Tuesday, March 12, 2013

End Low: Cheers The Final (Eleventh) Season Is More Unmemorable Than It Is Bad.

The Good: Moments of character, A few interesting plot developments
The Bad: Largely unmemorable and not as funny as prior seasons, No incredible performances, Very forced finale premise.
The Basics: In its final season, Cheers resolves many of the character’s conflicts and sets up Frasier well.

When a long-running television show moves toward its inevitable end, it is interesting to see how the producers and writers deal with that. With a heavily-serialized show like Babylon 5 or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the final season is a chance to ramp up the story before bringing it to a strong, clear end. In the case of a sitcom, it is often harder to make a powerful ending that leaves viewers satisfied. In the case of Cheers, the final season did not have many plot threads to resolve, so it had to make new plots and its inevitable series finale transitioned between a “big, bold exit” and a “business as usual” ending which ended up feeling very much like what it was: a series finale.

Leading up to the series finale, Cheers continues with the usual antics of the regulars at the Boston bar “where everybody knows your name.” As a result of the steady, familiar formula for most of the season, the finale’s inclusion of Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers for one last Sam and Diane jerkaround is all the more unfortunate. As it stands, most of the season manages to focus on Frasier Crane (to set-up Frasier remarkably well) and Woody Boyd (in fact, it is almost surprising that there was never a Woody spin-off).

Returning from Woody’s wedding to Kelly at the climax of the tenth season (reviewed here!), Rebecca returns to Cheers and accidentally burns down the bar when her cigarette ignites the garbage in Sam’s office’s garbage can. When the cause of the accident is determined and Sam’s insurance will not cover it, Sam is absolutely furious, but he takes her back anyway. After the grand reopening of Cheers (which is complicated by most of the patrons spending time at the new restaurant Carla is working at and ignoring the festivities), life quickly returns to normal. While Rebecca works to quit smoking, Frasier’s world is rocked when Lilith has an affair on him and then she goes to work in a self-contained ecopod underground with the audacious scientist with whom she had an affair.

As the year goes on, Frasier adapts to being a single parent and Rebecca tries to woo the plumber working at Cheers. And when Frasier gets disgusted at the electorate, he gets Woody to run for City Council and when a scandal rocks his opponent, Woody actually wins. Woody’s election changes things for Norm, but none of the changes are as significant as the one that happens when Diane Chambers wins a Cable Television writer’s award and she and Sam reunite, prompting Sam to prepare to leave Cheers once again and run off with Diane.

The series finale of Cheers is something of an anticlimax after the way Diane Chambers was effectively written out of the series at the end of the fifth season of Cheers (reviewed here!). In fact, the melancholy moments of the aged Sam and Diane and Diane leaving, claiming to return in six months, is gutted by her return for the final (triple-long) episode. It feels like an unnecessary write-off to a relationship that is so very, completely, utterly dead that it did not need to be exhumed only to be buried again.

That said, the rest of the season is fair, but nothing extraordinary. Like most of the prior seasons, Season 11 of Cheers has the gang going through a combination of ridiculous hyjinx and realistic situations that, because of the character’s strengths or weaknesses lead to hilarious results. Lilith returns to being a (surprisingly brief) recurring guest star after a single season as a regular castmember. For the final season, the characters of Cheers are:

Sam Malone – He continues running Cheers and bartending after Rebecca burns down the bar and he has it rebuilt. He has to woo Carla back from a restaurant that pays her better and where she gets great tips to return to Cheers. One of his Red Sox games is replayed, which has the potential to seriously embarrass him with the patrons of Cheers. When he and Diane reunite, they plan to marry, which forces Sam to consider his greatest love,

Rebecca Howe – Accidentally burns down the bar and then continues her quest to land a rich husband. When Robin returns, she believes he must still have millions stashed around, but he is actually enlightened and leaves her again. She is surprised when a plumber draws her attention and she decides to run off with him,

Carla – Leaves a high-paying waitress job to return to Cheers when a Diane-like waitress begins working there. She uses Cheers as the site for her daughter to get married and says goodbye to Nick one last time,

Cliff – Comes to believe Hitler is alive and well and living in his apartment complex. He tries to stand by the woman he loves when she returns from Canada, pregnant, but leaps at leaving her when the child turns out to not be his,

Frasier – Is left by Lilith and he tries to make things work (briefly),

Woody – Converts to a minorly different denomination after he and Kelly fight during their entire honeymoon. He witlessly runs for City Council and wins,

And Norm – After an audit from the I.R.S. that almost makes him unfaithful to Vera, he gets a job from Woody after Woody gets elected to City Council.

All of the performers know their beats perfectly and by this point, they are simply playing to their strengths as opposed to illustrating excessive range. Fans of Frasier are bound to be thrilled by John Mahoney and Peri Gilpin showing up for guest starring roles in episodes in this season. Other guest stars – recurring in prior seasons – like Roger Rees and Dan Hedaya make enjoyable appearances that give fans a thrill, but largely the show is winding down for the entire season before its unfortunate ending.

Cheers in its final season is not bad, but not great or overly memorable, but it is the end of the show (save one episode of Frasier) and that’s about all viewers can ask for at this point.

For other final season reviews, please check out my takes on:
Frasier - Season 11
NewsRadio - Season 5
Friends - Season 10


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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