Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A “Classic,” Perhaps. Cheers The Complete Series Ages Poorly.

The Good: Moments of character, Moments of humor, Moments of performance
The Bad: Diane Chambers is just horrible, No decent “complete series” DVD package, Humor becomes very predictable and repetitive.
The Basics: In Cheers, Sam Malone runs the Boston bar Cheers for years with some consistent help and customers, but varying love interests.

The prevalence of cable television and streaming video has made assembling a permanent video library more of a discriminating process than ever before. Because such a vast number of television shows are available instantly (or near enough), it is hard to reasonably expect people to shell out good money on Complete Series DVD sets these days. The truly essential television shows, the ones one might want to watch over and over and over again for one’s entire life, are the ones that ought to be added to one’s personal library. Given my (and my wife’s) love of Frasier, I thought it was about time for me to go back and watch Cheers from start to finish. The relationship between Cheers and Frasier is one of the rare occasions where the spin-off is superior to the original source material.

The bottomline for the series is that Cheers is largely enjoyable, but ages poorly and has some problematic aspects that rob it of being as engaging as many people recall it as being. Despite my love of Frasier, I opted not to add Cheers to my permanent library for the simple reason that it was far more erratic and average in its quality than its spinoff. This is a remarkably formulaic sitcom and while many of the characters or lines are interesting, the character growth is incredibly slow (or, with some characters, nonexistent). The plots quickly become repetitive and while the series does some wonderful things in its later seasons, it becomes very easy to predict the jokes. The series, as it progresses, ventures from the unpleasant stringing along/obnoxiousness of the Sam and Diane relationship and into a series where the humor is telegraphed, but the characters are likable and familiar.

The complete series of Cheers is eleven seasons and the show evolves, with radically variable quality to the different seasons. The complete series is a bundle pack, not a singular boxed set. As a result, Cheers The Complete Series is a simple bundle pack of the original DVD boxed sets of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7
Season 8
Season 9
Season 10
Season 11

There are no additional discs or bonus features in the Complete Series bundle pack.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Cheers follows the exploits of Sam Malone, an ex-Red Sox baseball player and recovering alcoholic. He owns and runs the Boston bar Cheers. As the head bartender, he serves a wide variety of people, like the regulars Norm (an erratically employed man who avoids his wife by spending every possible moment at the end of the bar) and Cliff (a postal worker who is a classic know-it-all). Friend to his head waitress, the oft-pregnant Carla, he seems to have a good thing going. Then, one day, a graduate student walks into the bar. Diane Chambers is abandoned in Cheers by the professor for whom she was a teaching assistant and Sam offers her a job, which she reluctantly takes.

After sparring almost constantly, Sam and Diane develop a romantic relationship, but the relationship is fraught with serious difficulties, including Diane leaving Sam (and swearing never to return to Cheers) and Sam falling off the wagon as a result. The two find their way back to one another in the wake of Sam’s Coach’s death, but even that stage of their relationship fizzles as Diane almost marries her psychologist and then leaves Sam to pursue her writing career.

In the wake of Diane’s more final departure, Sam sells the bar, buys a boat and starts to sail around the world. When his boat sinks, he finds himself back at Cheers where he begins working for the corporate parents who bought the bar, including its sycophantic mouthpiece Rebecca Howe. Rebecca has a very different relationship, initially, with Sam, as she is eager to marry someone rich and powerful to help advance her career.

Eventually, though, as Sam pursues one bad relationship after another, he and Rebecca actually become very real friends, even considering having a child with one another. But, as is the case with largely episodic television, the more things change, the more Cheers stays the same.

Cheers is largely known, even now, for its memorable characters. The primary characters throughout the eleven years of Cheers include:

Sam Malone – Ex-Red Sox pitcher (who was never very good), now a recovering alcoholic and the bartender of Cheers. He is a constant womanizer who finds himself personally and professionally challenged by Diane Chambers. Despite dalliances with other women and being deeply hurt by Diane, through her and the way she treats him, he comes to realize his one true love: Cheers,

Carla – The barmaid who is likely the most fertile woman on the planet. She is acerbic, perpetually poor, and quick-witted. She loathes Cliff, Diane, and even working at Cheers . . . but being there is preferable to being at home with her children! She has an on-again, off-again relationship with the father of most of her kids (Nick Tortelli), marries an ice hockey player, and becomes a psychic for hire,

Norm – The accountant who loses his job, discovers much more happiness as a painter and interior decorator, and spends most of his life on a stool at the end of the bar,

Cliff Clavin – A postal worker who lives with his mother, he spouts inane trivia constantly and earns the wrath of Carla because he seldom shuts up. He is lonely, Norm’s best friend, and attempts to become a stand-up comedian and comedy writer in his later years,

Diane Chambers (seasons 1 – 5) – The perky graduate student who seems to have had almost every liberal arts subject as her focus for her graduate work at one time or another. She is haughty and enjoys flaunting her intelligence to Sam, usually ridiculing him for his vanity while showcasing her booksmarts. Despite her sense of superiority, she falls in love with Sam until she has the chance to pursue a real writing career,

Coach (seasons 1 – 3) – The dimwitted assistant bartender, he is Sam’s former pitching coach. An idiot on account of letting himself get hit in the head with baseballs, he seldom had any clue what was going on, though there were times he was the wisest man at Cheers,

Dr. Frasier Crane – (seasons 3 – 11) – An eminent psychotherapist, he counsels Diane when she has a nervous breakdown following leaving Cheers and Sam. He begins to counsel Sam and after an unfortunate affair with Diane that leaves him left at the altar, he continues to frequent Cheers. He forms a difficult relationship with the seemingly frigid Dr. Lilith Sternan, whom he grows to love. He and Lilith get married, have a son, and he is ultimately left heartbroken by her to pursue an entirely new life in Seattle,

Woody Boyd (seasons 4 – 11) – The protégé (actually pen pal) of Coach, he is a naïve farmboy from Indiana. He replaces Coach and works at Cheers almost in homage to Coach. Eventually, he falls in love with an upper class woman named Kelly who is his match in (lack of) intelligence and he manages to effectively woo her,

Rebecca Howe (seasons 6 – 11) – The business manager of Cheers who later stays on, even though Carla (and others) cannot figure out what she actually does around the bar. She is a career-oriented woman and wants to attract and marry anyone who is rich and powerful, from Evan Drake (an executive in the parent company that buys Cheers) to Robin Colcord (a billionaire businessman who happens to visit Cheers and forges a relationship with her). After a while, she and Sam consider having a child together, despite being friends and never having a serious romantic relationship, but when they revert to their true natures, they return to being pals,

and Dr. Lilith Sternan-Crane – Seemingly ice cold, she is the intellectual match of Dr. Frasier Crane and despite their initial loathing of one another, she melts for him. She consents to a relationship with Frasier, marries him, and has Frederick, before straying.

Cheers is largely episodic, though there are some serialized arcs and elements. Usually, each season sees a fundamental reboot of one form or another (one of the later scenes, for example, begins almost every episode on the street above the bar, another has a noticeable increase in trips in cars) with the main reboots in the early seasons having to do with the relationship of Sam and Diane either being on or off again.

While the characters on Cheers range from the objectively unlikable (Diane and Carla) to the mediocre (Norm is exceptionally well-written for one-liners, but that is really all there is to him), the series has fairly impressive acting. Cheers made household names of Ted Danson, Shelley Long (who never found success of this kind after leaving the show!), Woody Harrelson, and Kelsey Grammer. Cheers was a great launching point for their careers and now, it is fun to go back and see some of the guest stars the series managed to land – Kate Mulgrew, John Kerry, Tip O’Neil, and a number of sports stars appear on the show.

But, for all the fun of Cheers it is far more the archetype of the sitcom than a clever, defining work. It quickly becomes repetitive and some of the continuity issues are painful when one sits and watches the show in short order. But, Cheers is not bad, though it is more of a nostalgic trip than an essential sitcom one might want to own.

For other shows that air(ed) on NBC, please check out my reviews of:
30 Rock – Season 1
The West Wing
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
Homicide: Life On The Streets
V - The Television Series
Star Trek


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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