The Good: Moments of Shelley Long’s performances, Sam’s character resolution at the end
The Bad: Predictable jokes, Diane is lightyears more annoying than ever
The Basics: In its fifth season, Cheers has Diane Chambers at her worst before ending well.
There are some characters in television and cinema that have a place there that is hard to truly understand how they got there. I would argue that Diane Chambers only endures in the collective unconsciousness because of her on-again, off-again relationship with Sam Malone. The references to “Sam and Diane” might be the most that the character is really remembered for and, the truth is, Diane Chambers on her own is annoying and thoroughly unlikable. In fact, in season five of Cheers, her character becomes downright detestable. And, unlike some characters referenced in pop culture who have moments of humanism or a perspective that illustrates a deeper motivation to explain away their otherwise annoying tendencies (like Ray’s mother on Everybody Loves Raymond), Diane Chambers is bereft of redemptive qualities in season five.
An important distinction here is that actress Shelley Long plays Diane Chambers remarkably well in the fifth season, as annoying as the character is. In fact, there are moments in the fifth season of Cheers where Long plays Chambers as emotionally wounded and incredibly sad and she does so with a realism that is heartwrenching. Unfortunately, the bulk of her appearances on screen have Long as Chambers annoyingly inserting herself into situations and positions that make her an unwelcome irritation to those around her and the viewer.
Picking up where season four left off, Cheers season five begins with the revelation of who Sam proposed to and, of course, it was Diane. Diane, home in her pajamas, with a facemask on, is not as flattered as Sam expects her to be and she insists that she wants to be proposed to correctly. This leads Sam to a romantic sailboat-delivered proposal, which Diane refuses (much to Sam’s – and the viewer’s – annoyance). Diane returns to Cheers, much to the annoyance of Sam, Carla, and the rest of the staff. After attempting to do things Diane’s way, Sam once more reverts to his usual ways as Diane continues to pursue him.
Meanwhile, Carla gets into a new relationship and Frasier and Lilith get closer to one another. The rest of the gang shows up, night after night, at Cheers and they witness the development of the final relationship between Diane and Sam, which inevitably leads to the wedding built-up for the latter half of the season.
The high point of Cheers season five for me was watching the development of the relationship between Frasier Crane and Lilith Sternan. As a fan of Frasier (reviewed here!), which deals with Frasier’s life after Lilith, it is pretty cool to go back and see how the relationship got started. They have the most serialized plot, outside the Sam and Diane relationship, in the season. Outside those two plot threads, most of the work this season is very episodic, with each episode encapsulating a ridiculous concept – like Sam using Norm’s guy to get the ring Diane wants only to have to get the ring she originally saw because it does not come with the box or Cliff getting bitten by a dog and wondering if his subsequent relationship with the knockout dog owner is just an attempt to get him to drop the lawsuit he has against her – that is resolved by the end of the episode.
Still, Cheers does work to develop the characters on the show and in the fifth season, there is something for each of them to do. In the fifth season, the principle characters include:
Sam - Having proposed to Diane, he actually tries to woo her. When she rejects his proposal, he quickly reverts to his usual form as a cad. After being accused of assaulting Diane, he finally proposes again. He takes his last day as a free man and stalks Diane,
Diane - After rejecting the proposal from Sam, she comes running back to Cheers to try to accept the proposal. She helps Lilith prepare for her show. To get back at Sam, she dates a college student. She becomes obsessed with an obscure poetry magazine when Sam gets published and she does not. She follows her dream of becoming a ballerina when her friends write a fake positive review of her ballet practice. She finds a house she loves and buys it, despite Sam's objections,
Frasier - After venting his murderous thoughts about Diane, he appears on television for a psychology television show. He appears on the show with Lilith Sternan and they actually have incredible chemistry. He is good friends with a notable English marriage counselor, whom he hooks up to Diane and Sam. He and Lilith move in together and have Sam and Diane over for dinner,
Carla - Gets a cat for her children, which instantly has babies. On advice from Cliff, she buys a house for her and her children, but is disturbed when she learns the house's history. She hosts the whole gang on Thanksgiving and makes a pilgrimage to Graceland for the 10th Anniversary of Elvis's death. She goes into exceptional denial when Sam proposes to Diane, which leaves Frasier to heal her. Late in the season, she falls for a hockey player, but believes their relationship is cursed when he has a losing streak after their romance begins,
Woody - Gets excited about a fishing trip that he cannot get the guys on board for. He shows around Coach's niece when she comes to visit Boston,
Cliff - He is thrilled when his mother falls for a wealthy inventor, who dies before their wedding. After finding a house for Carla, he spends the first night with her and Norm there to help exorcize its demons. He gets Norm into the Order Of The Scimitar,
and Norm - When Vera returns, he brings home a bunch of kittens . . . from Carla! Norm and Cliff get really into a gladiator film festival. He resists letting his friends invest in a business enterprise (Tan & Wash), though it initially makes them all money.
The acting in the fifth season of Cheers is unremarkable, except for a few choice moments when Shelley Long plays Diane as quiet, vulnerable, and human. The rest of the time, the performers play well within their comfortable, established roles that they have played for years. Only Rhea Perlman, as Carla, is even written a role where she has something more to play when Carla goes into denial. She does the blank stare and passionless deliveries adequately, but not in a way that is exceptional.
Ultimately, the fifth season of Cheers plods along with a few good jokes an episode until Diane opens her mouth to annoyingly interact where she is not wanted and the episodes take preposterous downturns as a result of her meddling. Despite the progression of the Sam and Diane relationship, this was the season I most regretted sitting through so far.
For prior seasons of Cheers, please check out my reviews of:
For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |