Since 2007, TV Club has dissected television episode by episode. Beginning this September, The A.V. Club will also step back to take a wider view in our new TV Reviews section. With pre-air reviews of new shows, returning favorites, and noteworthy finales, TV Reviews doesn’t replace TV Club—as usual, some shows will get the weekly treatment—but it adds a look at a bigger picture.
At the beginning of Far From Finished—his first television special in 30 years—Bill Cosby makes a big deal about the fact that he’s appearing on Comedy Central, as if it’s insane that his family-friendly material would find a home in such a filthy place. The way he tells it, young fans were delighted to hear that news for the same reasons it caused consternation among older ones: “Mr. Cosby’s gonna curse!” He doesn’t, of course, nor would you expect him to change anything at this point. Bill Cosby is still Bill Cosby, three decades after the nearly perfect Bill Cosby: Himself. That means he’s still funny and charming—but also, given that the stand-up world has grown up around him, dated and occasionally dull. Far From Finished couldn’t be safer.
For the most part, that’s okay. At 76, Cosby hasn’t lost a beat as a storyteller, and his delivery makes up for material that doesn’t hit every mark. Cosby has always simply talked about what he knows, and what he knows at this point is being a henpecked husband whose kids are grown. A huge chunk of Far From Finished is dedicated to exploring male-female relationships, and his ideas probably (hopefully) won’t resonate with the younger segments of the audience. Men, he jokes, are either worn down, or beaten down by their wives, who don’t let them have keys to the house, or let them know the alarm code, and who won’t pick them up when their car breaks down—they’ll just hector them about why they didn’t get the car fixed when they were told to.
Marriage is also described as war and chess: The queen gets to move wherever she wants, while the king is constrained to just the neighboring squares. When Cosby and his wife—he never utters the word “Camille,” though he does every other Cos-cliché—go to a fancy restaurant, Bill needs to sneak next door to buy some chocolate-chip cookies, because he’s apparently not allowed to have them. In that instance, he saves the material with his physicality, playing the conversation as a swordfight, and dancing around every word with his invisible rapier parrying and jabbing back.
Cosby is also the king of mugging and perfect pauses, so even if a story isn’t all that intriguing, he’s often just fun to hear and see. One of the biggest laughs he earns in this special isn’t a joke at all: He simply says, “The first time I ever talked out loud to myself…” and then waits, knowing that a friendly audience is going to fill in the blanks for him. (Occasionally this rapt audience literally does so, providing bits of call-and-response humor.)
It’s a shame that the material isn’t stronger or more insightful, though. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad, or that Cosby should retire—he’s got a gift that people love. It’s just that Far From Finished, in the age of filth-flarn-filth—and, more importantly, comics that are much more incisive about their relationships—he seems quaint. He’s built up a ton of goodwill and truly earned it, but that doesn’t make what he’s doing now any more exciting. He’s like your kind, funny, endearing uncle—his humor might not be your style, but he’s fun to spend a little time with.
Directed by: Robert Townsend
Starring: Bill Cosby
Debuts: Saturday, November 23 at 8 p.m. Eastern on Comedy Central
Format: Stand-up special