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The path to Rick And Morty leads through House Of Cosbys

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: We’re looking at favorite episodes from web and streaming series.

House Of Cosbys, “Episode 1” (originally aired 1/30/2005)

In January of 2005, House Of Cosbys debuted at the monthly film festival Channel 101. Created by Justin Roiland, the animated pilot—screened for an L.A. audience who’d vote to renew it for a second episode or cancel it out of disinterest—introduced Mitchell Reynolds (Jeff Davis), a Bill Cosby superfan whose cloning machine has populated his single-story home with multiple copies of the Fat Albert and I Spy star. House Of Cosbys was the most popular show of the night, as it was for the next two months, during which it developed from a loose goof on Multiplicity into a dense cartoon epic that gave nearly every member of the Channel 101 community a chance to flex their Cliff Huxtable impression. (Among those who’d join Roiland in throwing around “Roo-dees!”s and “Theee-ohs!”: Rob Schrab, Steve Agee, and all three members of The Lonely Island.) And then the cease-and-desist letters arrived from Bill Cosby’s attorneys.

Episodes of House Of Cosby were removed from the Channel 101 website. Complying with the cease-and-desist order, Roiland handed production of the fifth and final episode to future Blue Mountain State creators Eric Falconer and Chris Romano, who gave the show a purposely defamatory viking funeral. That would’ve been that—if not, as noted by Channel 101 co-founder Dan Harmon, for “any of a thousand sources” that stepped in to host the videos. Today, those sources once more include channel101.com, which has since restored all but the final episode of House Of Cosbysout of fear of being sued by the attorney who is absolutely NOT portrayed sucking anyone’s dick” in the finale.

After its brush with notoriety (and regardless of Cosby’s own legal troubles), the House Of Cosbys pilot remains a hilarious statement of purpose: Riff on some sci-fi tropes, get a bunch of funny people to pretend like they’re Jell-O pitchmen, and apply that to some relatively detailed animation. For fans of Roiland and Harmon’s ongoing Adult Swim team-up, Rick And Morty, there are hints of great things to come, like the Cosbys’ Mr. Meeseeks-style habit of announcing themselves (“I’m Curiosity Cosby, you see!”) or Mitchell’s Rick-esque tampering in God’s domain. When Cosby 10, Data Analysis Cosby, steps from the cloning machine, House Of Cosbys’ hook is set. The gag moves past its Frankenstein-meets-The Smurfs setup, entering a realm in which the show can map itself onto different styles and genres in subsequent episodes. It ended too soon, but the show proved to be as versatile as its clones.

The cease-and-desist notices did more to stimulate creativity than stifle it. With an eye toward getting a similar response from another massive entertainment entity, Roiland began work on a short starring crudely rendered versions of Back To The Future protagonists Marty McFly and Doc Brown. During the production process, however, he developed an affection for the voices he’d developed for the characters: A high-pitched, crack-prone whinge for Marty and an excitable, belch-punctuated growl for Doc. Following their initial, extremely filthy outing, the stars of “The Real Animated Adventures Of Doc And Marty” became recurring characters in Roiland’s work, eventually emerging as the title characters of Rick And Morty.

And none of it would’ve happened without some letters from Bill Cosby’s lawyers.

Availability: House Of Cosbys can be streamed on Channel 101 and YouTube.