a $95 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.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Dr. Harmon is introduced in season 4 and becomes Cliff's for the rest of the series as they are constantly trying to one-up each other in who can be more Rated M for Manly- despite coming off as looking ridiculous to everyone else.
  • Sliding Scale of Beauty: The unseen waitress that Theo and Cockroach made fun of at the fast food restaurant in "Theogate," which resulted in them 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 Cockroach – 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 narmish.
  • 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 awesome dance moves.
    • Seasons 7 and 8 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: 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. Harmon, 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.
  • Surprise Multiple Birth:
    • Discussed in one episode where Cliff is at work and tells his assistant about one of their regulars who had been in the delivery room eight times before.
      Dr. Eckerd: She has eight children?
      Cliff: Nine. The last time she had twins.
    • When Sondra gets pregnant, the extended family and audience are led to believe she's only carrying one. It isn't until the birth episode that their doctor drops this line on the grandparents (and audience): "I'm happy to announce that you are the grandparents of a healthy boy! Beat And a girl!"
    • It happens to Cliff himself when he gets pregnant in "The Day the Spores Landed" and initially gives birth to an enormous hoagie. A few seconds later, he feels more labor pains and follows up by delivering a bottle of soda.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Cliff invokes this when teaching Theo about budgets. Theo initially believes that he can sustain himself as a bus driver owning a motorcycle earning a certain amount each month. But Cliff slowly takes away the play money he gave Theo to demonstrate his example: he needs to pay his taxes, maintain his motorcycle, eat, and afford a girlfriend.
    • In "The Shower", at the bridal shower for a friend of Denise's, the girl admits to Denise that she got pregnant on purpose—she and her boyfriend wanted to marry, but both sets of parents were insisting that they finish college first. The girl is almost in tears recounting how everything has gone wrong—she had to drop out of school because of her pregnancy, he also had to drop out to get a job, but can't get a decent one without a college degree, they have to move in with her parents because they can't afford their own home, etc.
    • In "Denise's Friend," Cliff and Clair tell their children they can always come to them with whatever issue they're facing. When the children protest that the pair will get angry over the issues, Cliff and Clair claim otherwise - only to go ballistic when Denise tells them that she spent a night home alone at a guy's house (which didn't happen - she made it up to test their reaction). After calming down, Cliff and Clair are forced to admit that, yes, situations like that would make them angry, before explaining that parents are human beings too, and lose their tempers when their children do reckless, potentially dangerous things.
    • In "Off To See The Wretched", everything that could go wrong with Vanessa and her friends plan to sneak off to an out-of-state concert does—their car being stolen, then their tickets, then their money. And of course, their parents finding out. The episode ends with Clair and Cliff the angriest we've ever seen them at one of the kids, and it doesn't help that this is just the latest screw-up by Vanessa, and indeed, it's the last straw, as Clair caps off her rant by declaring, "You have proven to us that you cannot be trusted. It's going to be a long time before we even think of trusting you again."
  • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Cliff delivers a few throughout the series:
    • After Clair breaks her toe and spends the episode being petty and stubborn about it, Cliff reiterates the trouble she caused as a result and says she owes him an apology when all he wanted to do was help her.
    • At the end of "If the Dress Fits," Cliff calls Clair out for her having been incredibly short-tempered at everyone while trying to lose weight.
  • Throw It In: In universe. Clair and the girls are pulling a prank on Cliff, by making him think they're preparing a surprise birthday dinner for him when Theo- who was left out of the preparations due to his inability to keep it from his father- walks in unannounced. However, before they can tell a confused Theo to leave, Cliff is heard entering the living room and they start the joke, making Cliff think they're preparing his favorite foods. Theo catches on to the prank and joins them without missing a beat.
    Theo: Dad's really going to love the dressing on his Caesar salad. Please pass the homemade croutons!
  • Toilet Humor: Used only once when Cliff predicts how a little kid 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 we see Vanessa, that's how far away from her I will have to be." In the end, he just simply tells her, "Do yourself a favor and go to bed" in an eerily calm tone, in clear contrast to Clair when she finally loses it and literally has to shout at Vanessa to make her go to bed.
  • Troublemaking New Pet: Downplayed, but Rudy gets a taste of this when she and Peter take in a lost dog from off the street and have to take care of it until they find the owner. After the dog is returned, Cliff suggests to Rudy that they get a dog once she's a bit older. However, she has since lost interest after a harsh dose of how much work goes into taking care of a dog.
  • Twerp Sweating:
    • One onscreen example where Cliff grills one of Vanessa's boyfriends who basically took her to Makeout Point after curfew.
    • Denise mentions in a later episode that Cliff was prone to doing this with a 4-foot bucknife in his hand.
  • 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: Averted as several episodes did deal with the kids potentially getting involved with drugs/alcohol 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.
    • Cliff and The Rival Dr. Harmon as well when they decide to work together.
  • 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.
  • Western: Cliff is an unabashed fan of the (fictional) Six Guns to Glory, starring (the equally fictional) Colt Kirby.
  • Wham Line:
    • When one of Cliff's good friends has a bit of a breakdown in front of him, Cliff takes him aside to talk about it. The friend reveals that his daughter's been battling a drug addiction and it's tearing his family apart.
    • When Cliff is having dinner with his Navy buddy, Scott Kelly who is known for his short temper, Scott explains to the waiter that his order is wrong. After the waiter leaves, Cliff commends him for handling that calmly and asks why he decided to curb his anger. The response: "I had to. I had a heart attack."
    • Sondra and Elvin's doctor drops one for their parents after the birth of their children: "I'm pleased to announce you are the grandparents of a baby boy! [Beat] And a girl!"
  • 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.
    • Sondra gets another one in-universe in the episode where she allows Elvin to go out to dinner with an old girlfriend—after he specifically said he felt uncomfortable going without her and repeatedly insisted that he shouldn't do it. When he goes out anyway (again, after much protesting), stays late, and pays the check, Sondra becomes furious and won't talk to him. Later, when she complains to Clair and expects a sympathetic ear, her mother instead uses this trope, pointing out that Sondra created the problem by not being honest about her feelings in the first place, and therefore has no one to blame but herself.
  • What Were You Thinking?: Directly invoked by Cliff in one of the few exchanges he has with Vanessa while Clair is tearing her a new one in "Off to See the Wretched."
    Cliff: What were you thinking?
    Vanessa: I wasn't thinking.
    Cliff: You got that right!
  • Would Rather Suffer: The regular actors ended up acting out a storybook scene from a story Rudy wrote, where an evil henchman makes romantic advances on the good song leader, and she rejects him:
    Henchman: ...And then there's two weeks out of the year that I get to go on vacation and cruise and pillage. And if you played your cards right you could come along and pillage with me.
    Song Leader: I'd rather sit on a cactus plant!
    Henchman: We could do that, too, if you'd like.