Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cheers Becomes Enjoyable And Watchable Again In Cheers Season 6!

The Good: Funny, Good character development, Nice shake-up of the plot formula
The Bad: No remarkable performances, Does not use the full cast all that well.
The Basics: Replacing Shelley Long’s Diane with Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca Howe makes Cheers worth watching again!

Cheers had a big schism after its fifth season, as Shelley Long left the series. As one of the two top-billed stars of the show, the producers were probably freaked out about the viability of the show. And yet, their decision to replace Long with Kirstie Alley, whose major prior work was Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (reviewed here!) paid off as she prolonged the show’s run for six years. Her debut season, the sixth season of Cheers, shook up the familiar formula of the sitcom.

Most notable in the sixth season of Cheers is the way the show shakes up the familiar format of the show. More than any prior season, the sixth season of Cheers has the characters appearing in places outside of the bar. In addition to the familiar set piece of Cheers (where the manager’s office has now been repainted!), characters visit a cruise ship, an airplane, Gary’s Hometown Tavern, and Mr. Drake’s mansion, among others.

The sixth season of Cheers opens well after Diane Chambers left to finish the novel she was working on. With that project a flop, she headed out to Hollywood to write for television and, in the process, left Sam alone and distraught. Sam, in turn, sold Cheers to a major corporation run by Evan Drake and used the money for a boat which he intended to sail around the world. Instead, Sam’s boat sank in the Caribbean and he returns to Boston to try to get his old life back. Finding Cheers looking and feeling more like a corporate entity, he butts heads with Rebecca Howe, the new, cold, efficient manager of Cheers. After begging for his job back, Sam slowly begins eroding façade of Rebecca Howe.

It is a season of marriages – Carla and hockey player Eddie Lebeck tie the knot, as do Frasier Crane and Lilith Sternan – and the big romantic obsession for the season is not, in fact, Sam pursuing Rebecca. Instead, Rebecca makes it clear that Sam has no attraction to her because her gaze is locked on the wealthy Evan Drake and she goes to pieces whenever he appears in the bar or at a function she attends for the company. While Sam hits on her relentlessly for sex, the two actually develop a friendship that has Sam forced to acknowledge that he wants to be a better person at the season’s climax!

Of course, the largely episodic nature of Cheers, along with the larger cast, means quite a bit more goes on in the sixth season. In this season of Cheers, the main arcs for the primary characters include:

Sam Malone – With Diane gone pursuing her television writing career, he buys a boat, sails around until it sinks and returns to Cheers. After begging for his job back from Rebecca, he betrays Rebecca for an attempt to be on I On Sports, which he performs horribly at. He trades pulling off the wedding reception for Carla and Eddie for getting rid of the uniforms Rebecca had the staff wearing! He is hired by Evan Drake to be a ringer for the company softball team, even though he thinks he is being made an executive based on his talents. He realizes that he cannot simply take sexual advantage of Rebecca, especially when her heart is broken,

Rebecca Howe – Brutally efficient, she is the frequently dispassionate new manager of Cheers. Ordered by the corporate parents who bought the bar to take Sam back, she reluctantly complies. She has a crush on Mr. Drake, the owner of the company that bought Cheers. She uses Cheers to put on a bachelor auction and, to try to break the record, has Woody enter it. When she learns Mr. Drake is separated from his wife, she humiliates herself by throwing herself at him at a party. She begins smoking from the stress of the bar and promises Sam that she will sleep with him if she smokes again! She accidentally breaks a priceless vase at her employer's home when catering a party. To keep the bar profitable, she goes on a date with a restaurant critic who extorts her. She learns of a bet between Woody and Sam to kiss her and manipulates that situation to her benefit. After cunningly avoiding giving any of her workers raises, she decides to tell Evan Drake her true feelings for him,

Carla – Having drifted apart from Eddie Lebec, she is carrying his child and is surprised when he proposed to her! She is pleasantly surprised when Eddie wants her to quit working! But, when he loses his job with the hockey team, she returns to Cheers and continues to wait. He becomes a penguin for a traveling ice show. When her son gets his girlfriend pregnant, she goes into old grandmother mode, which prompts her friends to throw a slumber party for her,

Woody - Gets an apartment in Chinatown and slowly begins learning Chinese. After getting bid on in the bachelor auction by a real maneater, he auditions for a play. In his make-up for Mark Twain, he befriends an elderly widow. He appears as an extra in Spencer For Hire and makes friends with Robert Urich, despite no one else believing him. He comes up with the idea for a raffle at Cheers in order to get the bar back in the red when Rebecca gives him a title bump over a raise. He remains pretty naïve,

Frasier - Despite being attracted to Rebecca, he proposed to Lilith. He follows Sam and Lilith up to a romantic getaway after Lilith bids on Sam in the bachelor auction. With his practice wearing upon him, he and Lilith go on vacation. After a terrible bachelor party, he still marries Lilith. He talks to Sam about a patient, but Sam goes out with his pyromaniac patient accidentally. He works to help Carla out with her fear of flying on an airplane. He buys Lilith a painting for their one month anniversary that she does not want. Despite major life events with Lilith, he is relegated to more of a supporting character this season,

Cliff - He continues to live with his mother and is reticent to signing a petition to protect their house. He moves in with Norm after he and his mother sell her house. Much to Norm's chagrin, he buys a condo and moves out. He actually starts dating when he buys his condo, but loses her when she visits the bar! He sells everyone in the bar otherwise well-made shoes that squeak. He continues to be the brunt of Carla’s jokes, though he has more comebacks this season,

and Norm - When his bar bill gets too high, Rebecca cuts him off and he paints her office and house, in the process discovering she is a nice person. When he's painting Evan Drake's house, Rebecca visits and he gets stuck in the closet, forcing him to concoct more elaborate reasons why he must return to the house! His marriage to Vera remains uncomplicated this season.

On the acting front, the sixth season of Cheers is good, but unremarkable. The real story is how well Kirstie Alley fits in with the otherwise solid cast and the truth is, she is an amazing fit. Alley plays Rebecca as a fun-to-watch mix of efficient and business smart and emotionally vulnerable/almost crazy, a combination that had not been so effectively performed on television since Loretta Swit’s portrayal of Houlihan on M*A*S*H. Alley managed to play the efficient nature of Rebecca as very different from her Vulcan character from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and that makes it much easier to buy her emotional fragility in the scenes where she is flustered over her horrible love life.

But, more than anything, Cheers Season Six is a strong step up from the prior season of the show, which was far more annoying than interesting. Between the producers moving more episodes and scenes out of the familiar, static set of Cheers and Kirstie Alley becoming a delightful new element to the tried-and-true chemistry of the show, the sixth season of Cheers is once more enjoyable to watch!

For prior seasons of Cheers, please check out my reviews of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5


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.
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