Monday, January 28, 2013

Dragging On (Despite The Funniest Episode Of The Series), Cheers Season Ten Flounders.

The Good: Finale, Moments of character
The Bad: Very predictable, repetitive plots, No real acting challenges, Fails to fundamentally alter the characters.
The Basics: In its tenth season, Cheers begins to rely more upon guest star power after doing away with its main, lingering, preposterous plot point.

I feel for the long-running television shows. I honestly do: the producers and writers are stuck, usually contractually obligated, to continue a series after they have explored the vast majority of things they already wanted to do with their characters. After some point, long-running sitcoms start to mirror life: the characters just continue doing what they always did, with only minor variations. It is no surprise, then, that in its tenth season, Cheers did all it could to focus on the “new blood” of the cast – the characters of Rebecca Howe and Lilith Sternan-Crane – at the expense of some of the older characters, most notably Carla.

Cheers lopes through its tenth season unwilling to commit to the bombshell delivered in the last moments of Season Nine: that Sam and Rebecca decide to have a baby together, despite not being in love and not wanting a romantic relationship between them. Ironically, almost twenty years later, that was the concept behind Friends With Kids (reviewed here!), but the film at least committed to its own premise. Cheers refuses to. As a result, much of Season Ten of Cheers is just like the prior seasons . . . except that the viewer can see it all coming miles away now.

As a result, Cheers in its tenth season does what many shows have done since as they age past relevance: it relied upon awesome guest stars to make cameo appearances to keep the viewers hooked. In season ten of Cheers, there are noticeable (but otherwise pointless) appearances by John Kerry, Boston Celtic Kevin McHale, and Emma Thompson, among others. Ironically, as the most preposterous plot point is cut by midseason (that of Sam and Rebecca deciding to reproduce together), the show becomes more outlandish with the ridiculous ideas – the revelation that Frasier was married before, Rebecca’s gay friend from college (who is clearly out to everyone but her), and Cliff going off to The Tonight Show where Norm bribes a cue card writer into getting Cliff’s joke on the air.

The essentials of Cheers are the same for the tenth season. Most of the season – with the notable exceptions of the road trip episode and the hilarious season finale in the mansion of Kelly’s father – takes place in the Boston bar, Cheers. There, the characters interact and have capers, most of which are comparatively minor in season ten. In the tenth season, the principle characters are:

Sam – Determined to have a child, he decides to have one with Rebecca, but becomes uncharacteristically worried about his performance. He comes to believe he is shooting blanks when he cannot seem to get Rebecca pregnant. Bored by Cliff and Norm on the cross-country trip, he falls asleep at the wheel stranding the guys in the middle of nowhere! On Halloween, he and Gary go to extremes to prank one another and Gary successfully makes him believe that Gary is dead, forcing him to face mortality for the first time. He gives up the idea of having a baby with Rebecca and hangs out with Frasier, Lilith, and Frederick more. His car is temporarily stolen, which leads him to form a support group, and he gets the most delicious revenge on his friends who pranked him, at exceptional personal expense. This season, he also cracks a tooth and tries to sue John Hill and he has his last shot at pitching with the Boston farm team,

Rebecca – After sleeping on the desire to have a child with Sam, she wants to have an experience with Sam that they can tell their children about. She and Sam babysit Carla’s children, which turns out to be a nightmare for them and she carries an egg around for a week to prove she can be responsible. She screws up renewing the bar’s liquor license, discovers her best friend in the world is gay, and sends Cliff to his career doom as a stand-up comedian on open mike night,

Carla – Is “converted” to a psychic when Madame LaZora retires and is horrified when she learns that the psychic business is a racket. On Elivis’s birthday, she looks for a sign from “The King,” and she has an unlikely affair . . . with John Hill from upstairs! Otherwise, she shows up, makes wisecracks and serves drinks,

Woody – Gets a terrible review for his performance in Arsenic And Old Lace in the newspaper and he works twice as hard to improve the next night. He finally goes toe to toe with Henri and, in the process, definitively wins the heart of Kelly. He gives Sam a terrible haircut, has a European trip that makes him into a snob, and pops the question to Kelly. He and Kelly marry at the climax of the season,

Frasier – Counsels Sam when he is impotent in preparation of having relations with Rebecca. He tries to get in touch with his “inner hairy man” and decides to go on a journey across the country. At Lilith’s insistence, he writes a will, which horrifies him and makes him take stock of his life. He tries to get in shape (and fails) and encounters his ex-wife, who is now a children’s performance artist. He bears Lilith’s mother, runs with Frederick and Lilith at the first sign that Gary’s has been bought by a mobster, and fails to take care of Lilith’s prized rat, earning her ire,

Lilith – Counsels Rebecca on how to keep Sam interested during their attempts at conception, inadvertently giving her the opposite advice Frasier gave Sam! Becomes upset by Norm overstaying his welcome at their house after he is injured there. She gets a perm that looks absolutely terrible as Frasier asks her to change her hair. She struggles with her mother and is the only one in the world who actually finds Cliff’s brand of humor hilarious. She displays incredible performing talents at Woody’s wedding,

Cliff – Is surprised when Margaret returns and his mother negotiates for him and Margaret to marry. He tries to do something nice for Paul when Paul complains about how he and Norm leave him out of everything. He provides the car for the cross-country trip Frasier wants to go on. He tries his hand at stand-up comedy and attempts to write a joke that might get on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and is shocked when his mom makes it on the air,

And Norm – He gets the Cranes to pay him $400 to paint their living room. When he gets upset at Frasier quoting PBS to him, he hurts his back when Frasier falls on him. He eats the pizza and cake Cliff gets for Paul. He finds the resort nearby when Cliff’s car breaks down on the cross-country trip. Otherwise, he just shows up.

The tenth season has all of the actors locked firmly in their characters, with no real chances to shine as far as performance goes. Consistency is the hallmark of season ten. Actually, the shock on the acting front comes from Bebe Neuwirth. Neuwirth, who embodied Lilith as cold and methodical for years is given much more material in Season Ten. Unfortunately, this puts her in a number of situations where Neuwirth is exposed to a lot more humor (peripherally) and the actress, who I have always had the utmost regard for, breaks frequently. She has hints of smiles and she laughs with her eyes far more frequently than her cold character is supposed to and that is surprising.

It should be noted that the best episode of the series, the two-part season finale that takes place at Woody’s wedding is in this season. Otherwise, it is just another season of Cheers.

For other seasons of Cheers, please visit my reviews of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7
Season 8
Season 9


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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