Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Big Fun With the Wretched

A woman in an online group posted about her child getting into trouble over the weekend and she referenced The Wretched episode of The Cosby Show. It was actually a stray line at the end of her post, but as soon as I read it, I immediately turned to the Hub and remarked how all of us of a certain age knew that reference. We shared a laugh, and my Niece who was nearby asked us to explain, so I pulled up a clip on YouTube. In recalling some of the specifics of the episode, I had gotten a few of the details wrong, so that meant that we watched several clips from different episodes until I realized my lapse in judgment and slammed my laptop shut.

We are still mad at Bill, by the way. So damn...

To the Niece, I was over-reacting. At nine years old, she is aware of the Cosby revelations and his conviction, but she has NO idea how big a deal it is for me to actively avoid watching reruns or even how significant certain episodes are. Maybe this is just my issue (because a friend who listened to my lament told me that I could not wipe out that aspect of our childhood), but I cannot be the only person who gets a little queasy at the thought of Bill leering at the extras in between takes. At some point, I know that won't always happen, but damn.

Before I came to my senses, I told the Niece that Vanessa Huxtable and I were about the same age when that episode aired (thus, Tempestt Bledsoe and I are the same age now). I have vivid memories of being a teenager who came up with some pretty stupid ideas of trying to evade a parental directive. Most of the time, I never got beyond my front door because I didn't have a crew of friends crazy enough to implement those schemes but if I had, I doubt that I would be here today to tell the story. So the most hilarious aspect of Big Fun With the Wretched is why we all remember that line.

We remember that it was a series of totally sitcom-y unfortunate events that led to the unraveling of Vanessa's cover story: the fire on the same block where the best friend lived; that friend's grandmother being interviewed on the local news; flaky Denise suddenly becoming a responsible adult who reads newspapers; the stolen car at a doughnut shop in Wilmington, DE where the cashier remembers Van and Co; getting scammed and stranded in Baltimore; and somehow making it back to New York City alive for the big parental confrontation. Perhaps you don't recall that specific sequence--I thought this was the episode where Rudy provided a shaky cover story that resulted in Claire and Cliff turning the couch around to greet Vanessa when she came home, but honestly, the details don't really matter. What matters was that climatic showdown with Claire repeating the line about Vanessa going off to have Big Fun With the Wretched (in your head, I bet you read that with the same inflection as she did)--and nearly killing her.

And that's why everybody in that online group probably had the same visceral reaction. A laugh or a chuckle or a shudder of a similar attempt to get over on our parents and the inevitable fallout from getting caught. We were all transported back to high school, when we thought that our parents were ridiculously stupid. Or like the woman who posted about her kid, maybe a few of those women recognized their own Claire reaction to some adolescent foolishness. Whichever side of that memory we inhabit, all of us acknowledge the sheer brilliance of that scene.

Which brings me back to this place of being frustrated by this entire shit-uation (yeah, that's my new word for it). It isn't like I can't live without The Cosby Show since I've done pretty well so far, but it just nags at me how that show captured the zeitgeist of my youth so perfectly. I mean, yes, there were plenty of other family sitcoms from that era that featured Black kids with professional parents...nope, Cosby started that. There were other shows with strong mother figures who were loving, but firm with their wayward children, but that also happened after Cosby. Surely there was another show with a similar story line that did not end with dramatic music, hugs and studio audience applause because what other reaction makes sense to lying and sneaking out, getting stranded with no money, and having to be rescued by your parents in the middle of the night?

Such was the genius of The Cosby Show. Sprinkled throughout its run, there were plenty of silly and random episodes such as those with dream sequences, the this-is-your-life-in-a-sitcom throwaways, and all of the celebrity guest stars, but those indulgences could be forgiven. As a lawyer, I still question why Claire would settle for a recording session with Stevie Wonder instead of suing him for side-swiping a car carrying her children, but that wasn't my call. I just know that 30 years ago when Vanessa and I were scheming teenagers, while Theo was secretly living with Justine, after Denise had returned from Africa married to Sandra's date, and while Sandra and Elvin were running a wilderness store and raising twins, the man who portrayed their father was...

Damn. And it's going to take some more time before I can sit with my Niece and my Kid to share that nostalgia without wincing. I just hope it happens before either one of them devises some mad-cap shit-uation that requires me to drive more than 100 miles outside of the city for a late night rescue from Wilmington in my pajamas because they're off having Big Fun With the Wretched.

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