Saturday, October 20, 2012

TV Moms, Part Five: "Now, What Would You Like In Your Coffee?"

While Roseanne and The Golden Girls both saw a great deal of success in the '80s and early '90s, one 1980s sitcom seems to outshine them all.

You can probably guess which show I'm talking about.


In the eight seasons The Cosby Show spent on NBC from 1984 to 1992, it's Nielsen ratings never fell out of the top twenty shows, and it spent five of those seasons in the number one spot. It's often given credit for paving the way for shows like In Living Color and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

The Cosby Show was unique in many ways: the show was filmed in New York instead of Los Angeles, Bill Cosby had an unusual amount of creative control over the show, and, in spite of its predominantly African American cast, it very rarely dealt with the subject of race (though it did promote African and African American music and culture, and it did spawn a spin off that dealt with race issues more frequently). The show is also both praised for breaking stereotypes in portrayals of African Americans--both parents of the Huxtable clan are professionals with college degrees and prestigious jobs--and criticized for only representing a certain portion of the African American community.

But aside from its significance in the context of NBC's sitcom history and in the context of shows with predominantly African American casts, The Cosby Show is remembered for one more contribution to television history.

Clair Huxtable is arguably the most memorable mother that's ever been on television. She consistently makes the top ten in lists of greatest television mothers, and understandably so: she's the "power woman": five kids, a full-time job as an attorney.

Where June Cleaver may be the ideal for the stay-at-home mother, Clair Huxtable is the working mom that has it all together.  She not only had a job, she had a job that was equal in prestige to her husband's--something that, even today, when there is no shortage of working women and even working mothers on television, is rare (the only other example I can think of off the top of my head is NBC's current sitcom Up All Night, which is not enjoying anywhere near the same level of success). She was undeniably present in her children's lives--who remembers the episode where she catches son Theo trying to cut corners on studying MacBeth? She wrote her own test for him! She got her kids to school and made dinner, even making a scrambled eggs supper for Rudy's friend who had just been to the dentist in one episode. And, while she varied from the pearls-and-heels ensembles of Mrs. Cleaver, Clair was always stylish and professional.

It's interesting to note, also, that, while early television mothers like June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson seem dated to modern audiences, Clair remains relatable. This could, certainly, be because 1984 is not nearly so removed from 2012 as 1957 is, but with more women going to college than ever and more women in the workforce, it's likely that viewers in 2012 are more able to see themselves in Clair Huxtable than 1984 viewers.

And, in a time where women's issues are making news, Clair is as relatable as ever.

Yeah, Clair's enduring popularity makes sense. She serves as a great model of a strong woman and is one of the most positive portrayals of working mothers television has seen.

In the coming weeks, we'll take a look some non-traditional mothers, including single mothers like Grace Kelly from Grace Under Fire and non-mother maternal figures like The Andy Griffith Show's Aunt Bee.

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