There’s something immensely reassuring about the combination of Bill Cosby and television. The titles of his shows get progressively distilled, and so do the programs themselves, which reveal more and more of an essential nature. The new series is called, simply, “Cosby,” and it reunites the comedian with his great costar from “The Cosby Show,” as well as with producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner. Yet the focus is completely different, and if the first episodes betray a certain tentativeness in the writing, the series still looks like a winner. For unlike most of the new shows, “Cosby” is actually about something meaningful.
His name is Hilton, and he and his wife Ruthie live in Queens, near the Flushing Meadow site of the 1963-64 World’s Fair. After 30 years working for an airline, Hilton has been “downsized,” and at 60 he finds himself most unwillingly unemployed. He is also completely at a loss as to how he will spend the rest of his life. This necessarily causes some consternation in Ruthie, who is none too happy about suddenly having her husband home and unoccupied all day, every day.
That’s as complicated as things get. Hilton discovers the fact that some of the local emporia are run by idiots, that some people knowingly park in front of fire hydrants, and that taking a nap in the middle of the day can lead to misperceptions when you’re over a certain age. To be sure, none of these revelations is earth-shattering, and yet there is poignance in Hilton’s discovery of them. Some of this owes to the total comfort Cosby and Rashad exhibit, some to the knowledge that the comedian is feeling his way around an issue that has considerable resonance among his viewers.
“Cosby” needs some sharper writing, and story editors who can bring shape to Hilton’s shapeless life. While we’re waiting, however, the show chugs pleasantly along on the physical comedy the stars confidently bring to it, with a big assist from Madeline Kahn as their goodhearted neighbor. There’s some funny business with a hapless turtle, but nothing matches the look in Hilton’s eyes when he is rudely awakened from a postprandial snooze. Good stuff, and bound to get better.