Bell’s approach is smart in that he avoids much of the traditional chronological approach to true-crime series or bio-docs. One of his best decisions, and what really elevates the series, is how cleverly he eschews the “fall from grace” structure. Many stories like this chart the rise and fame of their subject before revealing the truth behind their public façade. Bell doesn’t do that. He knows there’s a shared international knowledge about why we’re here—what we need to talk about is more than just “I Spy” and hit comedy albums. And he also makes clear how evil Bill Cosby was from the very beginning. He wasn’t a superstar and then a criminal—he was always both at the same time and that’s what we’re here to discuss.
Bell assembles a fascinating collection of interview subjects, avoiding many of the familiar faces that one might expect to see in a documentary about a celebrity. I’d love to know exactly how Bell chose the voices that would participate in this conversation, but he is clearly a phenomenal interviewer. You can sense the comfort his subjects have with him, often using his first name like they’re talking to a friend. And he draws fascinating insight from brilliant people like Marc Lamont Hill, Jemele Hill, Jelani Cobb, and more, while also including a few thoughts from people who worked with Cosby like co-stars Doug E. Doug and the comedian Godfrey or a producer from “The Cosby Show”. How Cosby was enabled becomes a backdrop for the show, but Bell avoids pointing fingers in that department, in a manner that could be frustrating for some. The idea that “someone had to know” comes up, but it usually stops there without much resolution as to who and why they didn’t do anything about it, but Bell clearly wants to keep the focus on Cosby himself more than the entire broken system.
Of course, the most powerful voices on “We Need to Talk About Cosby” are those of his victims. And here’s where Bell truly shows his skill as a creator. Just as the show is feeling a bit too soundbite-driven in the premiere, the editing almost grinds to a halt, and we hear an unbroken testimony of an assault. Bell does this a few times in all four episodes, allowing Cosby’s victims the platform to tell their stories with few cuts, no score, and no clips. He becomes an ally by listening, which is what everyone needs to do more of now. We don’t just need to talk about Cosby, we need to hear about Cosby, and hearing what he did from the mouths of the people he did it too has incredible power.
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