I’ve spent the last month and a half working my way through Cheers, the seminal 1980’s sitcom starring Ted Danson and set in my home-city of Boston. I’m a bit embarrassed that, up until 6 weeks ago, I had never seen the show. In my defense, though, it is getting a little long in the tooth. Plus, the show is not nearly as popular to people of my generation (I’m 24 right now) as a show like Seinfeld.
At any rate, I decided to start watching it for a few reasons. As I mentioned, the show is set inBoston. That’s kind of a big deal to the people around here, for reasons which make no sense; the show was filmed inL.A.and, aside from passing references to pieces ofMassachusettslore, could just as easily be set in any other major American city. Nevertheless, I felt like it was a part of my civic duty as a Bostonian to give this show a try.
I’ve also become a big fan of the show’s star, Ted Danson. Danson makes frequent appearences on one of my favorite shows currently on television, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Even though he plays Larry David’s nemesis and is a bit of a dick on that show, it’s clear he’s a capable comedic actor. Finally, I wanted to see Cheers because it is often described as a “great” sitcom, a term that’s become practically an oxymoron in this post-Seinfeld world (see Men, Two and a Half, a horrific show that somehow manages to pick up Emmy nominations left and right)
So how does Cheers hold up in 2011, more than 20 years after it first hit the airwaves? For my money, it is still a funny show. Certainly, aspects of the show seem very outdated. For instance, the idea of a male character bragging about his sexual proclivities is commonplace today. But judging from the studio audience’s reactions to Sam Malone’s constant braggadocio, it was a bit provocative in 1982.
The show also features a very 80’s approach to gay and lesbian rights. It’s interesting, because gay (and gay panic) jokes are a major element of a lot of modern comedies, both on television and on the silver screen. Not to keep coming back to Seinfeld, but the “not that there’s anything wrong with that” episode where George and Jerry are thought to be a gay couple is one of the show’s more well-known plots. In contrast, Cheers rarely touches on the issue and the one episode they do so is done in the most cringe-worthy way possible, to my current sensibilities anyway.
The episode in question, “The Boys In The Bar” aired during season 1. Sam Malone’s (Ted Danson’s) former teammate comes out as a gay man in a tell-all book. This leads Sam to fear that Cheers (that’s the name of the bar) could turn into a hangout for gays, which would scare off the regular, manly-man type customers. During one scene, the regular bar patrons, led by Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin and with the help of Sam, attempt to scare two alleged homosexuals out of the bar. I still think this line of thinking is fairly common, but it’s just weird to see characters we like and identify with actually displaying this type of blatant homophobia.
There are other things that are dated, but overall I’m enjoying the show. It’s a bit too cheesy for me to consider as one of my favorite shows, but the characters are excellent and the idea of the viewer only learning about the characters through their interactions at the bar is ingenious. The show does occasionally stray from its main set-piece, but the vast majority of plot points are either occurring at the bar or being recounted at the bar.
In terms of the characters, by far my favorite character is Ernie “Coach” Pantusso Nicholas Colasanto) who tragically passed away mid-way through the third season. Coach is a kind and caring bartender who was the third base coach for the Red Sox when Sam Malone (Danson) was pitching. He’s a bit dim-witted, but such a good guy that it’s hard not to love the guy. I’m also a big fan of bar know it all Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberg, probably best known as Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story), a postman who constantly sprouts off irrelevant and inaccurate facts and has an odd tendency to find resemblances between fruit and celebrities.
The show’s driving emotional force in seasons 1-5 is the relationship between Sam Malone and Diane Chambers. It’s interesting to see the comparisons between their relationship and the relationship between Jim Halpert and Pam Beasely on The Office. Obviously, these are two completely different shows, but both use the on-again-off-again, will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry between couples to create tension and give the proceedings some emotional gravitas.
Here’s the problem I’m having with Cheers; there are so many damn episodes. Right now I’ve watched 103 episodes, which is something like 41 hours of television. Yikes. Guess how many episodes there are in total?
270. That’s right, 270 episodes. I’m not even halfway done with the thing. I didn’t quite realize when I started watching it on my Netflix Instant Watch that the show lasted for that long. The problem I’m having is that I know there is no way I’m watching 167 more episodes. But the plot advances at such a glacial pace that it’s difficult to know what point to stop at. Right now, my plan is to stop when Diane Chambers, Sam Malone’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, leaves the show. But who knows, I may get sucked in even more.
Overall, I think Cheers is a good, but not great show. I would agree that it’s the best “traditional” sitcom that I’ve seen. Sure, the jokes are predictable at times and some of the plots and characters scream “wacky sitcom.” If you like television, though, you should watch at least the first couple seasons of this classic.