The Ten Best CHEERS Episodes of Season Eleven

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re concluding 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, JACKIE SWANSON as Kelly Boyd, and KELSEY GRAMMER as Dr. Frasier Crane.

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Another impressive collection of episodes, Cheers‘ swan season cements the show’s status as one of television’s most consistent, something unclaimable were Season Eleven, the show’s last, not a strong showing itself. You know, I’ve often said that Cheers is among the finest for its ability to stave off the inevitable dip in quality that plagues all long running shows. Now, as you’ve probably read over these past few months, there are certain periods in the show’s history that are particularly well-written (the first two seasons) and noticeably superior to others (like Seasons Eight and Ten, which each have their problems), but the writing never descends to reach a point of continued and egregious disappointment (or worse: mediocrity) in which the show’s brilliant reputation seems truly unwarranted. And yet, with both my appreciation for Season Eleven and my belief that Cheers never endured a fatal slump noted, I do think this final season is uneven. Well, let me clarify — I think the season is evenly uneven, naturally splitting into two halves: episodes produced in 1992 and episodes produced in 1993.

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The episodes produced in 1992 are, unlike the disappointing first half of the season prior, not concerned with a single long-running arc, although there are two bold two-episode stories explored: Rebecca burning down the bar and Lilith cheating on Frasier. Both are ostentatious premises, with heady drama forming the foundation of the comedy, and both work fairly well, although the more-melodramatic fire arc ends up feeling like an unnecessary season-opening gimmick, because after the second episode, where everyone comes back to the renovated Cheers, the only impact this beat has on the show is an amusing subplot two episodes on in which Sam forces Rebecca to confront her cigarette addiction. In contrast, the Frasier/Lilith arc impacts a handful of the stories ahead and irrevocably alters the histories of both characters forever, and because the initial storytelling is done so well (or, as well as could be expected), this arc becomes a highlight of the season. But in general, serialization is not on Season Eleven’s agenda, and in the first half of this year, the scripts continue along the easy breezy episodic trend, leading to some stories that are fundamentally better than others. (Example: Sam attempting to get back his Corvette vs. Rebecca maybe having to move back home.) But as has been discussed before, it’s not really the story that determines quality; it’s the storytelling, and that’s where the first half of Season Eleven warrants criticism, for there appears to be a slight tiredness in the comedy and how the characters are being presented — it’s the same old, same old. And the show, while far from declining, seems poised towards, at the very least, a slowing down.

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This could have continued the entire season, but in late November 1992, Danson decided that he was ready to leave Cheers; after briefly considering otherwise, Burrows and the Charles Brothers decided to reject the already proposed new season deal and end the series with his departure. The December knowledge of an impending finale, as it does for so many other long-running shows, reinvigorated the season, giving the writers something definite to which they could crescendo. Watching these episodes today, you can tell which ones were conceived after this announcement: those produced starting in January 1993 (airing from February onwards), which are more focused, and with an eye towards bringing things full circle. The results of this new enthusiasm are supremely engaging ideas that illustrate and help perpetuate the enormous growth that has occurred in (almost) all of the characters since their inception. (Rebecca gives up on millionaires, Carla forgives her ex-husband, Woody gets a new career and a new addition to the family, etc. — more of this discussed below.) So the stories improve. But also, the storytelling is boosted as well, as the laughs for each character are amplified, with almost every moment one to treasure. And, of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the last few episodes see the return of several of the show’s strongest writers, like David Angell, Peter Casey, David Lee, and Heide Perlman, all of whom have great understandings of the characters and why they’re comedic. The second half of the season, therefore, is a collective tour de force.

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All of this leads up to the finale (again, discussed a bit more below), in which Diane Chambers returns, and in spite of all the grandness and hoopla that surrounded its original airing (usually a mistake, as expectations should never be willfully set high, and big is usually a no-no as far as I’m concerned, because less is usually more for me), it’s still an intensely satisfying experience, treating Cheers and its characters with a reverence that never once ignores both the duty it has to the show’s history and the era in which it is currently residing. The Sam/Diane story is well-handled. From a storytelling point-of-view, reuniting Sam and Diane — seemingly forever — would have negated the growth (although it was spotty at best, there was growth) that Sam’s character had undergone since her departure. It would have totally invalidated the previous six years. And regardless of how many fans actually wanted a Sam/Diane reconciliation, I personally don’t believe the show ever presented them as a viable pairing, so to have changed course in the finale would have been a rejection not just of the last six seasons, but of — at least — the four that came before as well. Also, it would have been impossible to mine humor from an earnest attempt to convince the audience that a relationship which had failed spectacularly several times in the past could all of a sudden work. The laughs could only come from our own knowledge of their incompatibility, which we wait and hope the two characters will also realize before the end credits.

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As a result, the series concludes on an appropriate note, and I have no real complaints about the ending (aside from the fact that I wish Rebecca met Don and married him during the season, instead of in a rushed final two episodes development that happens too quickly for us to get completely on board). So I’ll just take this remaining space to note what a pleasure it has been to cover this series, which has set a standard that may never be replicated on this blog. (And I’m looking forward to covering Frasier, the pilot of which had been filmed a few weeks after Cheers wrapped and was actually teased during the broadcast of the finale. Expect Dr. Crane’s show here sometime in 2017!) For the last time with Cheers, 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.

CHEERS -- "One for the Road" Episode 25 -- Air Date 05/20/1993 -- Pictured: (Top, l-r) Ted Danson as Sam Malone, Rhea Perlman as Carla Tortelli, Woody Harrelson as Woody Boyd, Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Frasier Crane, (Front, l-r) John Ratzenberger as Cliff Clavin, Tom Berenger as Don Santry, Kirstie Alley as Rebecca Howe, Shelley Long as Diane Chambers, George Wendt as Norm Peterson -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Eleven. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Remember that one-hour episodes are considered two separate installments (and the finale is considered three). Of the 28 half hours, 25 of them are directed by James Burrows.

 

01) Episode 249: “The Beer Is Always Greener” (Aired: 10/01/92)

Sam prepares for the bar’s re-opening, but Carla has trouble leaving her new job.

Written by Tom Leopold

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While the idea of Rebecca burning down the bar is amusing, the story itself requires drama that doesn’t co-exist well with the comedy (as evidenced in the creaky season premiere). This installment, which directly follows, makes the whole mini-arc more worthwhile, for in addition to jettisoning all dramatics, the script uses a funny premise in which Carla takes a job at a modern sports bar where she’s forced to be peppy and upbeat, but only in service of a check that’s difficult to reject. The highlight of the story is the final straw that gets Carla to leave — a waitress with an uncanny resemblance to Diane Chambers. Also, the subplot of newlyweds Woody and Kelly having to negotiate the differences in their Lutheran upbringings is comical as well. Note that of the three new writers this season, Leopold delivers the strongest scripts.

02) Episode 254: “The Girl In The Plastic Bubble” (Aired: 11/12/92)

Frasier threatens suicide after Lilith leaves him for another man.

Written by Dan O’Shannon

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This is the second half of a two-parter in which Lilith confesses to cheating on Frasier; after he decides to stay with her, she reveals that she’s leaving him to join her lover in the “eco-pod,” an underground experiment (which was actually established in the cold open of a previous episode — so cleverly, I might add). Both parts deal with material that’s a little too dark to enjoy with abandoned frivolity, but this installment is slightly funnier than the first because there’s less story and more character and, also, oddly enough, the quality of the drama is also heightened, making the balance more even. Sure, the on-location ledge bit is overblown and cliched, but Lilith actually makes the sequence hilarious, turning what could have sunk the episode into something that saves it. A great episode for Neuwirth, in particular, if not for Lilith or her fans.

03) Episode 258: “Love Me, Love My Car” (Aired: 12/17/92)

Sam befriends a widow in the hopes of buying back his old Corvette.

Written by David Lloyd

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David Lloyd gives us another offering that’s attuned to his speciality, addressing a comparatively dark subject matter with unparalleled humor. In this installment, Sam learns that the man to whom he sold his beloved Corvette (after the bar burned down) has died, leaving an impressionable widow, played by Dana Delany, to handle the responsibilities. Sam’s manipulation of a widow’s feelings as a scheme to regain his car is a delicious new low (yet we never detest him due to the script’s dynamic comedy in support), and interestingly, the script is careful not to make their interplay disrespectfully sexual (which probably would have condemned the character and his actions). The climax with Sam in Delany’s character’s Kindergarten class’ doghouse is screamingly funny, and this is easily the best outing from the first half of the year.

04) Episode 262: “Loathe And Marriage” (Aired: 02/04/93)

Carla is shocked when Nick Tortelli returns to see their daughter married.

Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs

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After six years in TV limbo (following a 13-week spin-off in the spring of 1987 that probably is best left unmentioned), Nick and Loretta Tortelli make one farewell return — just in time to see Serafina, played by the future Queen of Queens, Leah Remini, get married to her retired cop boyfriend. This is among the season’s funniest, hitting big laughs with the ease of the electrically inclined (and still supremely smart) early seasons, a time which is also naturally evoked by the revival of these two indelible characters from Cheers past. Hedaya is funnier than ever, and surprisingly enough, this may be my favorite appearance of his from the entire series. This is also a great episode for Carla and one of the Season Eleven offerings that brings her character a welcome sense of closure (since she has no big finale developments). A classic.

05) Episode 264: “The Bar Manager, The Shrink, His Wife, And Her Lover” (Aired: 02/18/93)

Lilith and the gang at Cheers are held hostage by her psychopathic jilted lover.

Written by Kathy Ann Stumpe

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In the second half of another two parter (the first half can be found with the honorable mentions below), Lilith has returned to find Frasier getting it on with Rebecca (a beat that doesn’t 100% work, but one that we’re willing to accept for the sake of these two episodes). When Lilith goes to the bar to learn more, the others’ reactions to her return are as amusing as you’d expect. Naturally, Frasier and Rebecca follow, only for all of them to be met by Dr. Louis Pascal, Lilith’s jealous ex-lover who threatens to shoot her and everyone in the bar if she doesn’t return with him. Now, guns and sitcoms often don’t work (because the stakes are raised so high that the proceedings can’t help but become cartoonish), but this is Stumpe’s best script and she never lets the imposed threat overtake the character-driven humor. Also, I love that the show incorporates nice moments for recurring players like Paul and John Allen Hill, who are both in on the fun. A great one act!

06) Episode 267: “Look Before You Sleep” (Aired: 04/01/93)

Sam has trouble trying to find a place to sleep for the night.

Written by Rebecca Parr Cioffi

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You know, in some ways this offering is the antithesis of the type of script that I usually enjoy. Instead of long sequences with all of the characters together and interacting off of one another, the structure of this installment is fragmented and itself episodic, taking us to each of the characters’ humble abodes, as Sam searches for a place to stay during the night (after getting locked out of the bar). The set-pieces build in hilarity, with Sam’s sequence at Cliff’s, where Ma Clavin is as irascible as ever, being the show’s clear funniest. What makes this installment work, aside from the able script, is the fact that it does afford moments of greatness for each member of the ensemble, using what we know about their home lives for maximum comedic value. An atypical offering — but a risk that’s fresh and ultimately rewarding. Surprisingly enjoyable.

07) Episode 268: “Woody Gets An Election” (Aired: 04/22/93)

Frasier helps Woody mount a campaign to get elected onto the city council.

Written by Dan O’Shannon, Tom Anderson, Dan Staley, and Rob Long

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Four of the most talented writers from the final years (who were actually running the day-to-day activities in the writers’ room this season) join together for this hysterically absurd episode that finds Frasier betting the others that he can successfully get Woody on the ballot for city councilman (running against the incumbent) and have him achieve at least 10% of the vote. When Woody actually begins gaining traction, the gang decides to go forward and mount a full-scale campaign. But Frasier, the much needed voice of reason, begins having second thoughts. There are so many laughs in this offering, which works beautifully from beginning to end, that I can’t even single one out. And Woody is left in a great place — a new job, and as we find out via Kelly at the end, a new baby! (Also, look for a cameo by the future Roz Doyle, Peri Gilpin.)

08) Episode 269: “It’s Lonely On The Top” (Aired: 04/29/93)

Carla sleeps with a Cheers guy after a drunken celebration — but she can’t remember who.

Written by Heide Perlman

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Interestingly, this installment was filmed the week after the bulk of the finale (aside from the latter’s final cigar scene, which was held over and shot after this episode wrapped), earning this one the distinction of being the last original Cheers script to go into production. It’s another great ensemble showcase, confining its action to the bar, as Carla tries to recall the identity of the Cheers regular with whom she had a physical encounter during the previous evening’s drunken melee. In a delicious twist, the man turns out to be Paul, which is an understandable source of devastation for Carla. Sam decides to cheer her up with a surprising (but appropriate for Danson) revelation: his secret toupee. Note that this episode was penned by wonderful longtime writer Heide Perlman, Rhea’s sister, who hadn’t contributed a script since 1986.

09) Episode 272: “The Guy Can’t Help It” (Aired: 05/13/93)

Rebecca dates a plumber and Sam goes to a group for sex addicts.

Written by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee

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If you’ve scrolled down, you’ll know that this is my pick for the best episode of the final season. It must be recognized that this installment was written by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, three fantastic writers who left several years back to create Wings (1990-1997, NBC). They know the show really well, and they know how to cultivate the comedy without forsaking an innate sense of logic that must exist in every sitcom character who aims to be believable. Tom Berenger is introduced as Don, Rebecca’s soon-to-be husband, and while I wish that there was a longer build-up for this development and Rebecca’s end-of-the-series status, the irony of Rebecca chasing millionaires and settling for a plumber is deliciously ripe, combining character-oriented laughs with some breathtaking growth. Speaking of growth, Sam Malone becomes introspective after a terrifically written scene in the office with Rebecca, recognizing that he’s going to be alone if he can’t face his sexual compulsivity. (It almost seems like a way to address the exaggerated portrayal of the character’s romantic exploits during the Alley years.) This begets a remarkable scene in which Sam introduces himself to a group of sex addicts, which somehow manages to end on a joke with deeper implications. It won Danson another Emmy and it’s no surprise. This may be Sam Malone’s finest half-hour of the entire series.

10) Episode 275: “One For The Road (III)” (Aired: 05/20/93)

Sam and Diane call it quits again, and he returns to the bar.

Written by Glen Charles & Les Charles

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Over 80 million people tuned in to watch the 95-minute series finale (approximately 74 minutes of show). I shared a little bit of my thoughts about the finale above, but without a doubt, the final half hour, as it’s divided in traditional syndication, is the strongest. Not only does it end the relationship between Sam and Diane in a poignant but funny sequence in which their consciences both realize that reuniting is a mistake, but the show climaxes in a mesmerizing scene between the other regulars, who sit around the bar smoking cigars and talking the meaning of life. It’s hilarious and sad, a simple Thornton Wilder conversation: a pensive, emotional, and substantive note on which to end this fine series, which concludes as Sam closes the bar, honors Coach, and walks back into the dark poolroom from which he first entered.

 

Other memorable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Teaching With The Enemy,” the first half of the Lilith affair storyline, which doesn’t quite work as well as its follow-up but does feature an amusing subplot involving Tiny, the bouncer, “Norm’s Big Audit,” in which Norm flirts with an IRS agent played by Sharon Barr, who appeared before in my MVE from Season Six (this is a very funny offering for Norm and it was definitely considered for the ten),  “Is There A Doctor In The Howe?,” the lead-in to “The Bar Manager, The Shrink, etc.” in which Rebecca and Frasier nearly have an intimate encounter (it’s a development that isn’t so smooth, thus weakening the installment’s standing in total, even though it uses a very funny script and came close to inclusion as well), and “Rebecca Gaines, Rebecca Loses (II),” in which Rebecca shows signs of maturation and Alley gets to do a another great drunk bit (in general both parts are too broad and rendered with too little logic, so this wasn’t really a contender, although there are few stellar moments).

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The most memorable cold open in Cheers final season is from “Do Not Forsake Me, O’ My Postman,” in which Andy Andy makes a surprise return in search of Diane.

 

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

“The Guy Can’t Help It”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the first season of Mama’s Family! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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23 thoughts on “The Ten Best CHEERS Episodes of Season Eleven

  1. Very good job with this series and I can tell your appreciation to this show in your writing.

    Aside from Cheers what are some if your other series finales

    • Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I prefer finales that are resolutions in tone, not story. That is, I want closure to be gleaned not from the events that are happening to the characters, but specifically from the characters themselves — how they feel, where they are in their lives (how they’ve grown from beginning to end), etc. The most effortless way a show can illustrate this in a finale, the better.

      I don’t have a lot of favorite last episodes because so few shows (that know when they’re ending and can therefore prepare) conclude satisfyingly. I couldn’t even give you a list of a few notable ones; I am generally dissatisfied with them all. In fact, I think the only other true series finale highlighted here on Tuesdays aside from CHEERS’ has been the one produced for THE ODD COUPLE, which brings things full circle for both Oscar and, particularly, Felix.

  2. Loved your entire coverage of Cheers. I truly believe that no sitcom since has come close to matching it.

    I love how the final season has such respect for the audience and the shows history. So many secondary characters that the audience loved are brought back for a final curtain call: Andy Andy, Harry the Hat, Robin Colcord, Nick and Loretta etc.

      • Looking forward to it. Always thought Mama’s Family was an underrated sitcom.

        Will you ever do any coverage of The Carol Burnett Show. I know it’s impossible to do full season coverage, but maybe some favorite sketches etc?

        • No plans at this time to cover any variety series, but if complete season sets are ever announced for THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, I will choose seasonal favorites. However, years ago I did select my favorite “Family” sketches; that post remains this site’s most popular.

  3. What did you think of the last Bar Wars installment, “The Naked Prey”? I don’t see it among your favorites or HMs for this season. It may have been a bit embarrassing for the men in the cast, but it did give Harry Anderson a chance to come back once more to play Harry the Hat.
    I also recall an earlier episode where Sada Thompson played Carla’s mom, who was irate when Carla didn’t name her first-born Benito Mussolini. I just looked back and saw that it was called “Honor Thy Mother” and aired in Season 9. What did you think of that one? I thought Sada Thompson was funny as Carla’s mom in any case.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think the Bar Wars offerings are more successful in concept than execution, as there’s always far more story per episode than anything else. Also, once the format is established in the initial installment (see Season Six), I don’t think anything new or worthwhile is ever added. This one — neither the best nor the worst — is perfectly enjoyable, but not exceptional, especially in a season where there ARE exceptional offerings.

      “Honor Thy Mother” is a broad farce that takes us out of the bar and doesn’t operate with enough intelligence. I don’t believe the circumstances or the performances. I think it’s one of the weaker entries of the otherwise superior ninth season.

  4. Thank you Jackson, Cheers is one of the best. Looking forward to Mama’s Family as well. I agree that the second half of season 11 was excellent.

  5. Don’t know why, but this season’s opening episode, about Rebecca accidentally setting fire to the bar, is one of my least favorite shows out of the entire series. As I said, I don’t know why. I’ve just never liked it. Maybe I’m just not comfortable with the story’s mix of comedy and drama. Maybe it’s that the whole situation is resolved and everything back to normal so quickly that it seems pointless. I do have to confess, though, that “The Beer Is Always Greener” probably makes the whole thing worth it. That’s one of my favorite Carla episodes.

    I wish they’d spent more time on the character of Don, too. I almost get the feeling that he wasn’t introduced earlier because they didn’t decide until very late in the season’s production how they were going to “resolve” Rebecca’s storyline. I could be wrong about that, though.

    • Hi, Tom! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I don’t care for the season premiere either — and it’s exactly for the reasons you expressed. As for Don, it could also be that the desire to have a name actor in the role necessitated introducing the character only just before the finale. Regardless of excuse, a couple more episodes to explore their dynamic would have been a lot more enjoyable and believable, and we probably would have gotten a different Rebecca story in the actual finale (and that’s a good thing, because her behavior in the first half-hour is probably my least favorite aspect of the whole three-part episode). Oh, and I also would have liked to see Lilith for at least a scene too…

  6. Watched this season last week and had mixed feelings — I remembered the finale and I knew what was coming. If I hadn’t I think I would have liked the season less. It was directionless, which isn’t usually a issue for me, but there was a big difference between the beginning of the season ( as you point out) and the end of the season, which gets obviously more committed to closing up shop and finishing arcs. The comedy meanwhile was hit and miss for me. I don’t know — maybe I expected too much? Still an enjoyable season of great series anyway.

    I’m going to try and track down MAMA for next week. Haven’t seen it in ages!

    • Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      The season is surely hit and miss, although I think there are more hits than misses. It wouldn’t be my pick for the best season (or the worst, for that matter) of the Rebecca era. It’s probably decidedly middle-of-the-pack. But CHEERS’ middle-of-the-pack is still a very good place to be.

      Hope you enjoy MAMA’S FAMILY! It was a real joy watching and writing about the series and I look forward to sharing my thoughts next week.

  7. Thank you for your coverage of CHEERS, the best written and acted sitcom in the past 34 years. I have to dig out my tape of the original broadcast of the finale but the show started with a highlight show hosted by Bob Costas (which should have been a bonus on the DVD release) and at the very end of the show there was a note “Thanks for having us for all those Thursdays” or something like that. I was in 8th grade when this aired and I still remember that final broadcast – and all those wonderful Thursday nights with the best schedule in TV ever besides CBS Saturday Night in the 1970s – that unless you were there when it happened you can’t appreciate the impact of this series leaving.

    I hope you will spend time on NIGHT COURT, FAMILY TIES, and THE COSBY SHOW (recent developments do not and should not hinder its impact from 30 years ago) and then the original Must See TV will have been covered. I would also hope another classic NBC 80s sitcom, THE GOLDEN GIRLS, will arrive here sometime.

    Keep up the fantastic work! Thank you for your posts, I look forward to my weekly check-in here on the blog for this!

    • Hi, Benny! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Your wish is (almost) my command! NIGHT COURT, THE COSBY SHOW, and THE GOLDEN GIRLS will all be covered here — following MAMA’S FAMILY, which begins next week. No plans for FAMILY TIES at this time.

  8. Allow me to echo everyone else’s thank-yous for your commentaries on this exemplary series. Seeing “Cheers” through your eyes helped me gain a new perspective on the show as a whole. Looking forward to “Mama’s Family” and whatever else is coming down the pike!

  9. I want to say thank you for covering Cheers. It is my absolute favorite sitcom and reading your perspective of the show week by week has been a pleasure. Unfortunately this show doesn’t seem to get near amount of respect that it deserves. It is so well written, acted, and directed that it blows my mind away every time I see it. Thank you so much for taking the time to give this amazing series the accolades it deserves.

  10. I’m curious as to what your thoughts on Do Not Forsake Me, O’ My Postman are. I don’t know if I would have included in the top ten, but I feel it deserves an honorable mention for the stuff with John Mahoney.

    • Also, do you think you will cover any of these shows in the future: Becker, That 70s Show. Will & Grace, The King of Queens, and NewsRadio?

      • Hi, Charlie! Thanks for reading and commenting.

        I dislike the A-story in “Do Not Forsake Me, O’ My Postman,” but do agree that the subplot with Mahoney has a few laughs.

        As for the five series you mentioned, all are in my collection and remain possibilities for future coverage.

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