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NBC Insider The Irrational

Yes, You Definitely Recognize Dustin Atwood on The Irrational — Here's Why

Actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner guest starred in the latest episode, "Point and Shoot".

By Jill Sederstrom

Theo Huxtable is all grown up. 

How to Watch

Watch The Irrational on NBC and Peacock

Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who played the iconic teen for eight seasons on The Cosby Show in the 1980s, took on a more serious role in The Irrational as Alec Mercer’s (Jesse L. Martin) professional nemesis and expert witness, Dr. Dustin Atwood. 

The two men faced off — both on the witness stand and outside the courtroom — in Season 1, Episode 6 ("Point and Shoot") until a surprising common mission to unmask a killer united them both. 

“I never thought we’d see eye to eye enough to work together,” Alec told Dustin after bringing down the murderer. “Thank you.” 

Who is Malcolm-Jamal Warner? 

Dustin Atwood wears a suit while sitting on a leather couch with his legs crossed.

Warner is perhaps best known for his role as Theo Huxtable on the family-centered comedy, The Cosby Show, but that was just the beginning of his successful acting, directing and music career. 

Warner also spent four seasons on the TV hit Malcom & Eddie in the 1990s and another four years starring with Blackish’s Tracee Ellis Ross in the original comedy series Reed Between the Lines, from 2011-2015. He also starred in numerous films including Fools Gold, Drop Zone, A Fare to Remember, and won the HBO Short Film Competition at the American Black Film Festival for his short film Muted in 2014.

Most recently, Warner took on the role of Dr. AJ Austin on the Fox drama The Resident from 2018-2023, according to IMDB.

But the Emmy-nominated actor’s accolades don’t end there. He’s also known as a talented director. In addition to taking on the director role in both Malcolm & Eddie and The Cosby Show, Warner has directed episodes of All That, Kennan & Kel, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Sesame Street, according to his bio on Fox.

As a renowned poet and bass player, Warner also clearly has a way with words. He won a Grammy award for Best Spoken Word Poetry album in 2015 for “Hiding in Plain View.” 

Malcolm-Jamal Warner's family

Although he’s typically been very private about his home life, the 53-year-old did share some photos and details about his home life on  The Rachel Ray Show, including how he juggled life as a dad during the pandemic. 

"I spent a lot of time with my wife and daughter. I've been working on this record that was supposed to come out last summer as my quarantine record, but it just didn't happen,” he said at the time. “I do a lot of recording at the house, and being home all day every day was pretty much heaven for my daughter. So, I'd have to get up around 5:30 a.m. to get any kind of creative time in because once she would wake up at 7:30 a.m., it's non-stop playing until it's time for her to close her eyes.”

What Role Did Malcolm-Jamal Warner Play on The Irrational

Dustin Atwood standing next to Alec Mercer, who's sitting at a bar with purple lights in the background.

Warner’s role on The Irrational was a stark contrast from  his affable role on The Cosby Show. He played Dr. Dustin Atwood, a money-hungry expert witness who has made a career out of trying to win over juries. 

His latest case is the wrongful death trial of a local building inspector named Joshua Hill-Jones. Joshua was killed when a special police tactical unit known as The Viper Squad served a no-knock warrant on the home he shared with his husband and opened fire, killing him. 

The police had been trying to serve a warrant on an illegal gun dealer working in a house down the street, but seemingly went to the wrong house because of a typo, in a case reminiscent of the real-life shooting of Breonna Taylor. 

Alec described Dustin of having the “morals of jackal” despite an impressive pedigree and dual PhDs in experimental psychology and neuroscience. 

“Atwood is a master at cherry picking psychological principles to support cops,” he said. 

Dustin Atwood and Judge Haynes sitting across each other in a dimly lit room with wooden walls.

With Dustin testifying on behalf of the city and police, Alec decided to use his behavioral science skills to testify on behalf of Joshua’s husband Mason, who filed the wrongful death suit, pitting the two experts against one another. Mason also had a close tie to Alec's sister Kylie (Travina Springer), making the mission all the more personal for Alec.

Dustin and Alec both delivered compelling testimony and even faced-off on MSNBC’s The Reid Out, but when Alec began to suspect there was more to the shooting, he turned to Dustin for help. 

Before his death, Joshua had been investigating how a high profile company’s code violations were seemingly getting swept away. He was getting close to discovering that a judge within the legal system was accepting bribes to help companies get around the building regulations when he died. 

That same judge signed off on the no-knock warrant and devilishly used the opportunity to alter the address on the warrant, sending the tactical unit to Joshua’s home instead.

To help prove the case, Alec enlisted Dustin to meet with the judge at a club and suggest that he was having his own development issues. Once they agreed on the proper bribe, the FBI rushed in to take the judge into custody.

The clever ploy had both adversaries on the same side — at least this time.