James Fleming’s Cosby Codex represents an attempt to offer the definitive theoretical reading of The Cosby Show, a foundational text in Late Postmodern Western Culture, or a multicultural, post-cognitive text par-excellence.
In the pilot episode of The Cosby Show (“Pilot,” episode 1.2, a title that also—whether consciously, subconsciously, or by chance or synchronicity—foreshadows Theo Huxtable’s later professed desire to become an airplane pilot), Cliff Huxtable is known as “Clifford,” Theo is called “Teddy” and Sondra Huxtable does not exist (in fact, Claire Huxtable specifically states that she and Cliff have four children, not five as they do in all subsequent episodes). But in the following episode (“Goodbye Mr. Fish,” Episode 1.2), the universe of “Pilot” is placed under erasure: the Huxtables suddenly (and within the passing, seemingly, of a single week) have five children, their household has undergone a radical spatial transformation, T(eddy)heodore is now nicknamed “Theo” and Cliff(ord) is known as—and seemingly always has been known as—”Heathcliff.” Between the first and second episodes of the series, the ontological structure of the Huxtable universe irrevocably and incommensurably shifts. The Huxtable narrative opens within the ontological zone of one universe and, within a single week, shifts into another universe (or ontological zone) where it largely remains for the duration of the series, an event that constitutes the most radical ontological transformation to be depicted on an American sitcom. The question viewers are left with, logically, is what event(s) transpired within the Huxtable’s universe between “Pilot” and “Goodbye Mr. Fish” that placed the first world under erasure and brought about the second world? That question is never firmly resolved (I, for one, suspect that Rudy Huxtable, who is always figured as a sort of Faustian figure within the larger Huxtable narrative, had something to do with it, a point which I will explore shortly). The “Pilot” universe is not fully negated, however, by this ontological shift. In fact, the traces1 of the previous universe of “Pilot”—as few and far between as they might be—can be tracked throughout the following eight seasons of the series.