|Scooped by Kathleen Schmidt|
Don't Sell This Episode "Shirt"
Don’t Sell This Episode “Shirt”
Once again, The Cosby Show has portrayed another wonderful, relatable, and comedic story that the whole family can enjoy! The Cosby Show is a television sitcom starring Bill Cosby. It aired for eight seasons from September 20, 1984 to April 30, 1992. The show centers on the Huxtable family – an upper middle-class African-American family – living in Brooklyn, New York. The Huxtables re-defined the perception of the African-American family; they depict a happily married, dual-profession couple that successfully raises their children in an uplifting, positive (and comedic) environment. It has been said, “Of all its legacies, the one most noted when discussing The Cosby Show is its depictions of race and class. Nothing like it had been seen before on television, and nothing has had its level of impact since” (Joshua Alston).
“A Shirt Story” is the fifth episode in the first season of The Cosby Show. It originally aired on October 18, 1984. This episode was written by John Markus and was directed by Jay Sandrich. “A Shirt Story” is considered one of the top ten of the greatest The Cosby Show episodes of all time.
In “A Shirt Story,” Cliff (Bill Cosby) is astounded when he finds out that son Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) spends ninety-five dollars on a Gordon Gartrelle designer shirt to impress his date. Cliff insists that Theo return the shirt. Denise (Lisa Bonet) offers to make an “exact” replica of the Gordon Gartrelle shirt – and only for half the price – despite the fact that she has never completed any kind of project in her entire life!
Growing up, I remember laughing out loud whenever I saw the “A Shirt Story” rerun on television, and today was no different. However, I felt that it was more difficult to enjoy knowing that a paper was involved and that I had to focus on the formal aspects of the episode.
That being said, when thinking about the elements of mise-en-scene in the episode, the actors’ performances, their costumes, and the lighting seem to be the most important. When it comes to performance, Bill Cosby, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Lisa Bonet do an excellent job of fully and naturally embodying the role that he or she is playing; they all communicate their characters’ essential self very well. Their various physical expressions, their gestures, and their voices bring their characters to life. For example, one of the most memorable performances within this episode is the scene where Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) first tries on Denise’s (Lisa Bonet’s) “replica” of a Gordon Gartrelle shirt. In this scene, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Lisa Bonet’s performance is very believable; you would expect Theo to be angry and embarrassed about the shirt, and Denise to be hurt and upset about Theo not liking the shirt. Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Lisa Bonet do a perfect job in acting out a situation like this. Of course the costumes have to be mentioned, when the episode centers on a famous Gordon Gartrelle designer shirt. This shirt and its “replica” create the tensions and changes in the story, as well as Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s character. In the beginning of the episode, Theo buys an expensive shirt to impress a girl because he believes that it is the clothes that “make the man.” After being caught wearing the “replica” Gordon Gartrelle shirt, he soon realizes that this is not the case. He comes to his senses and tells the truth about the shirt to his friends; thus creating another well-done episode of The Cosby Show, that America has come to know and love. The lighting in this episode really accentuates the shirts – the flashiness of one and the faux pas of the other. The lighting also allows the audience to observe the actions of the actors, the costumes, and the setting. The brightly lit home along with the soft glow of the characters make us feel welcomed and comfortable.
“A Shirt Story” is considered a comedy, not only because it is funny, but because it embodies all of the characteristics of the comedy genre: central characters who are defined by distinctive physical features, a narrative that emphasizes an episode and concludes happily, and characters that physically interact with the mise-en-scène around them. In “A Shirt Story,” the main characters include Theo, Denise, and Cliff, who are all defined by their manner of speaking – especially about the two shirts. Theo is defined, even more, through his costume. The narrative emphasizes the episode Theo has towards Denise and Cliff over the “replia” Denise makes for Theo; the episode concludes happily. Theo, Cliff, and Denise all physically interact with the mise-en-scène – which, in this case, is referring to the costume or prop of the “replica” of the Gordon Gartrelle shirt.
The Cosby Show seems to have an overall theme of race and social class. It focuses on an upper middle-class African American family. Both of the parents have reputable jobs – the father is a doctor and the mother is a lawyer. Each of their five children attends school – one of which is in college. This theme is conveyed successfully in each of The Cosby Show episodes. There also seems to be a second theme conveyed in “A Shirt Story.” This episode reminds the audience that the clothes do not make the man – it is what is underneath that counts. This theme is made apparent through a scene where Cliff (Bill Cosby) tells Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) about a time when Theo – only six years old – asked him to wear a huge, bright, flashing tie that he had bought him for Father’s Day to a professional convention. Cliff explains to Theo that once he got on stage and began talking, the guests eventually forgot about the tie and focused on what he was saying and not what he was wearing. This theme is reiterated at the end of the episode; Theo walks into the living room wearing the “replica,” and finds that his friends were already there, and they did not laugh at him.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this episode of The Cosby Show – “A Shirt Story.” It is a great story for anyone and everyone! It is very comical, relatable, and has a nice underlying message. As I have said before, it is one of those episodes that you can watch again and again!