Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re continuing our coverage of the best episodes from Cheers (1982-1993), one of the most consistently written situation comedies of all time and second only to I Love Lucy as my personal favorite. I’m pleased to announce that every episode has been released on DVD.
The staff and regular patrons of a neighborhood Boston bar share the highs and lows of their daily lives. Cheers stars TED DANSON as Sam Malone, KIRSTIE ALLEY as Rebecca Howe, RHEA PERLMAN as Carla Tortelli, JOHN RATZENBERGER as Cliff Clavin, GEORGE WENDT as Norm Peterson, WOODY HARRELSON as Woody Boyd, BEBE NEUWIRTH as Dr. Lilith Sternin-Crane, ROGER REES as Robin Colcord, and KELSEY GRAMMER as Dr. Frasier Crane.
My overall reaction to this year has always been unenthusiastic, but unlike Season Six (for instance), my opinion has actually gotten less favorable over time, particularly when viewed in a big picture context (as good seasons pale when compared to great seasons). However, I don’t think mine is a popular response for two reasons. The first is, with its year long story arc involving Rebecca and Robin Colcord, Season Eight is probably the most focused of Alley’s tenure, making it easy to watch and digest. The show is telling a complete story this season (well, two stories, because Sam’s mission to regain ownership of the bar is a runner throughout the year as well), and this concentrated plotting is inherently appealing. And yet, while narrative concentration helped infuse the early seasons with a special tension-building charm, Season Eight’s focus doesn’t do the comedy any favors, and it’s because Robin Colcord, while not humorously depleted like Evan Drake, is completely unlikable from start to finish (regardless of how charming and talented the late Roger Rees has otherwise proven himself). And because we don’t care about Robin, who stands in the way of a possible Sam/Rebecca relationship — and this is probably the year, by the very nature of Robin’s existence as a roadblock, where the show makes the two leads seem most poised for coupling — we also start to divest from Rebecca, whose millionaire-obsessed Season Eight characterization is an obvious attempt to balance the uptight portrayal of her first year with the looser, manic persona that dominated her second.
I recognize that the desire to combine Rebecca’s wildly different depictions is noble, and actually, good for story, but why, once again, are we looking to an outside source as the primary means of defining her character? (We already tried this in Season Six!) Last year came across so well because Rebecca was played almost entirely off members of the ensemble, where Alley could broaden her performance under the guise of the character’s growing friendships. (This closeness is why Rebecca and Sam had such chemistry in the year prior, while this season, although attempting to heighten their dynamic by keeping them distant, diminishes it — regardless of the fact that the arc demands a tryst in the final moments of the finale.) Of course, the other reason that Season Eight isn’t as unpopular with others as it is with me is obvious: Alley is in the middle of her comedic apex, and she can elevate a majority of the material she receives, so whatever storytelling shortcomings there exist on the page, her execution acts as a magical redeemer. But then again, mediocre scripts can only be elevated so often, and since the show — despite making her the center of the action — is forcing Rebecca into constructs in which she doesn’t belong (we saw this in Season Six and we’ll see it again in another upcoming season), the character enters a state of flux, where Alley is earning laughs, the characterization is motivated (most of the time), but her integration into the show is regressed. (Frasier had a similar effect on Diane; but Dr. Crane was a delectable presence, Robin isn’t.)
Yet, while Rebecca is largely responsible for informing my take on Season Six’s failings and Season Seven’s successes, she’s not culpable for the root problem plaguing the eighth season — which is that the individual scripts being crafted are not possessing the smarts of what we’ve seen before or the high-octane hilarity of what we’ll see in years to come (even when the storytelling issues are more drastic). So what’s different? The beats are more obvious, there are regular breakdowns in story logic, and the non-big-gag jokes aren’t as strong as they could be. More importantly, there are several episodes this season where the lack of brains within the script is shocking, making for some of the series’ worst offerings. (And this season may have more bombs than any other, because while the final three seasons are often described as broader and more farcical, they back up the heightened stories with big laughs and, in my estimation, a more consistent rationality than seen here.) The only pinpoint-able reason for this decline may be the departure of Casey, Lee, and Angell for Wings, which debuted midseason in January 1990. But this rationale doesn’t make complete sense because that trio actually left in the middle of the year prior, and the team behind Season Eight will essentially be the same in the much superior Season Nine (although the very funny duo of Staley and Long, who contribute one script this season, will be promoted to story editors). Regardless of explanation, Cheers is in a mini-dip that perhaps plagues every long-running series. Fortunately, for this show, a dip simply means that the usually high number of A episodes is replaced by offerings of a B+ variety, and as noted above, this’ll be improved next season.
So given all of the above, it’s no surprise that this was one of those years where I had only a handful of really great episodes that I knew merited inclusion (and for all my gripes, I have to note that there are several great showings among them), and then an abundance of offerings that I thought were good-but-not-great: passively enjoyable but flawed in some considerable way. As a result, the relationship between the slightly lesser selections on today’s list and the honorable mentions is less defined. (That’s what always happens in a lesser season.) But to give us some context, Cheers is still an excellent situation comedy with lowlights that would often be highlights on other weaker series, and while there are much finer years ahead (as the show enters what series director James Burrows refers to as Cheers‘ third era), there aren’t, in this TV season, finer shows. (And let’s note that Danson and Neuwirth both won Emmys for their work this year, with Danson also picking up a Golden Globe.) So, as always, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Eight. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) 18 of the 26 episodes are directed by James Burrows; the ones that aren’t will be noted below.
01) Episode 170: “The Improbable Dream (II)” (Aired: 09/28/89)
Sam dreams about Rebecca once she starts dating Robin Colcord.
Written by Cheri Eichen & Bill Steinkellner
It’s the two-part premiere that most structures Season Eight as being the year in which Sam and Rebecca will finally get together, even though there’s a big obstacle in the form of Robin Colcord (who, in the process, will not ratchet up the Sam/Rebecca tension, but actually hamper what had been building). But this, the second half of the opener, is easily very funny — much funnier than the sporty first half — and includes a handful of truly outstanding moments, like the unforgettable dream Sam has in which Rebecca peels off her face mask and reveals that she’s really Al (a.k.a. “the man who said Sinatra”), who has his last spoken lines. Meanwhile, Sam/Rebecca still have chemistry in this two-parter, and every member of the ensemble is decently used, making for a solid, if not spectacular, way to launch the season’s primary arc.
02) Episode 174: “The Stork Brings A Crane” (Aired: 11/02/89)
Lilith goes into labor as Cheers celebrates its centennial anniversary.
Written by David Lloyd | Directed by Andy Ackerman
Although this is a big event show, having to contend with the birth of Lilith and Frasier’s baby, David Lloyd’s script couches the development in a fun, more enjoyable premise that has the gang at Cheers discovering that the sign outside is wrong — they weren’t established in 1895, but 1889, meaning that this is their 100 year anniversary. The running gag of the barbershop quartet, along with the bit involving the dirty old man and Rebecca’s period-style attire all help to infuse the episode with a Duffy’s Tavern-esque old-fashioned quality (more on that series soon…) where the jokes are a laugh-a-minute. And with the connections to the city’s history (not to mention an appearance by the mayor), this offering feels like a true Boston outing. So in spite of the Frasier/Lilith baby drama, which doesn’t quite work, the show ends up a winner.
03) Episode 175: “Death Takes A Holiday On Ice” (Aired: 11/09/89)
Eddie’s bizarre death isn’t the biggest surprise in store for Carla.
Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Jay Thomas’ Eddie was reportedly written out at Perlman’s request after the actor jokingly made some unkind remarks about his TV wife during a radio broadcast. Although I’m not sure if that rumor is completely true, the series is actually benefited from his departure, for Carla, now a widow after Eddie’s freak Zamboni accident, has a lot more interesting stories to play (especially because tragedy is the undercurrent of her personality) and it should be said that this installment kicks off one of her best seasons on the show, where every story that she anchors actually works. And this episode, which could have easily been somber, is turned into an uproarious, broad farce as Carla learns at the funeral that Eddie was a bigamist with another family — and wife — about which she knew nothing. It’s a hilarious development and the funeral sequence, which turns into a full-scale brawl, is campy fun.
04) Episode 176: “For Real Men Only” (Aired: 11/16/89)
Frasier and the guys struggle with Freddie’s upcoming bris.
Written by David Pollock & Elias Davis
There are a lot of memorable laughs in this installment and that’s why it’s earned its place on today’s list. However, this was still one of several thats existence here was long in contention, particularly because I think the script is a jumbled mess of big laughs superimposed on top of a disappointing story about Frasier’s baby being circumcised. In fact, the story is so comedically unsatisfying that the freelance script (by two writers whom you’ve seen on several other shows we’ve covered here) essentially becomes a barrage of jokes on the subject, never really connecting in a meaningful way to the premise. However, credit must be given when its due: the Rebecca subplot is enjoyable and is wisely converged with the bris, so as to make the script a bit more cohesive than it would otherwise seem. A favorite to some — not quite to me.
05) Episode 177: “Two Girls For Every Boyd” (Aired: 11/23/89)
Woody has problems with a play and the men of Cheers have a beard contest.
Written by Dan O’Shannon & Tom Anderson
Friends fans will undoubtedly delight in seeing a young Lisa Kudrow as Woody’s love interest in the play for which he is chosen as the lead. The play is Our Town, one of the most seminal works of the American theatre and possibly my favorite dramatic piece (a fact that no doubt slightly influences my decision to include this episode here on today’s list). The simplicity of Wilder’s play is a perfect fit for the simplicity of Cheers‘ style of comedy, so it’s an appropriate choice for this story and for Woody, whose decision to start acting (in Season Six) opened up so many new stories for him. Meanwhile, this installment boasts one of the funniest subplots of the entire series as the men of Cheers have a beard growing contest, complete with individual challenges. It’s hysterical, and more importantly, this is a script that I don’t think is of a lesser quality.
06) Episode 178: “The Art Of The Steal” (Aired: 11/30/89)
Sam and Rebecca are trapped by the security system in Robin Colcord’s house.
Written by Sue Herring
I’m sure this episode will appeal to fans of the Sam/Rebecca pairing, for this story bonds them closer together as almost the entirety of the second act finds the two trapped alone together in Robin’s apartment (with laser beams shooting around the room, necessitating careful maneuvering). The truth is that their material isn’t particularly hysterical and Sam’s continued pursuit of Rebecca (which drives him over to Robin’s in the first place) is growing tiresome. Instead, this episode works because of the camaraderie existing between Rebecca and Carla, who gives her boss advice on how to turn on Robin. Their scenes contain the episode’s best laughs, and the bit with the men playing Monopoly (substituting other game pieces) is strong as well, and serves as a more comedic companion to the primary plot, which, because Robin never appears, is one of Sam/Rebecca’s best.
07) Episode 182: “What Is . . . Cliff Clavin?” (Aired: 01/18/90)
While Sam has blackbook troubles, Cliff is selected to compete on Jeopardy!
Written by Dan O’Shannon & Tom Anderson | Directed by Andy Ackerman
Sitcom characters going on game shows, real or fictional, is such an easy gimmick, and we’ve seen it on everything from The Odd Couple to Mama’s Family (well, we’ll see it next month, anyway) because the laughs are mined from the juxtaposition of an off-beat character with a strict set of rules. In other words, there’s a structure already in place, needing only a character to fill out the comedy. This offering isn’t different than any other in the genre, and like so many, it works because the laughs are substantive. Cliff going on Jeopardy! is a hilarious premise in itself, and the gigantic lead he gains over the competitors serves as a nice build to his inevitable fall, when he incorrectly poses a question about the original names of Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, and Joan Crawford as “Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?” It’s hilarious, it’s unique, and it makes the episode worthy of being the year’s MVE. Classic and favorite.
08) Episode 183: “Finally! (I)” (Aired: 01/25/90)
Rebecca readies herself for what may be her first sexual encounter with Robin.
Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
After a half season of Rebecca going gaga over Robin Colcord without sharing any physical intimacy (I guess Backseat Becky was out of practice), this episode benefits from its natural crescendo, in which the billionaire-chasing screw-up finally gets her man. The scene in which Rebecca returns to work the morning after her liaison is a tour de force for Alley, whose dreamily relaxed aura is a visible difference from the uptight neuroses that had previously defined the character (and will actually continue to do so for the rest of the run). There are some nice laughs throughout the episode, but that moment alone makes the whole installment worthwhile, for it gives the audience something its been wanting and delivers it comedically.
09) Episode 184: “Finally! (II)” (Aired: 02/01/90)
Sam struggles with his conscience after spying Robin out with another woman.
Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Regular readers know how much harder it is for half of a two-parter to make one of my lists, not to mention both parts (which is a rarity). But although the above episode is more valuable than this one, the scripting is still consistent with regards to the comedy, and it does feel like a seamless continuation from what came before. The conflict is structured entirely around Sam and the information he’s learned about Robin Colcord’s infidelity, but once again, this two-parter is really about Alley’s Rebecca, and the final scene in the bar, in which her resolve to reject Robin is hampered by a shiny new piece of jewelry he presents her is divinely sharp. (Her mouthing of “it’s gorgeous” is a highlight.) Solid extension of the strong episode above.
10) Episode 191: “The Ghost And Mrs. LeBec” (Aired: 04/12/90)
Carla seeks help when she’s haunted by images of Eddie.
Written by Dan Staley & Rob Long
Ted Danson only appears in this episode’s cold open and Sam’s absence is the offering’s only major disappointment, but we can’t begrudge the actor a week off. Actually, the show, now a true ensemble, goes fine without him. In fact, this is a wonderful outing, reconciling the drama present in Carla’s arc as a widow, as she’s haunted by images of her late hockey player husband after attempting to re-enter the dating scene, with the comedy that comes from the seance with Madame Lazora, Carla’s “spiritualist,” played hilariously by Georgia Brown. The script, by newcomers Staley and Long, is among the season’s strongest, affording both funny and character congruous moments for everyone in the cast (except, of course, the missing Sammy). Frasier is particularly good here with his highly skeptical opinion of psychics. A favorite.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Sammy And The Professor,” in which Alexis Smith makes an Emmy nominated appearance as a mentor of Rebecca’s who ends up sleeping with Sam, “50-50 Carla,” a David Lloyd script in which Carla gets some insurance money and struggles with her conscience, and “Mr. Otis Regrets,” which features an iconic scene of Rebecca enacting revenge on Sam while in an elevator. All three are of “honorable mention” quality; the only installment to really be considered for the above list is “Severe Crane Damage,” one of the most flawed episodes of the season. Let me explain. I appreciate the opening scene, some of the jokes at the TV show, and the bit where Frasier runs with scissors. I hate Lilith’s out-of-character behavior at the show and the final scene with Frasier and Viper, and the lack of logic in both moments ultimately sinks the episode. I struggled with this one, folks, but the minuses were as big as the plusses (maybe even bigger).
This season contains the series’ most memorable cold open; it’s from “Severe Crane Damage,” in which the bar performs the song “We Will Rock You.” The year’s funniest cold open comes from “50-50 Carla,” as Frasier and Robin get into a dramatic recitation contest.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Eight of Cheers goes to…..
“What Is . . . Cliff Clavin?”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the ninth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!
Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Glad you enjoyed. Stay tuned for Season Nine, next week!
A couple of minor corrections: “The Improbable Dream (II)” was originally aired 09/28/89, not 09/29/89. (CHEERS always aired on Thursdays in its network run.) Also “Two Girls for Every Boyd” had a beard growing contest (not content), as you detail just below the summary.
I’m glad you chose “What Is Cliff Clavin?” as MVE. I’m a huge JEOPARDY! fan, so I loved seeing Cliff on that show, and the subplot with the kid who stole Sam’s black book is cute too. One thing I remember about this episode is it was a favorite with audiences too. I remember that it was #1 in the Nielsen ratings in its original air week, and that’s the first time I remember reading that a CHEERS episode was #1, though of course the finale in Season 11 was the highest-rated episode of its week (and series history too).
Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Good catches; I have amended the above post.
An insightful and well observed review, as usual! I agre wholheartedly that this season a low point, AND thast a low point for “Cheers” would be considered a high water mark for almost any other series (espcially “Wings”. . . )
I’m definitely one of those who so missed what was lost after the Dianne years, until very recently I was all but totally unable to appreciate what was great about the second half (plus) of “Cheers”. But in reaquainting myself with these shows in the last year or so, I’ve found myself enjoying them immensely. I think part of this is that when the show was still airing, I kept foolishly waiting for the series to return to the more character-driven, more logical, more intimate stories of the Dianne years, which never happens to long running shows. Once they get broader, they stay broad.
I never attributed what I perceived at the time to be a major downgrade in quality to Kirstie Alley, but to the changes to the overall writing and tone of the series (discounting the rocky start for Rebecca’s character in season 6). Rewatching these shows now, I’ll go even further: she’s perhaps the character that makes me laugh the most in the latter years, and Kirstie Alley– as you so wisely observed in an earlier post– can be credited with *saving* “Cheers” from extinction after Shelley Long’s departure. I remember the biggest surprise to me in the final episode was that, after waiting 6 years for dianne to finally return, her scenes fell pretty much flat for me, where Rebecca was absolutely hilarious throughout. She virtually stole the finale. What an unexpectedly gifted comic actress she turned out to be!
Thanks for yet another wonderful write up!
Hi, WGaryW! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I generally agree with you about Rebecca, and I’m so glad you were able to cultivate an interest in her character. She and Diane are “apples and oranges”, as they say. But, the writing for the character is not yet above reproach, as you’ll see — not next week — but certainly in the weeks after that. Stay tuned…
Please pardon all the typos and misspellings in my prior comment, but there’s no way to post-edit comments here to correct them as there is on YouTube and Facebook, the two platforms I’m always commenting on. I’ve gotten into the very bad habit of correcting things after posting!
No worries. As long as we know what the other is saying, we’re good!
Jackson, your analysis of this season was spot on and I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. But i ultimately come away not disliking the season as much as you do because I feel like the show has already asked me to suspend disbelief and ignore common sense for the past couple of years. So I’m used to it by now, and the high number of great episodes being matched by a higher number of poor episodes, is,as you said a few weeks ago, simply inevitable for a show that’s getting increasingly broader.
Is the commenter Jon right in thinking that “What is …Cliff Clavin?” was the first episode to win the week?
Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.
You make a good point; the threshold of broadness has already been crossed, so what’s the harm of a little more exaggeration? Well, as you note, bigger failures to counteract the big successes.
But the highs and lows are not the primary problem for me; I actually think the base level of quality, for what we could consider the middle-of-the-pack offerings, is fundamentally weaker than other seasons. It’s not just broad stories — it’s broad UNMOTIVATED stories. It’s not just fewer laughs — it’s too many CHEAP laughs that aren’t as smart or as soaring as those in years ahead (again, where there may be storytelling issues, but the humor generally aids our ability to forgive).
Regarding the Nielsens, CHEERS was #1 twice before in Season Eight, including the week prior, for “Sammy And The Professor” with Alexis Smith. The first time CHEERS won the week, according to my research, was the Season Five finale, the last with Long as a regular, “I Do, Adieu.” Interestingly, this season’s highest numbers were achieved for “Finally! (I),” where Rebecca first goes to bed with Robin Colcord, but CHEERS did not win that week, placing #3 instead. (But I tend to ignore much of this data, as so much of it is hinged on both promotion and competition, with no bearing on actual quality!)
Thanks to both Elaine for her followup on my statement about the ratings and Jackson for his answer. I didn’t know that it was the first #1-rated episode ever, but it was the first time I remember seeing that it was #1. Back then I happened to see the ratings during the week after the show, and if you didn’t see the paper that day (usually Monday following) you missed out. It seems very logical that “I Do, Adieu” would have been #1 for its week, as I’m sure NBC heavily promoted it as Shelley Long’s farewell to the series.
Jackson, where do you research historical Nielsen ratings? I know for instance where to find the top 100 shows of all time, but I don’t know where to do week-to-week research, for instance how you know that “Finally (I)” was #1 for CHEERS that season while it was only #3 for its week. I found out from Wesley Hyatt’s book about the Top 100 shows of all time that the highest-rated DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was “The Third One from the Left” (OAD 1/1/64), but it wasn’t #1 but instead #2 for its week, beaten out (of course by the show just before it, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES episode “A Man for Elly”. A lot of tv fans know that TBH episode the following week, “The Giant Jackrabbit” (OAD 1/8/64), still stands as the highest-rated 1/2 hour tv show since 1960. (I LOVE LUCY ratings, which were even higher, were calculated under a different system.) I’d love to be able to know what the highest ratings ever for any show, from I DREAM OF JEANNIE to THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW, are, if there’s a place to look that up. I’d appreciate any direction you can give me here. Maybe VARIETY magazine or something like that. Thanks!
Jon, I always check newspapers for information about ratings and air dates (because for some shows, the information on the internet is largely inaccurate — as was the case with THE TONY RANDALL SHOW, for instance). I use my school’s library system for access to vintage publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, but in the case of CHEERS, I searched the Google Newspaper Archives last year when I began writing these posts. The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette was one of the most consistently available sources, and I just saw that someone has also indexed this information on Wikipedia. I believe Nielsen itself can assist you with research if you submit an inquiry — I had a friend who did so for a book he’s writing.
Of all the actresses from the 70’s and 80’s, which one is your favorite commedienne, and why?
Hi, David! Thanks for reading and commenting.
My largest appreciation is for performers whom I consider to be regular material-elevators — that is, ones who take lesser material and make it considerably better. Some of the women from this era whom I would consider in possession of this skill are Lucille Ball (HERE’S LUCY ran into the ’70s, so she counts), Jean Stapleton, Bea Arthur, Cloris Leachman, Shelley Long, Kirstie Alley, and Vicki Lawrence.
As you well know, I am a devoted reader of your blog and look forward to your weekly installments and the thoughtful back-and-forth you engage in with your readers. That said, I think “Severe Crane Damage” is one of the funniest episodes in the entire run of CHEERS, and, since I was never a fan of the whole Carla-Eddie story arc, I would actually consider “The Ghost and Mrs. LeBec” to be one of the season’s weaker offerings.
On another topic, this season and next are where I think Kirstie Alley really shines the most.
And on one other broader topic, you clearly view Season 8 as one of the series’ weakest. I actually like Season 8 quite a bit. I think the series’ weakest season is yet to come, and it’s the one with the unfunny John Hill/Melville’s story arc. If you want to talk about characters acting out of character, Sam Malone in some of these episodes is barely recognizable. But, I know, that is a discussion for another day.
Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I figured we would likely have to agree to disagree, but I completely understand your favor for “Severe Crane Damage,” and there are parts of the episode that I would concur are incredibly funny. I might even point out that the “running with scissors bit” is a high point of the season. But the Lilith turnaround at the end of the first act is an insurmountable contrivance, made worse by the episode’s unsatisfying pay-off of a leather-clad Frasier riding around with a woman named Viper. It just stretches credulity beyond my workable limit, mitigating the story’s other strengths. In fact, I think the script epitomizes everything that troubles me about the season, but bumping the installment from the list was still a tough call.
As for “The Ghost And Mrs. LeBec,” my response upon first seeing the episode about a decade ago was similar to yours. But now having devoted a lot of time to a chronological survey, I think it’s important for several reasons. First, the script does a wonderful job of allowing Carla to grieve and move on from Eddie, thus freeing her for better material. (As mentioned above, I think she has a surprisingly strong season here for story, something that we’ve agreed is a rare happening.) Second, while I would ordinarily be bothered by Sam’s absence, the show has so established itself as an ensemble that the characters and the comedy can easily handle an episode without him. This episode proves just that. And third, I believe it’s simply a very funny script — one that netted Staley and Long permanent positions for the following season. I actually credit this pair for boosting the show’s humor quotient in the years ahead, especially during times when it really needed laughs to compensate for story.
Regarding John Allen Hill, he recurs throughout the remaining three seasons, so I’m not quite sure to which particular year you’re referring as your least favorite, but I’m assuming it would be his first (the ninth season, coming up next week) as that’s the one where he’s most often used as a major story participant. I’ll speak more about him soon, but I will note ahead of time that I don’t share your disfavor for the character when he’s used judiciously, and I particularly enjoy him once paired with Carla in Season Ten. This recurring beat gives us character, conflict, comedy — and it clicks. I also think that he serves as a better foil than Gary’s Olde Town Tavern, whose episodes never work as well in execution as they do on paper (because the scripts are always so story-heavy), and Hill’s proximity to the bar also allows for more scripts that play with a unity of time and space, something that I maintain is essential to CHEERS’ viability.
Now, I think you have a great and important point about Sam’s behavior in the remaining seasons. But I’m not bothered by his depiction as it pertains to Hill, particularly because these extreme maneuverings are a response that only Hill can and does elicit. It works because it’s NOT an every week occurrence. Furthermore, the rivalry gives Danson something different to play, freeing the actor from a lot of the same-old, same-old that he gets during this era. So what I actually think your point speaks to is a larger issue: Sam’s inability to be satisfyingly broadened the way other initially grounded characters, like Frasier and Rebecca, were in later seasons. As we’ve seen with each passing year, Sam becomes dumber and hornier, which makes him an easier go-to for jokes. But this moves the characterization so far away from the guy we initially knew, and I think that grounded-ness is something a little too precious to sacrifice, especially because he IS the show’s emotional core. So I do agree that there are many moments in the years ahead where his character, in particular, struggles; but I would cite that as happening independently from Hill, and I would argue that we’ve been seeing it since, at least, Season Five.
As for Alley, as mentioned above, I agree that she’s in the middle of several very funny years. But it’s not enough to redeem Season Eight’s inferior writing, which does sink its position to being my least favorite of the series. And even though there’s half-a-year ahead where the storytelling is generally horrendous — just completely misguided (and it’s probably no secret that I’m referring to the first half of Season Ten) — there are enough laughs present to forgive the show’s sins (most of the time). In fact, Season Ten is actually the year I most often see cited as fans’ least favorite, and I understand why: the storytelling. My personal feeling has always been, however, that a well-written script can overcome a problematic story (because smart writers can motivate characters so that a plot that wouldn’t ordinarily work for them in theory, does in practice), but a well-crafted story can not overcome a problematic script (because an idea alone does not a good sitcom make). But make no mistake: I’m not defending early Season Ten — no way, no how — it’s just the lesser of two evils.
But I’m so glad to have the opportunity to discuss these shows and episodes with you and everyone here, especially when we disagree — that’s when this blog is the most interesting! Stay tuned…
Right, I am not a big fan of Season 10, but, as I am sure you will point out in a couple of weeks, Season 10 closes with what many fans consider the single funniest episode in the show’s history.
Perhaps! Stay tuned…
What you think of the final season btw
You’ll find out in three weeks!
Jackson, You always write so eloquently. I think I know what you’re referring to when you speak about Season 10, but I haven’t seen that year in a while. I really can’t wait to see your thoughts on the next three seasons in general though. My hubby And I finally got Netflix and I’m watching Season 9 this week!
We also took your suggestion from a few weeks ago and rented MOM (season 2) from the library. So far, so funny!! They didn’t have Season 1 but I figured the second year was probably better anyway. Hope to catch up somehow before this new season ends.
Thanks, Elaine! Hope you enjoy both the remaining seasons of CHEERS and MOM!
With all the talk of Kirstie Alley’s ability as a comedienne, it prompts a question from me: of all the sitcom actresses from the 70’s and the 80’s, which one is your favorite, why, and how do you think she effectively executes or elevates the comedy?
I have no singular favorite, but I particularly appreciate the individuals mentioned above. I can tell you that I believe Lucille Ball is still the gold standard for physical comedy.
Regarding Alley, she elevates material by uncovering nuanced line deliveries, knowing how to make internal conflicts register externally, and remaining quirkily endearing despite difficult character machinations.
Speaking of Lucille Ball..any chance on reviewing her last sitcom
Yes. See the comment section of last week’s CHEERS post for more information.
I have nothing against Roger Rees, but that character/storyline never interested me at all. Did you think Kelly was a good character or well-played? I know she has at least one funny line this season when Woody finds a bunch of severed doll heads in her room (“Sometimes I get mad”) which may be the one with the designated-driver subplot.
Not a great season, and I already agree about season 10, but one great line justifies that arc…
Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I think Kelly was a believable companion for Woody, because although they came from different places, they were alike in personality/temperament (not unlike Frasier and Lilith, whose relationship was nevertheless more contentious given their personalities). But as with Woody, I think Kelly was a more realistic character when her naiveté was contingent on her upbringing/status instead of a genuine lack of brains. And fortunately, the character wasn’t ever utilized enough to be considered a disappointment; we saw her just enough — and usually only when the story necessitated her inclusion. (On the other hand, I’m not so fond of the heavy Gaines family episodes, as they often take us so far away from the bar and our central players. But there are several notable exceptions…)
Great review, as always!
In weeks past, you have mentioned other, former sitcoms that you plan to review for your blog: “Night Court,” “The Golden Girls,” “Frasier,” etc. Out of curiosity, though, how much ground do you intend to cover on this (IMO) fascinating survey of American situation comedy? Will there be season-by-season reviews of more recent shows (for example, “How I Met Your Mother” — which I never cared for, but which I would love to read your thoughts on) or will the cut-off date be before then?
Also, any chance of backtracking a little and reviewing “The Phil Silvers Show” (that is, if you haven’t already — I might have missed that one while reading your archives)?
Hi, Rashad! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Regarding the era of sitcoms at which I plan to stop blogging, I’m keeping my options open. I have a long list of viable material that extends to and includes shows currently on the air, but I can tell you that if there’s any hard line to be drawn, it will probably be with series that are still running at the time of potential coverage.
However, at this present moment, I have not yet made any inner resolve to cover anything past that which premiered in the 1990s. In fact, it’s a possibility that I’ll go back in time after the ’90s and cover additional past shows (and yes, THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW, with its recent complete series release, would be a strong contender) before returning to the 21st century, should that decision feel appropriate at the time.
As always, I will only cover material about which I’m passionate and on which I have a unique perspective. For instance, as I’m sitting here typing this, I have a moderate fondness for MODERN FAMILY. But I neither love it, nor feel that I could offer readers something that they couldn’t find from 1000 other bloggers who regularly discuss the series. And the more contemporary this blog moves, the more shows there are that inspire similar sentiments. Also, I can confirm that I have no plans to examine HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER either.
That’s all I’ll be able to say for a while. We’ll be entering the ’90s officially sometime next year, and I have a feeling we’ll be there a long time.
Well, I can’t say I blame you for electing not to cover HIMYM. As I’ve said before, I never cared for that show. (It ran for too many seasons, IMO, the finale was unsatisfactory for a great many viewers, and it displayed a lack of real-life experience AND comedy expertise on the part of its writers.) Nevertheless, I was hoping maybe seeing it through your eyes, so to speak, might help me to appreciate more a series that seemed to capture audiences’ attention at the time. Oh, well, lol.
Sorry, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to aid you in an appreciation. I’ve never cottoned to the series for several reasons, chief of which was something to which you point: it was a nine-season series with a three-season premise. As a result, the negotiation of serialization and episodic storytelling was too often ill-handled, and I never warmed to the characters enough to appreciate the choppy plotting and multi-narrative jumble.
Bilko might be a tough series to cover. I’ve been revisiting it thanks to the boxed set and loving it, but with only a few exceptions, I’d be hard pressed to name the 10 standout episodes for any given season, only because it was such a remarkably consistent show! Easier to identify the clunkers than the standout eps, I think. But I’d love to read your thoughts on it. Bilko plays to a much more modern sensibility than any 1950s sitcoms I can think of.
Yes, the better the series, the harder it is to narrow down a list of favorites. But that’s a better problem to have than the alternative: a few classics, and a bunch of good-but-not-great offerings among which I have to choose.
On second thought, you DID manage to pick episodes to highlight from “Soap”, and that *has* to be the series that’s least suited for this sort of treatment. So, ignore me. Bilko ahoy! :)
SOAP was interesting because I had to break down each episode by storyline and figure out which scenes I thought worked and which ones didn’t work. The greater the ratio of hits to misses in any given episode, the greater the installment’s chances of being highlighted. But SOAP ended up not being as difficult to cover as I thought; the hardest stuff has always been for the shows that inspire this sentiment: “I love this episode, but I love these ten others more.” (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, TAXI, CHEERS, were difficult in this regard.) It’s a happy problem for a TV lover, but much harder to navigate when structuring Sitcom Tuesdays!
Hey Jacksob what do you think of Saved By The Bell. Just asking
Hi, Nicole! Thanks for reading and commenting.
SAVED BY THE BELL was not made for my personal aesthetics regarding quality, so I’ve kept it — for the most part — off my figurative radar. It will not be seen here.
Hi! I just have to say that I have absolutely been enjoying your coverage of Cheers. It is one of my favorite shows. As I get older, I find that the series resonates more and more, which is truly an incredible thing. Like you, my favorite era of Cheers are the first five seasons. Diane is a fave, and the Sam/Diane saga never fails to fascinate me. However, during my second rewatch of Cheers last spring, I found myself finally “getting” seasons 6-11, for many of the reasons you have already discussed. I feel like Cheers is unfortunately underrated in current discussions of classic sitcoms. Seeing your complete coverage is a truly awesome thing. Thank you!
One quick question: I saw you mention James Burrows saying the 8th season was the start of Cheers third era. DO you happen to have the exact quote? I am interested to see how he breaks up the 11 seasons. Thank you so much. Can’t wait to see your posts on the remaining seasons!
Hi, mariasommer22! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, but not the eighth season — the ninth season. I said above that “there are much finer years ahead (as the show enters what series director James Burrows refers to as Cheers‘ third era),” referencing Season Nine as being the start of the show’s “third era.”
I saw Burrows speak this thought at a Q&A a few years ago, but I can’t find a quote in print from him. However, Les Charles also echoed this sentiment in a May 1993 New York Times article. Here’s the excerpt:
“I think there’s clearly a ‘Cheers 1’ and a ‘Cheers 2,’ ” said Glen Charles. Part one was the Shelley Long era, when the romance between Sam and Diane Chambers became the hottest and funniest sexual relationship on television. During “Cheers 2” the show moved toward a more equitable mix involving all the characters, with Ms. Alley’s Rebecca becoming Sam’s friend rather than a target for his unquenchable lust.
“Maybe there was even a ‘Cheers 2’ and ‘3,’ ” said Les Charles. As he sees it, the last six years break down like this: three years of character comedy and three of “more screwball comedy.” A recent episode about Woody’s wedding, for example, had enough physical stunts to qualify as French bedroom farce.