Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Brief Lie

A Brief Lie

When I was eight, I got to appear in an episode of The Cosby Show. I was visiting relatives, and through a series of friend of a friend meetings, I got to appear as one of Rudy's friends. I was only on set for a day, and I don't remember much about the taping, except that nobody was allowed to sit in Phylicia Rashad's ratty, duct-taped recliner.

In the episode (called "A Birthday Surprise"), I'm there in the Huxtable house for Rudy's birthday party. You can see me (I'm the kid with the blond curly hair) along with Rudy, Kenny (Bud) and Peter, and a couple of other kids. I don't have any lines, but I get to yell "Yay!" when Dr. Huxtable (who, in the story, has been up all night delivering babies and is exhausted, but has to participate in Rudy's birthday party) brings in pizza. Also, we sing "Happy Birthday" to Rudy, and we play some party games.

That particular episode was shown only once, in March of 1985. It was terribly controversial in its airing--most likely the single most controversial episode of the NBC series' long run.

Here's what happens: Theo, Rudy's brother, gets stinking, shitfaced drunk. After several pratfalls, he goes on a profanity-laced tirade in which he refers to Dr. Huxtable repeatedly as "cocksucker," "mad bastard," and once as "you sodding gobshite." In the episode's third act, Theo dies horrifically when he takes a headlong tumble down the stairs.

The secret to making Malcolm Jamal Warner act drunk? The producers got him drunk. On Manhattans.

The episode was extremely controversial. Most objected to the mature subject matter, in general. Also troubling, for many, was the cursing and frank sexual dialog: at one point, a sleep deprived Dr. Huxtable says that the only thing better than a nap would be a sloppy blow job.

But the network and the producers were also brought to task for the complete reversal in tone the episode has in comparison with other Cosby Show episodes. Generally lauded as a family show, where the family faced problems in a positive light, this episode deviated particularly from that norm.

For example, Theo gets drunk at Rudy's birthday party, drinking alcohol meant for the kids. In no other episode do the Huxtables even drink, let alone serve sipping whiskey to the kids.

Also, when Theo takes his tumble down the stairs, the sound of the cracking of his neck is amplified to a ridiculous, even comic degree. And the fall itself is shown again, and again in slow motion replay.

And lastly, as young Theo lies dead at the foot of the stairs, Vanessa and Denise perch ghoulishly over his body, casting lots over who gets his clothes.

The episode was never aired again, after its initial showing. The master tapes were destroyed by the order of Bill Cosby himself. Network affiliates were ordered to destroy any copies they had, or risk losing their broadcast license under orders of the FCC. And the episodes are not shown in syndication.

You may still be able to find a copy at an underground tape trading session, or some manner of sci-fi or other pop culture convention. Or, you can try Ebay, but only if you have the money to outbid the mysterious bidder "2MyBroRussell" who seems to have a bottomless pocket full of cash, and an endless resolve to outbid anybody who looks to purchase of copy of the episode.

I don't even have a copy of the episode myself. I was given a copy after the taping session, along with a keepsake cast photo, signed by everybody in the cast except Lisa Bonet, to have as souvenirs from the taping session. But one night, in 1993, our house was broken into while we were out to eat (at Western Sizzlin, don't ya know). The only thing missing was that tape, along with my signed cast photo, and one last thing.

When we left the house, we had a box full of them in the freezer, but when we returned, somebody had eaten one of the Jell-O Pudding Pops out of the carton in the freezer...

But you can take my word for it. It was a great episode...


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