The Ten Best CHEERS Episodes of Season Nine

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.

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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, PAUL WILLSON as Paul Krapence, ROGER REES as Robin Colcord, and KELSEY GRAMMER as Dr. Frasier Crane.

CHEERS -- Pictured: (l-r) John Ratzenberger as Cliff Clavin, Rhea Perlman as Carla LeBec, Roger Rees as Robin Colcord, Kirstie Alley as Rebecca Howe, Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Frasier Crane, Ted Danson as Sam Malone, Bebe Neuwirth as Dr. Lilith Sternin-Crane, Shelley Long as Diane Chambers, Woody Harrelson as Woody Boyd, George Wendt as Norm Peterson-- Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank

We’re nine years into Cheers‘ run and it’s still the cream of the TV crop, not only in viewership (#1 for the ’90-’91 season), but also in quality, as it would be difficult to deny the unbelievably high standard that persists throughout this dynamic collection of episodes, made even more remarkable by the fact that this is Season Nine. Not Season One. Not Season Three. Season Nine. (Can you think of any other series that can claim a ninth year this strong?) While my polarizing thoughts on Season Eight were hinged upon a perceived lack of adroitness at the fundamental script-crafting level, Season Nine sets things back on track, elevating the average comedy-per-episode quotient without jeopardizing the logic that must exist for character cogency. The jokes are sharp, the plots are tight, and the characters rarely behave in ways that break their established forms. In fact, Season Nine is probably the funniest year of the entire series. Sure, there are better written years (like Seasons One and Two, and of the Alley era, Seven, which uses more grounded ideas than Nine), but the density of laughs and the relatively low level of duds is impressive and unique to this season. The Academy seemed to agree, for awards were given to Alley, Neuwirth, Burrows, and the series itself (its fourth/final as Outstanding Comedy), with Danson, Alley, and the series also netting Golden Globes.

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Interestingly, the last three years of the series are considered by many, including Burrows and the two Charles, to be more farcical than the three prior. But I think this pat classification is a bit too simplistic; the difference between this year and the last can help illustrate why. Season Eight featured a focused arc that stretched from premiere to finale and came to define the whole year (despite episodic stories throughout), while routinely demanding that we suspend disbelief with regard to the story points and character beats that filled out each script. Season Nine is the opposite, deciding that the only focused storytelling to be utilized is that which involves the loose ends of the year prior, while the individual episodic plots themselves, many of which are heightened and wackier than ever, are the only things requiring such suspension. In other words, we have to leap over logistical hurdles regarding some of the stories, not the way the characters behave within them. That’s my preference, for my position has always been 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). That’s why these two seasons complicate my ability to split the final six years evenly; sure, the later seasons are more farcical — but mostly in story, not construction.

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But what of the stories being told? As mentioned above, the only major arcs are those left over from last season. With Sam having bought back his bar, the early episodes have to do some metaphorical tap dancing to keep Rebecca part of the ensemble. Her decision to stay aboard as a waitress is expectedly short-lived, necessitating that Sam hire her back to be his manager. These machinations don’t play very well, because they’re functional and obvious, detracting from the show’s getting back into its weekly groove, while wasting time in the process. It isn’t until the fourth episode that the storytelling gets back to its more enjoyable character/comedy-focused nature. Also, the season has to deal with the residue from the Robin Colcord arc, and after last year’s cliffhanger (in which Sam and Rebecca finally have sex), Rebecca decides to stand by Robin, who goes to jail and is released midseason. Fortunately, the storyline ends there with Rebecca leaving the recently paroled Robin at the altar, and this lengthy arc, so defining for Rebecca (but debatable in the strength of its execution), is concluded. However, because we see less of Robin than we did last year, Rebecca’s stories mostly feature the other members of the ensemble and she’s therefore able to continue building the comedic rapport  with them that was established in Season Seven. The result is another one of both Alley and Rebecca’s best years.

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Alley’s personal life, however, saw some strife, as the actress miscarried shortly after production on the season had begun, and while the original intention was to drum up some “who’s the father” drama as Rebecca learns she’s pregnant with either Sam or Robin’s child, the show’s sudden, but respectful, abandoning of this arc (and you all know that I believe a baby would have spoiled things anyway) means that the Rebecca/Sam romance that the show had been teasing since her introduction in Season Six ends here in Season Nine not with a bang, but with a whimper. In fact, their tryst in the premiere ends up an anti-climactic affair, and while that makes the most sense given the friendship they developed in seasons past (which we wouldn’t want jeopardized), one still wishes that that that three-season wait was for something more worthwhile than this. But that’s something that can only be discussed in hindsight, for Season Nine actually ends with an indication that the Sam/Rebecca arc may not be for naught, as Kirstie Alley’s continued attempts to conceive naturally converge with Sam Malone’s desperate need for growth, making way for a possible new direction for the following season. More on this below (and mostly, of course, next week)…

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Meanwhile, Season Nine is notable for the continued expansion of the ensemble. Not only is the always outstanding Lilith featured in two-thirds of the scripts, but Paul Willson (who just came off of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show) also appears in over half the episodes as regular barfly Paul, a kooky little character who’s always good for a few laughs and earns his position as the series’ funniest non-regular regular. Additionally, this season introduces Keene Curtis as John Allen Hill, the new owner of Melville’s, who pesters Sam and makes him pay rent for use of the back rooms (which Hill technically owns). This recurring character serves as a great antagonist for Sam, and the development eventually ties nicely into Rebecca’s arc, for she and Sam wind up becoming partners so that he can buy the rooms back from Hill. With this established near the end of the year, the protracted Rebecca machinations conclude and the show finally settles into this dynamic for the rest of its run — a great place to be. And, despite all of the maneuverings (which, again, are a result of Season Eight), Cheers’ possibilities during Season Nine seem endless, and these episodes are filled with excellent writing and explosive laughs. As usual, 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.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Nine. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) The one-hour 200th episode special is considered two separate installments, although it was barred from consideration on this list. Of the other 25 half hours, 18 of them were directed by James Burrows. Any that aren’t will be noted below.

 

01) Episode 201: “Breaking In Is Hard To Do” (Aired: 11/01/90)

Rebecca decides to visit Robin in prison, while Frasier and Lilith debate over Frederick.

Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs | Directed by Andy Ackerman

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This episode takes two unrelated stories and doesn’t do a great job of justifying why they co-exist within the same half hour. That’s usually a no-no, but each story is awfully enjoyable when taken on its own terms. The primary plot has Rebecca sneaking into prison for a booty call. The scene itself suffers from a broad and audienceless rendering, but the story wisely pairs Rebecca with Carla, who’s so horny that she decides to tag along. These two share great chemistry and it’s fun to see them interact in the earlier scenes. The second story, which is set all in the bar, is actually the more enjoyable, as Frasier decides to prove to Lilith that he can do a better job of caring for Freddie than she can. But, of course, his idea of watching Freddie is bringing him to the bar. The final gag (where Freddie says his first word) justifies the episode’s inclusion here.

02) Episode 204: “Bad Neighbor Sam” [a.k.a. “I Hate Leases To Pieces”] (Aired: 11/15/90)

Sam starts a feud with the new owner of Melville’s.

Written by Cheri Eichen & Bill Steinkellner

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Keene Curtis makes his debut as John Allen Hill, who starts off on the wrong foot with Sam and then demands rent for use of Cheers‘ bathrooms and pool room, which Hill technically owns. The feud between Sam and Hill is more precise than the bar’s rivalry with Gary’s (about whom we only hear once/twice a year), and features a more comedically ripe antagonist, particularly because of the effect he has on Sam. Furthermore, introducing Hill as a recurring character is a great way to expand the show’s universe without forcing the action to leave the bar. As for this episode, it’s one of the list’s most outrageous, because Sam’s hysteria is something we’ve never seen from him, and it would stretch believability if not for the fact that this response is a rarity from Sam (and therefore can exist as something triggered specifically by Hill and these circumstances). And Curtis is so good in the role that it’s easily worthwhile.

03) Episode 207: “Woody Interruptus” (Aired: 12/13/90)

To compete with a Frenchman, Woody considers having sex with Kelly.

Written by Dan Staley & Rob Long

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While I do consider myself a fan of the Woody/Kelly pairing and generally feel that the show did a good job in crafting her character and building their relationship, episodes that center around the two of them often don’t constitute my favorites, usually because they’re set outside of the bar. Also, I’ve never been a fan of Henri (Anthony Cistaro), who’s way too adept at playing obnoxious and therefore isn’t a presence you want to see every week (unlike Hill, who doesn’t have to do as much to antagonize — it’s all in Sam’s reaction). But despite all of the factors that could bar this episode from entertaining me (including a so-so final scene), I have to note this is one of the best written scripts of the entire season. The scene where Woody seeks advice from Sam, Rebecca, and Norm about having sex with Kelly is just brilliant, epitomizing why Season Nine is a writer’s tour de force. Also, Burrows won an Emmy for this one.

04) Episode 210: “Days Of Wine And Neuroses” (Aired: 01/24/91)

Rebecca has second thoughts about accepting Robin’s marriage proposal.

Written by Brian Pollack & Mert Rich

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Kirstie Alley gives the best performance of her entire Cheers career in this installment, which also won her a much deserved Emmy. Set about a year from the start of the season (and the timeline here has never quite made sense to me), Robin is about to be paroled and he’s proposed marriage to Rebecca. They plan to wed the day he’s freed, but Rebecca gets drunk at the celebration that Sam throws for her the night before, and when Sam visits her apartment, Rebecca drunkenly confesses that she doesn’t love Robin and wants to sleep with Sam. That scene is a laugh-a-minute (the funniest material of the season) and Alley’s performance is firing on all cylinders. It’s the best thing to ever come out of the Robin arc, and the offering’s comedic strength makes it an easy choice for the best of the year. Easily. In fact, this may be the best episode not just of the season or Alley’s career, but of the “Alley era” in total. Also, I must mention the running gag with the karaoke machine, towards which Frasier is particularly drawn — hilarious. A classic installment, filled with big laughs and fantastic performances.

05) Episode 211: “Wedding Bell Blues” (Aired: 01/31/91)

Sam tries to stop Rebecca from marrying Robin.

Written by Dan O’Shannon & Tom Anderson

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The conclusion to the marvelously strong episode above, this offering does take things a little too broad for my tastes, as the entire wedding sequence, with Rebecca marching down and then back up the aisle (and generally causing a tremendously embarrassing scene) feels a little too over-the-top for a series who generally does best in quieter moments (and this will even be true in the seasons ahead). However, times are a-changin’ in the series, and there’s so much rich comedy here that justifies any moment that rings a little false, thus tamping down my qualms. Also, this one is notable for both ending the Robin Colcord storyline and giving Paul one of his first really funny moments, as he attempts to console and counsel Rebecca as she’s deciding whether or not to go through with marrying Robin. The big laughs make this one work.

06) Episode 212: “I’m Getting My Act Together And Sticking It In Your Face” (Aired: 02/07/91)

Sam worries after leaving Rebecca an embarrassing voicemail.

Written by Dan Staley & Rob Long | Directed by Andy Ackerman

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My thoughts on this one have wavered back and forth over the years. On most recent viewings, I’ve been impressed with the generous amount of comedy, which, like the above, helps to mitigate storytelling contrivances. So although I find some of the Rebecca stuff to be, again, too much from a narrative point-of-view, I can easily overlook that in favor of the other character moments in which she’s surrounded. Meanwhile, the gag at the end with Sam trying to pass off a friend as his boyfriend is overly silly (and reminiscent of Season Seven’s “Norm, Is That You?”), and even though it’s hard to believe Sam would even think this would fool Rebecca, Staley and Long give us laughs to make us forget to question that. However, the real gem is the subplot in which Frasier attempts to introduce the bar to classic literature by making up ridiculous stories more attuned to their tastes — less Dickens, more Stephen King. Hilarious!

07) Episode 216: “Cheers Has Chili” (Aired: 03/14/91)

Sam protests when Rebecca turns the pool room into a tea room.

Written by Cheri Eichen, Bill Steinkellner, and Phoef Sutton | Directed by Andy Ackerman

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A lot of this episode’s worthwhileness comes from the fact that, unlike the majority of this season’s entries, the story is confined to the bar, playing in the manner of a much revered one act play. (Y’all know how much I love that!) The conflict is taken from the recent development in which Sam and Rebecca have become business partners via ownership of the bar. Since Rebecca paid for use of the back rooms, she decides to turn the pool room into a tea room, something Sam, as one would anticipate, disdains. But they make a deal that if she makes $500, the tea can stay. Then Rebecca gets a secret weapon: Woody’s chili. As usual, the episode lives on the success of the character moments, and while there are funnier offerings on this list, it’s amusingly sharp and consistent, making good use of the Sam-Rebecca arrangement.

08) Episode 217: “Carla Loves Clavin” (Aired: 03/21/91)

Carla enters the Miss Boston Barmaid contest, only to learn that Cliff is a judge.

Written by Dan Staley & Rob Long

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Although many fans hold Season One’s “No Contest,” in which Diane competes in the Miss Boston Barmaid contest, with high regard, I think this sequel, in which Carla decides to enter the competition, is much funnier, simply because the premise is naturally cartoony and therefore works better at this point in the series’ run, when broader stories are the norm (pun intended). The offering’s high comedy quotient is met by the added complication of Carla having to shmooze Cliff when she learns that he’s one of the judges for the contest. (Of course, this turns out to be something Cliff concocted to get back at Carla, a story machination that proves lucrative.) So for fans of either character or the relationship they share, this is going to be one of your absolute favorites. And as with most Staley/Long scripts, it’s very smartly crafted.

09) Episode 219: “Rat Girl” (Aired: 04/04/91)

Lilith mourns the death of her favorite lab rat.

Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs

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Bebe Neuwirth won a second Emmy for her outstanding work in this memorable offering that concerns itself with the rift that develops between Frasier and Lilith when the latter goes into intense mourning for the death of Whitey, her favorite lab rat. The script builds this conflict to a climactic sequence where the pair has to visit a ritzy preschool into which they’re hoping to enroll Frederick. Lilith’s outburst is among the year’s biggest laughs, and it’s so easy to see why Neuwirth was lauded as much as she was for her work as this character (both on Cheers and Frasier, coming in 2017). But aside from the delicious A-story, this episode also boasts two amusing subplots, as Rebecca tries to introduce the patrons to healthy bar snacks (easy comedy), and Sam gets turned down by a chubby chaser who much prefers Paul. (Yes, Paul!) The latter is particularly hysterical. A classic installment and another personal favorite.

10) Episode 221: “Uncle Sam Wants You” [a.k.a. “Elvis Ex Machina”] (Aired: 05/02/91)

After bonding with Frederick, Sam decides he wants to be a father.

Written by Dan Staley & Rob Long

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I’m going to leave most of my thoughts on the storyline that this season finale launches for next week, but I will note now that this episode works much better than anything that follows; it actually employs logic. Sam’s desire to become a father marks a fascinating and understandable growth for the character, and Danson plays it surprisingly pensively. After several years of treading water as he attempted to both bed Rebecca and win back the bar, this season left him mostly aimless after achieving both goals. This episode gives him a new purpose and the character is better because of it. The entire last scene, in which Elvis visits Sam in a dream, is a comedic highlight, and the reasoning Sam presents to Rebecca about their having a baby together makes some sense, especially given her own emotional journey over this particular season. Also, it serves as a nice bookend to the start of the year, where they also had sex — but without any commitment. They’re growing up, as misguided as, well… stay tuned…

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Where Nobody Knows Your Name,” the funniest installment from the year’s first batch, with a great subplot involving Carla and both the physical and sexual heat of Indian Summer, Veggie-Boyd,” which features a rather sophomoric Woody A-plot, but a very funny gag with Frasier having hypnotized Lilith and a hysterical bit about Cliff and the bar’s new trivia napkins, “Crash Of The Titans,” a decently written offering that sets up Sam and Rebecca as partners in Cheers, but suffers from both too much story and an uncharacteristically obnoxious portrayal of Sam towards her, and “Home Malone,” the penultimate episode of the season, which establishes the course that the season finale will take and juxtaposes two amusing fish-out-of-water stories: Sam with a toddler and Kelly in the bar.

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While most of the cold opens from Season Nine are sufficiently enjoyable, none are of exceptional merit or memorability to warrant mention. Stay tuned next week for Season Ten!

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Nine of Cheers goes to…..

“Days Of Wine And Neuroses”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the tenth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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49 thoughts on “The Ten Best CHEERS Episodes of Season Nine

  1. Another great post! But where is everybody? Normally the CHEERS posts are poppin in the comments by now.

    OK, I watched these episodes this past week before today’s blog and I thought it was the absolutely the funniest Rebecca year yet. I actually didn’t mind season eight but I could see and understand your critiques about the writing. Now after seeing season nine again, I went back to read season eight’s post and it makes even more sense. There is a Huge difference between the two years and I think you hit it right on.

    I started season ten so I’m looking forward to next week — I know you’ll have some things to say about THAT storyline!

    • Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Tuesdays have been busy lately because of these presidential primaries — two weeks ago was another slow day here. Also, I’ve noticed that I get more comments for seasons where I’m particularly critical, or take a position that maybe isn’t the most popular. I have mostly great things to say about Season Nine, so there’s less to discuss!

      I’m also looking forward to discussing Season Ten next week. And the following day’s Wildcard post is something you won’t want to miss either…

  2. Wow, there really are a lot of classic episodes and, even moreover, classic moments, in Season 9. Agree with your declaration that “Days of Wine & Neuroses” marks Kirstie Alley’s high point on the series.

    You’re certainly right that very few series have their best seasons in their ninth year. I always felt EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND was a series that saved some of its strongest episodes for late in its run.

    And, on the subject of Paul Willson, he was a surprisingly welcome addition to the gang at the bar. I don’t know whether CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM is on your radar at all, but Paul Willson’s portrayal of food critic Portico on that series was a memorable turn in one of that series’ greatest episodes.

    • Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND has come up a bit here in the past, and I believe I’ve voiced a slight difference of opinion from yours regarding the final seasons, but I generally agree that it ended in a respectable place. Yet stay tuned, because that one will definitely get covered here (probably sometime in 2018).

      CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM is also a definite possibility if/when we move into the 21st century. We’ve still got a lot of stuff to discuss before we get there though — with some surprises too (I hope)…

    • Hi, David! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      That’s a decision I won’t have to make until over a year from now, so to avoid dashed expectations, all I can say now is, “it’s a possibility — stay tuned!”

      The only ’90s shows I’d encourage you to anticipate right now are the ones that have been guaranteed elsewhere on this blog: SEINFELD, FRASIER, FRIENDS, and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. There will be many others covered in between each of those four shows, but I can’t say for sure which ones…

        • That’s a decision I won’t have to make until over a year from now, so to avoid dashed expectations, all I can say now is, “it’s a possibility — stay tuned!”

          The only ’90s shows I’d encourage you to anticipate right now are the ones that have been guaranteed elsewhere on this blog: SEINFELD, FRASIER, FRIENDS, and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. There will be many others covered in between each of those four shows, but I can’t say for sure which ones…

      • By the way good teview…one of my favorite moments in this season is where Rebecca was watching Arsenio Hall to see if her name is mentioned during the Robin Colvord prison storyline and yanks the tv of the wall when it wasn’t mentioned

  3. It seems like the 90’s had a drastic upswing in quality television sitcoms, those shows you’ve listed seems like a handsbreadth of the good shows being churned out this decade. In many ways, the 90’s and 70’s are similar in the fact that they both saw a surge in more sophisticated and well written shows, after a decade of more feel good fare as the prevailing norm.

  4. Trivia: it so happens that my parents were in the audience the night “Cheers Has Chili” was filmed. The main thing I remember my mother saying about it was that she and my dad were a little disappointed that the final scene between Sam and Rebecca was pre-recorded and they watched it on the monitors. I suppose they did it ahead of time for staging reasons–I don’t want to give anything away for anybody who hasn’t seen it–but still, my mother said it was a little like sitting through a play and then having someone come out and just describe for you what happens in the last scene.

    • Hi, Gina! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m so glad you shared that — I could understand why the production wouldn’t want to make the audience wait as the crew readied the set, as that process does get really time consuming — but I know how frustrating the pre-recorded stuff can be, and it’s gotten more and more common since the early ’90s (starting with SEINFELD, which used to do a lot of set-ups like this, but often recreated the scenes live on stage instead of showing footage).

      The first sitcom I saw live was back in ’08 for a single-season wonder called BACK TO YOU, starring Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, and the final scene of the episode — a big, important, heavy scene — was also pre-shot. It was a let-down and the results are rarely as strong as they could be! Last year, I saw one of the final episodes of HOT IN CLEVELAND, and approximately half the show was pre-recorded, including all but one of the scenes featuring Betty White, who was reportedly ill. But the multi-cam has gotten aesthetically more like the single-cam over the past few decades anyway, and I think that’s why so few of them have managed to resonate lately.

  5. Great column as usual. The part where Paul answers Rebecca’s plea for advice in “Wedding Bell Blues” was hilarious partly because he was the last person anyone would’ve expected. His character had been around for so long without ever being part of any story, that it was surprising to finally see him get to do something. Paul Willson was very funny in his role on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show before rejoining Cheers.

    What were your thoughts on the “Rebecca Redux” episode? I know it seemed like it was more about the “Earl” character than the rest of the cast, but I’ve found it to be one of the most enjoyable episodes to rewatch from the later seasons. Plus, it had one of the best cold opens in the shows history (with the customer who removes a dollar from Carla’s tip for every mistake she makes).

  6. Thanks Jackson. This was also one of my favorite seasons of Cheers. I thought Kirstie was so good in Cheers but not so much on Veronica’s Closet. What did you think of that series? It was hit or miss for me. Also I will keep all my fingers crossed for Wings to be reviewed. Love that show also.

    • Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Although I have “ragged” on the depiction of Rebecca in past weeks and will likely do so in weeks ahead, I don’t believe Kirstie Alley has ever been handed an equivalent to the comedically potent material she was given on CHEERS. Specifically regarding VERONICA’S CLOSET, I have yet to view enough of the series to pass judgement on its individual merits and failings or to discuss the show’s trajectory in detail, but I have viewed enough to know it’s not exceptional. That noted, I am in the process of securing access to the complete series, so if I find the show to be mostly enjoyable and potentially worthwhile for discussion, it will be one to consider.

      At this point, WINGS is more likely to be seen here, but that’s certainly not a guarantee; I change my mind every week about shows that I will/won’t be covering, and I think it’s best if most of that internal conversation remains behind the metaphorical curtain. I do notice, however, that many of the questions on this blog are about what material can be expected in weeks/months/years ahead, and, frankly, I would want to know the same thing if I were a subscriber. But as the author, I would hate to regularly build up your expectations, only to have them potentially dashed by a change of plans (and I fear sometimes I do get carried away and overhype even that which is confirmable). I also think it’s important to keep some of my more surprising “cards” hidden, specifically the shows that are excitingly unexpected.

      But when things are confirmable, I promise that I’ll be more diligent in letting you all know! The truth is that there are many shows that I can guarantee with 90% certainty (a rate that makes them almost appropriate for teasing here), but I have no idea about order and, again, I change my mind every week to the point where there are only a handful I can guarantee: MAMA’S FAMILY (already written), NIGHT COURT (mostly written), THE GOLDEN GIRLS (likely after THE COSBY SHOW, which is still at that 90% rate), MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN (probably not directly following THE GOLDEN GIRLS, but I can’t say for sure which or how many shows will be separating them), and then the four ’90s staples already mentioned, none of which will be appearing next to one another.

      But there’s plenty of good stuff ahead — that I CAN promise! Stay tuned…

      • When you covered the ’70s sitcoms, the two omissions that stand out and which I and many others would probably love to hear your takes on are M*A*S*H and BARNEY MILLER.

        • I know. Those two, ALICE, and the Garry Marshall trio (HAPPY DAYS, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, MORK & MINDY) are the shows that make our survey of that decade most incomplete. Unfortunately, none of those works, including the two you mentioned, were aesthetically attuned to my individual tastes at the time, so I feared that I wouldn’t be able to deliver my best work. I still feel that way, although, and I say this half in jest, if I can do NIGHT COURT, there’s a chance I could make it through BARNEY MILLER as well. But, again, no plans, and right now, no desire.

          In the ’80s, the equivalent to the above would be FAMILY TIES. I could probably watch and talk about the series, but I really don’t love it and I’d hate trying to fake it. You know, 90% of the material I cover, I love — even when I’m rattling off a list of complaints. That’s key to the type of study/analysis I do. Also, I don’t want to be doing this forever, so I do have a sense that setting higher standards for material being covered also helps to ensure that I’m keeping up an appropriate pace and not getting distracted by trees that don’t bear sweet enough fruit. (Another metaphor!) But, as you know, I change my mind all the time — so nothing is ever REALLY counted out! Stay tuned…

          • M*A*S*H was such a cultural touchstone that it would actually be refreshing to read more harsh criticism of the series, especially as it morphed from dark comedy to preachy melodrama during its run.
            ALICE was awful, one of the worst long-running series of all-time. ONE DAY AT A TIME would merit coverage over that.

            • I forgot ONE DAY AT A TIME — perhaps my brain was trying to protect me.

              You’re right though. Several of the aforementioned shows are more dire. Truthfully, acquiring the complete series of ONE DAY AT A TIME would have been more effort than reward, so I never really gave the series much consideration. Recently syndicated, I think it’s actually more available now — but still: no plans, no desire.

      • As far as I am concerned,the more shows covered here, the better! But I understand why you can’t do stuff that you don’t like. You have enough shows that you actually enjoy to do first. And I get why you can’t discuss upcoming stuff until you know that it’s definitely happening. We just can’t wait for each new week -we read it so fast compared to how long it takes you to watch and write – that any new show you tease is something to look forward to.

        I’m curious though as to the decision process — like do you only cover stuff that you’ve seen in full before? Or do do you also seek out shows you’ve never seen? It seems like,most of the wildcard shows are stuff you watch just for the blog, but the ones on Tuesday you have a history with. Have you ever done a full series here that was new to you?

        One question about upcoming shows (and I won’t ask anymore if you’d prefer)… when you go back to past shows you skipped like Burns & Allen as you’ve said, are any of those 70’s shows you and Guy mentioned stuff you’re considering? Or are they just something he’s hoping for? I watched them all (except ALICE) but I don’t think any one of them is better than the shows that you did cover, like MTM and All IN THE FAMILY (or even MAUDE and TAXI etc.)

        • Elaine, I’m never bothered when asked about upcoming material. In fact, I’m happy to know that there’s such an interest! However, it can be frustrating because I usually can’t say more than what’s already been said. And sometimes, I simply don’t have an opinion on the shows about which I’m asked because I haven’t yet devoted the required study to share anything meaningful. Truthfully, I also wouldn’t want to reveal premature musings on shows that WILL get more attention in the months or years ahead, so I often feel like I’m avoiding the questions by finding a way to both keep my cards hidden and spare myself from having to say something that will prove untrue later.

          Yet our talk about upcoming shows is actually timely because a few weeks ago I privately drafted some long range plans, featuring shows I could guarantee, shows I have but can’t yet guarantee, shows I don’t yet have but towards which I am leaning, and shows that I still need to seek, study, and form an opinion. There are more in that last category than I thought, but the metaphorical bar has been raised, so I’m not going to be giving many chances to material that doesn’t demand my attention quickly. I do feel more and more like the best-of-the-best is already on my radar, so I’m mostly seeking series that would be considered a notch lower. But there’s a lot to enjoy on the “second shelf” — what shows make it there remain to be decided.

          Regarding how I choose what shows to cover, each case is different. Most of the works highlighted on Sitcom Tuesdays have been in my collection for many years, meaning that I’ve seen every episode more than once. But since writing the blog, I’ve had a more focused reason for expanding my oeuvre, and, as noted above, I do seek out material that I’ve either never seen (or of which I’ve only seen a few, like the aforementioned VERONICA’S CLOSET) to discuss here. That’s one of the things that makes this fun for me personally. There are also a lot of shows of which I’ve seen about 75% and am just two steps away from committing to coverage. But that commitment is one of both time and labor, so I take it seriously and I don’t usually make it official until I’ve actively begun the work.

          To your other question, the only series that I was really watching for the first time in preparation for coverage was THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, which was difficult to track down. In this case, I sort of knew from the beginning, regardless of quality, that I was going to do the series if I could get ahold of it, although if it turned out to be awful, I would have abandoned those plans quickly. Other series like GREEN ACRES and THE JEFFERSONS had been in my collection, but not completed, so I was watching the later episodes for (mostly) the first time. In fact, one of the reasons THE JEFFERSONS didn’t begin after RHODA (where it chronologically should have fit), was that I needed to check out later seasons and convince myself that I could still find moments to enjoy. Once I’d seen enough to make that decision, I scheduled it into our rotation. Again, I take the commitment seriously.

          About the other ’70s shows, the truthful answer is that I am not considering any of the ones we listed above. In fact, I am not even flirting with the idea of changing my mind about any of those other series right now, and I’m afraid that hoping otherwise is wishful thinking. We were in the ’70s for over 18 months and I am satisfied with the results. I’m okay with not talking about every major long-running series. (I said this a while ago, but I’d like to reiterate: “These posts are not a comprehensive look at every major American sitcom, but rather a passionate pontification on those that I consider the best of the best or for which I have a personal affinity.”)

          However, I can’t say they’ll NEVER be seen because I do change my mind; of course, most of the time my mind-changing has occurred before I’ve made a public declaration. The only time I completely reversed a decision about a show for which I specifically said NO COVERAGE was ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE, and the reason I did so was less about the series itself and more about the place we were on this blog — moving from the ’70s to the ’80s and getting ready to cover CHEERS (another show set in a bar). I can tell you that BARNEY MILLER has been mentioned in almost every upcoming NIGHT COURT post that I’ve already written because a working knowledge of Weege’s previous work helps contextualize NIGHT COURT. Devoting time to BARNEY MILLER itself, however, would require the biggest change-of-mind that I’ve ever had with regard to this blog. (Well, M*A*S*H would require an even bigger one.)

          I’d also like to note that when I say we’ll be going back and covering shows we’ve missed, I’m referring mostly to material from the ’50s and ’60s, as my decision making process when those posts were written was different than it is today. I excluded material that I liked, but didn’t love — that’s why only three ’50s shows got coverage on Sitcom Tuesdays. So I am going to be filling gaps in our survey of the ’50s and ’60s, and that’s the more honest description of our “time travel”. The only later show I’ve promised a return to is NEWHART, and that’s because I’m waiting for a complete DVD release. It’s going to happen — I just don’t know when. As always, please stay tuned (and thanks for the questions)…

          • I do not entirely disagree with your aversion to M*A*S*H (although I do hold BARNEY MILLER in very high regard). Although I watched the show regularly during its network run, I find the series has not aged well and it’s hard to get through even a single episode–especially from the later years, when it crossed into the category of “dramedy.”
            Nonetheless, even if you are not going to cover the series on a season-by-season basis, I’d love to read your take on what it was that repelled you about the series. Whether you do this here in the Reply section of the blog, or maybe reserve a Wednesday Wild card slot for a writeup on what you found to be M*A*S*H’s fundamental flaws, I think it would be of great interest.
            In a similar vein, have you ever considered, in addition to a Top 10 list of each season for the series’ you do cover, maybe adding a section on the worst episode a series turned out in each given season? That also might be an entertaining addition.

            • Guy, regarding a section on worst episodes, I have thought about that. After choosing my selections for the best XENA episodes, I actually did cover my picks for the worst. Also, several seasons of HERE’S LUCY had a special award for episodes that were “so bad, it’s hilarious.” But the truth is that I actually don’t concern myself very often with the worst when thinking about this blog. It’s because favorite/best are closer in definition (not identical, but closer) for me than least favorite/worst, where there’s an important distinction. You know, my least favorite episodes are not usually the worst, but the ones so middling that they’re forgettable. In fact, as I’ve said before, I think the cardinal sin in a great situation comedy is not failure, but mediocrity. And singling out mediocrity is not something I want to do here. But I’m more than happy to discuss those episodes in the corresponding comments if you’d like!

              As for M*A*S*H, I’ve given soundbite takes on the series before, and that’s all I’m really interested in sharing. If my thoughts were more complex, the show would be more conducive to full coverage. “While I think M*A*S*H is well produced and did what it set out to do, I think viewing the series as a comedy is disingenuous. Although it may have more often sought laughter than tears, I find the latter more potent, especially due to the [often inartful] blending of genres. Furthermore, it was a political piece (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but I think the comedy was always secondary to its message.” I don’t feel that the show was designed as a comedy, so I don’t consider it one.

              My take on BARNEY MILLER has also been shared in the past, but more thoughts will be addressed in relation to the successes/failures of Weege’s work on NIGHT COURT. I’ve tried harder with this series than M*A*S*H, but as stated elsewhere, “I simply don’t like it enough to warrant several months of coverage. The energy doesn’t quite work for me and I find the comedy VERY hit and miss.” Perhaps not surprisingly, you’ll see that the prime critique relates to the way the show handles dramatic moments, a difficult-to-get-right phenomenon discussed ad nauseam in reference to other works here. As you know, I take issue when:

              1) The drama doesn’t ring true and/or is blatantly manipulative (“very special episodes”, story over character, etc.)
              2) The drama doesn’t have an appropriate relationship with the comedy (I, personally, want to laugh more than anything else, but not at the expense of story, so I recognize that there’s no desirable ratio here — just a sense of symbiosis and cohesion)

              So coverage on either would require my having a serious change of heart; that’s not impossible, but currently improbable. Highly improbable. But I think any disappointment stemming from the purposeful omission of these two shows will be more than assuaged by the stuff ahead…

              • M*A*S*H seemed to start out with genuine comic intentions in 1972, but well before the 1980s rolled around and Alan Alda had seized creative control of the series, the show abandoned almost all pretense of being a comedy.

                BARNEY MILLER was a legitimate comedy more than a comedy-drama. It was certainly character-based, and I found it far more palatable than its “sister” series NIGHT COURT, which dealt in broader and more dumbed-down comedy (BARNEY MILLER didn’t have any requisite “stupid” characters like Bull) and forays into the surreal that I never much cared for.

                It’s certainly a matter of taste, and I respect all your opinions even when we do not see eye to eye because you always back them up with thoughtful and thorough reasoning. But knowing your tastes as well as I think I do by now, what surprises me most about your aversion to BARNEY MILLER is that you generally look favorably upon shows that resemble theatrical productions, and few shows were closer to a stage play than B. MILLER was.

                • Yes, I do agree that M*A*S*H’s problems became larger as the series progressed, but I don’t feel they were solely imposed by Alda or some other outside force during the run. I think they were always imbedded in the premise and the way it was written — from day one — just exacerbated over time. If it was merely an issue of good era/bad era, that’s certainly navigable here.

                  As for BARNEY MILLER, the show was always shot as a multi-cam, but the live audience was officially dropped in ’77, effectively hampering (or at the very least, altering) the show’s rhythm and, in my opinion, removing the show’s ever-present reminder that it needed to make us laugh. That’s one of the main reasons I prefer having an audience — it should act as a game-elevator, forcing a series to deliver its best work. When the pressure’s not there, the work suffers. Now, I know we’ll never agree about BARNEY MILLER’s comedy, which I don’t think is as pronounced as the other shows where ill-handled drama has been an issue here (ALL IN THE FAMILY, THE JEFFERSONS, SOAP, WKRP IN CINCINNATI, etc.), and that’s okay. I just hope that I’ve effectively communicated how hard I’ve tried to cultivate an appreciation. (Maybe I’m trying too hard and it’ll come with time; it’s possible.)

                  I can say, fortunately, because of NIGHT COURT, the attention given to BARNEY MILLER has ultimately proved rewarding. As you’ll soon see, I have many problems with NIGHT COURT, but I like when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think the visible combat between the ’70s (specifically BARNEY MILLER) aesthetic and the broader ’80s aesthetic is largely responsible for the show’s viability. More on that in May. Stay tuned…

      • Loving this discussion!

        I watched both shows when they were on but I’ve not been drawn to them since for many of the reasons you listed. I do think Guy’s right in that BARNEY MILLER seems more your style than MASH but it’s just not as funny as those other shows. I like BARNEY MILLER but it’s just not hilarious (to me) like JEFFERSONS or WKRP, which both also had serious moments that were more story/issue based than character (which I know is a criticism you have a lot). I loved NIGHT COURT though… most of the time. I liked the funnier episodes better than the darker ones. They never played as well to me.

        I’m guessing you have different reasons for not liking the Garry Marshall shows,as those were never very dramatic. I didn’t watch them religiously but the one I enjoyed the most was LAVERNE & SHIRLEY. Not a *smart* show thoghn like TAXI or even BARNEY MILLER. Was that it?

        Also thanks for answering my questions! I’m excited to see what other shows are coming up. I’m going to share a few in my wish list (but you don’t have to respond) — DESIGNING WOMEN, MURPHY BROWN, DEAR JOHN, EMPTY NEST, MAD ABOUT YOU

        • Yes, I think the Garry Marshall shows don’t employ enough logic, and while I’m able to appreciate other commonly-called-stupid shows like THREE’S COMPANY (although I actually think it required off-screen brains to make the on-screen results look so brainless), that series had other elements, particularly fantastic physical comedy, to justify its place here. In that regard, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY is the one of that trio that I like best as well. But, at this time, I don’t like it enough.

          I can’t confirm that any of those shows you listed will be seen here, but I can tell you now that MURPHY BROWN, EMPTY NEST, and MAD ABOUT YOU are all under consideration — intense consideration. I can, however, confirm that DEAR JOHN was considered and will likely be passed, while DESIGNING WOMEN will decisively not be discussed during our ’80s coverage.

              • But nobody get upset if EMPTY NEST, MURPHY BROWN, COACH, and/or MAD ABOUT YOU don’t show up here! It’s more likely that two or three (most likely three) of those five will be seen, and less likely that four or five make the cut. Again, no trees of semi-sweet fruit here, so only the best-of-the-best (or the most-enjoyable-of-the-enjoyable).

        • Yes. In the case of both EMPTY NEST and MURPHY BROWN, the two most pressing decisions of the five, I have to know that I can still appreciate the shows during their worst moments.

      • I don’t know how much of it you’ve seen, but ONE DAY AT A TIME is tedious and unfunny, so I don’t blame you for not covering it. I doubt you could even sling together ten memorable episodes from the entire series much less each season.

        What about IT”S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW?

        • Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          I’ve seen enough of ONE DAY AT A TIME to concur with your assessment.

          A decision on IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW will be rendered before the month is over. I know the series, it’s in my collection, and now I have to sit down and see if it proves its worth under a more critical eye.

      • I’m a little sad you’re not a Designing Women fan. I think it’s one of the wittiest shows of the late 80s/ early 90s and perfectly depicts the southern flavor it set out to capture.

        • Hi, Brandon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          Sorry — never been a Linda Bloodworth-Thomason fan, but she’ll be showing up on a Wednesday in May with regard to a different series. Stay tuned…

        • Hi, Jeff! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          Yes, I can now confirm that IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW will follow THE GOLDEN GIRLS here, but the decision was made before his untimely death.

  7. Yes!!! I agree with all of your choices!!! I think Days Of Wine and Neuroses is the best in this bunch!!! What I disliked about the release of Season 9 was it was the first to actually edit scenes because of music. But they cleared all of the music rights for Wine and Wedding Bell Blues. It would have been a travesty to have to edit these two episodes (the recap of Wine is missing from Wedding Bell Blues, because of the music, but I let that one slide). Grease was a funny episode, but with “I Fought the Law” replaced on the jukebox, the joke is not funny. And they removed the few seconds of Carla singing the Winnie-the-Pooh theme when Norm is stuck in the window, as well as the music sequences out of the 200th episode Celebration. Minor gripes like that aside, season 9 totally rebounded from season 8.

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