Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Legend Of Sam And Diane Is Chronicled In Cheers Season Two!

The Good: Moments of humor, A few performance moments.
The Bad: The characters make little sense, Still goes for jokes as opposed to a narrative, Laugh track, Discontinuities between episodes.
The Basics: In its second season, Cheers has the romantic relationship between Sam and Diane in full swing and creates surprisingly bland television with it.

Arguably my biggest issue with the first season of Cheers (reviewed here!) was that the show worked so hard to set up jokes that it barely told stories with its episodes. In other words, it was preoccupied with setting up the next one-liner or zinger instead of telling a story and letting the humor come where it naturally did. I also took issue with the learning curve of the character of Sam Malone. Sam evolves so quickly from a womanizer to a man who might actually stand a chance in a relationship with the intellectual Diane Chambers that it is hard to buy how emotionally flaccid he can be at several points later in that season.

So, with the second season of Cheers, I found myself unsurprised that I continued to find the show lacking in substance. In the second season, the characters make very little sense and while Cheers may be considered classic television, it “reads” as remarkably average (at best) sitcom fare. In its second season, the main characters, Sam Malone and Diane Chambers, have the chance to continue evolving through their newfound relationship. But the relationship, like so many of the relationships in Cheers does not seem at all real. Diane constantly insults Sam and what she perceives as his lack of intelligence and Sam constantly makes excuses to stay in a relationship with her, without any real “hook” to keep him there. The result is a season that transforms a marginally interesting repartee between the two characters from the first season into a senseless conflict that is prolonged until the inevitable resolution at the end of the season.

Immediately following the kiss between Sam and Diane in Sam’s office, the two decide to consummate their relationship. Diane, however, does not want to be another of Sam’s “conquests” and she makes him work for her. Committing to an actual relationship, Sam and Diane leave the patrons of Cheers utterly unsurprised, though Carla is (of course) annoyed. While they work on their relationship, they have to deal with Carla having her baby, Cliff falling for Carla’s sister, the return of Diane’s homicidal blind date (from a single episode in season 1) who now wants to be an actor, and Sumner returning to cause tension between Sam and Diane.

But Sumner is not the only one who creates issues between the couple. Dave, Sam’s broadcaster friend, predicts the two will break up within twenty-four hours of his appearance and Sam and Diane themselves challenge the relationship with differing views on “fate” and free will. Norm works to find work, which becomes problematic for Sam when Sam hires him to be the accountant for the bar and is convinced Norm is incompetent when he gets a $15,000 refund. Cliff is bullied by another patron and Coach takes on a little league team. Sam comes to Carla’s aid when Nick remarries and his relationship with Diane is challenged when a pretentious artist wants to paint Diane, even though he is convinced it will make Sam jealous.

In addition to a basic sense of discontinuity between the characters (why Cliff, for example, keeps coming back to Cheers when no one there really seems to like him outside Norm and why Sam wants to stick with Diane after they have sex, especially as she continues to insult him, makes no sense), the second season of Cheers suffers on DVD when one watches the episodes back to back because some of the episodes resolve with Sam and Diane essentially broken up, but with them fine by the very next episode (“Old Flames,” “How Do I Love Thee? . . . Let Me Call You Back,” and especially “Fortune And Men’s Weight”). This makes a serialized relationship fit the increasingly silly episodic format, which is hard to reconcile when one watches the DVDs.

Still, Cheers in its second season has some interesting characters and the primary characters for this season include:

Sam Malone – He eagerly leaps into a relationship with Diane, even when it makes their work life difficult. He reads War And Peace to try to impress Sumner when Sumner returns and stops into the bar. He has a conflict with Dave over his relationship with Diane and he tries to fool Diane into believing he is not going off for his yearly ski weekend when Carla outs him. He tries to have a painting of Diane made, but it comes out horribly, which sets up a big conflict between the two,

Diane Chambers – Refusing to be used by Sam just for sex, she gets into a relationship with Sam. She attempts to leave Cheers, but finds the work environment terrible and even coaches the killer she went on a blind date the prior season with his acting after he tries to stick up the bar. She ghostwrites Sam’s autobiography and keeps Sam in check when a patron wills everyone in the bar $100,000 (which needs to be evenly divides). She encourages separation at times with Sam to be sure the relationship is right and is intrigued when a famous artist wants to paint her,

Carla – She has her baby, while her sister covers for her. She gets jealous when Nick gets remarried and uses Sam to make him jealous in return. She continues to antagonize Cliff,

Coach – He shows up and is a dimwit. He acts as a third wheel during a phase of Sam and Diane’s relationship when things are going well and is set up with a woman from the bank he goes to. His worst elements are brought out when he coaches a little league team and learns a horrible truth about his dead wife when one of his old friends dies,

Cliff Clavin – He falls for Carla’s sister when Carla is out having her baby and it falls to Norm the unfortunate duty of informing him that Carla’s sister has been getting around the bar. He is bullied and claims to know karate to get out of fighting, which leads him to more aggravation. Otherwise, he shows up and is a know-it-all,

Norm Peterson – Still out of work, he and Vera split up and he is shocked when Vera starts dating pretty quickly. He wrestles a former rival for Vera’s affection and gladly accepts Cliff’s offer for money and Sam’s offer for a job when they come up. After reconciling with Vera, he considers cheating when a new client digs him. Otherwise, he just comes to the bar and drinks a lot, though he and Cliff build their friendship up.

On the acting front, Ted Danson and Shelley Long seem completely comfortable in this season as Sam Malone and Diane Chambers. While their lines seldom make sense for two people in an actual relationship, Danson and Long have decent chemistry. Outside them, the other three regulars – Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, and John Ratzenberger – do nothing with their characters (save Ratzenberger getting the chance to do some physical comedy and Perlman doing a single episode acting meek as her character’s sister) that they did not do in the first season.

In fact, on the acting front, it is Nicholas Colasanto as Coach who has the most to do in his role. Experimenting with Coach as more than just a dimwit by having him be an actual coach and a lonely widower, Colasanto actually makes Coach an empathetic character at moments in the second season of Cheers and he shows growth as an actor.

Still, the second season of Cheers is hardly compelling or audacious television, making it a tougher to recommend with any enthusiasm.


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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