Bill Cosby was once known as a man who single handedly uplifted his race through his comedic antics and child-like heart. He could be funny but would also be serious and supportive with a fatherly and mentor-like demeanor. Today we know that Cosby was not the role model many made him out to be as he had spent years presenting himself as a man of morals while destroying the lives of several women who looked up to him. But this article is not about that. This is about the 70s show he was heavily involved with, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. The premise involved a group of adolescents including Fat Albert, Mushmouth, Dumb Donald, Rudy, Russell, Bill, Weird Harold, and Bucky learning valuable life lessons while living in their Philadelphia neighborhood. Cosby voiced multiple characters in addition to having his own live-action segments at certain points throughout each episode.
The formula of each episode was simple: Fat Albert and the gang would have some fun but either a character of the day or one of the members of the gang would run into some sort of problem and the gang would have to help solve the problem. The show primarily spoke to Black youth, who back then were not given much attention in cartoon shows. There were many everyday issues that were explored such as stage fright, love, the consequences of playing hooky, or the appreciation and changes of family. Some episodes, even when they toned it down for youngsters, dealt with some heavy stuff including gun violence, death, racism, prison, etc. There were even a couple of times when they would kill off the character of the day. The show did this very little so when it happened, the impact was huge.
While the show was positive, each episode was 30 minutes with only one story. As a result resolutions could happen rather quickly with some characters in a tight spot and the gang learning and teaching a lesson. Sometimes the attempt to find a solution would be an extension of the problem, which would lead to some interesting development. What made the formula work however is that the characters did not get into trouble as a result of maliciousness but rather it was just a matter of being too young to understand the matters. Youngsters are often impressionable and are faced with a variety of temptations that shapes them into becoming adults. The variety of characters allowed for a diverse set of scenarios and different opinions to go around regarding them. In doing so it avoided talking down to children. And the characters would grow slightly more as a result of each episode.
The first four seasons of the show contained the gang singing songs about the problem and the lesson that was learned. The songs were enjoyable enough but often could make the lesson heavy-handed.
The “New Fat Albert Show” would replace the songs with a segment called the Brown Hornet with some campy fun and amusing mini-adventures.
Cosby himself, in voicing several of the characters, was able to give each one of them a sense of livelihood. There isn’t much of difference in his voices but there is enough distinction to make the characters feel unique. Cosby’s live action segments delivered the lesson in a fun and subtle way. They would frame the episode at the beginning and at the end, they would allow the episode to come full circle. Much like Cosby himself, the live action segments were funny but had a sense of sincerity to them.
The animation is largely a product of the times similar to the style of the characters. There would be repeated frames with walking cycles and reused animation when it came to speeches made by supporting characters and when doing a close-up.
The show’s style is largely stuck in its time period of the 70s and 80s. As a result, today’s youngsters may not have an appreciation for it. However, its lessons are timeless and they were delivered in clever and unique ways.