Lately, the family and I have been doing something really old-fashioned at night. Because the sun is setting earlier, we get in our pajamas right after dinner. I light some scented candles, and sometimes I bake cookies or pop popcorn. And then — here comes the old-fashioned part — we watch television together.
Crazy, old-fashioned, right? It sure feels that way. And I haven’t even told you what we watch, yet: “The Cosby Show.”
The first night we did this, I was so proud of us. We had tossed aside our Kindles, iPhones, different reading-level books and handheld game systems and come together to do something as a family. It was so 1980s of us.
I write this slightly tongue-in-cheek. A generation ago, watching television together was not necessarily good “family time.”
Or was it?
The serious truth is, our television nights have become something I look forward to. Sure, I’ve sat in the living room before while the boys watch “SpongeBob SquarePants” or “Gumball,” and I’ve even shared some laughs with them — in between making a mental to-do list or daydreaming — at those shows. But there’s something different, something wholesome, about being huddled together to watch “The Cosby Show.” It’s the middle ground between annoying cartoons and boring grown-up television. There’s something for everyone.
And have you watched “The Cosby Show” lately? Wow! The boys giggle at the clothes and especially the episode where Theo breakdances (watching Dustin recreate the back spin was an added bonus). But, for the most part, little else has changed about family life today. The Huxtables are still relevant.
Hollywood doesn’t make television like this anymore (Oops, isn’t this what our parents said about “The Andy Griffith Show,” too?). In most programs aimed at children today, the mother and father are idiots. The dads, in particular, are buffoons. And principals and teachers fare no better. Authority is mocked, and the character’s voices are loud and grating. How refreshing, then, to watch Bill Cosby, who definitely is silly at times in his portrayal of a father, but who ultimately is respected and liked. And Claire — well, she had a full-fledged career and was hardly ever home! It was very forward-thinking for the time.
Interestingly, none of the ground-breaking social elements of “The Cosby Show” — the fact that the Huxtables are African-American or that the mother is a successful lawyer and not home most of the time — seem to measure even as a small blip on my kids’ radar screens. The Huxtables are just as relatable to them as any other family they see on television. That’s proof, I think, that society has made progress in the areas of race or gender. The only thing the kids struggle with is the 80s clothes and haircuts. Thank goodness for progress there.
So I was enjoying our nightly routine of popcorn and old sitcoms. I looked forward to it most of the day: “I wonder what the Huxtables will be doing tonight?” The boys and I talked about it while driving in the car or at dinner. And that’s when something else occurred to me: Is there a “Cosby Show” today that families, or even society, bond over? Is there one show that creates a shared experience for many? There are approximately 300 channels on my television; what are the chances my neighbor and I are watching the same thing at the same time? (The “same time” element is important. With digital recordings, not everyone has seen last night’s episode of “whatever show,” last night.) We’re all scattered and individualized. Even in our television viewing.
But not the Smileys! If I had anything to say about it, we were watching “The Cosby Show” together every night, until we had no more episodes left.
And then, last week, after I had gotten comfy on the couch under my blanket and called up to the kids, they yelled back down, “Um, we’re kind of bored of ‘The Cosby Show’ now. You can watch without us.”
I took a deep breath, and then I marched upstairs and screamed like a maniac at them: “So you’re just going to stay up here and play Wii and let me watch television alone? You’re just going to give up on our family activity? Is this the way we’re going to be at night, all of us doing our own thing and staring at a screen? Fine. I’ll go watch ‘The Cosby Show’ by myself.”
A few minutes later, one by one, the boys crept downstairs and stared at me as they took their seats on the couch. They looked frightened.
“If it means that much to you, Mom, we’ll watch with you,” Ford said.
And a half-hour after that, we were all staring — together — at the big screen.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.