A rap song making the rounds exhorts listeners to "be a father to your child." Sociologists and talk show hosts lament the Decline of the American Family, a national loss of values and the lack of positive role models on television. Crime is up, so are divorce and out-of-wedlock births.
Bill Cosby never claimed to be able to fix what ailed the country. But the "The Cosby Show," whose final episode aired last week, made a powerful argument for the values many people complain Americans no longer wish or are able to live by -- family, education, hard work and responsible parenthood. Mr. Cosby, in his role as a sort of National Dad, recalled the uncomplicated certainties of an earlier era when father always knew best.
Yet there was never any doubt the Huxtables were living in the '80s and '90s, not the '50s. For one, the family just happened to be black. When the show first aired, some critics said a show about a black doctor married to a black lawyer and their children was painfully implausible. What could a sitcom about the black middle class possibly have to say about the problems of drugs, crime and teen pregnancy afflicting the inner-city poor? If it said nothing about such issues, what was the point?
After eight years on the air, five of them at the top of the ratings, Mr. Cosby need offer no apologies. He made "Cosby" an authentic reflection of the times by making it reflect the experiences of his own family. Whatever happiness, disappointment, wisdom or folly the show portrayed, Mr. Cosby had come by them honestly. Thus, the retelling touched a universal chord. By the final episode no one questioned whether "Cosby" was "relevant." It is a measure of Mr. Cosby's achievement that by then to even raise the issue seemed beside the point.