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For Your Consideration: The under-appreciated greatness of Cheers

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Double Down, Oct 2, 2012.

  1. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I've been thinking about starting a fun thing here lately called For Your Consideration, where you essentially start a thread that asks people to consider (or re-consider) something that maybe hasn't received the proper amount of love that you think it deserves. Anyone can start one of these threads, so feel free to begin your own. Just write about why you appreciate something as a way to kick off a good discussion about it. Like, if you want to celebrate the greatness of Appetite For Destruction, tell us why it fucking rocks. (Because it does.) And if you want to use stuff to support your argument — like John Jerimiah Sullivan's amazing piece about Axl Rose — then all the better. Could make for some fun threads. I've found, in playing these kind of games with friends, that these tend to be the most fun the more specific they are. So this song, or this specific episode of television, is better than saying "This series is great." But we'll start with something more broad to draw a lot of people in.

    There is a growing movement among people I really like in comedy writing to get people to re-consider just how great Cheers was as a sitcom. Michael Shur (of SNL, The Office, Parks and Rec and SNL fame) made the case recently that it's the best sitcom of all time, and (no disrespect intended) but he prefers it way more than Seinfeld in the pantheon of modern comedy. Because really, the essence of comedy is people (friends/family) sitting around in a room and making jokes. It's about actual human relationships, not so much wacky hijinks.

    Shur makes his point here, in a recent New York Magazine interview.


    But this oral history that GQ did is what got me thinking about starting this thread. It's really worth a read. (Even if all you want to hear is Kristie Alley talk about Ted Danson's penis, or hear about the time Danson, Harrelson, Wendt and Ratzenberger took a bunch of mushrooms and drove Ratzenberger's boat up the coast.)


    I think one of the points I like best that Shur makes is that Cheers wasn't really a show that needed mean-spirited humor in order to survive. (Unlike, say, Two and Half Men.) Yes, Carla mocked Cliff and cracked wise about some of the other regulars, but in the end, the show had a heart, and a vulnerability to it, that I think you see in How I Met Your Mother and Parks and Rec and Modern Family. (I had no idea until reading that oral history, but one of the creators of Modern Family is the son of one of the producers of Cheers.) It's really maybe the last great comedy of the pre-irony era. Now, I love Arrested Development and think that the way it stacked jokes on top of one another and wove callbacks into episodes two seasons later (and expected the audience to get it) make it my favorite sitcom of all time. But I definitely think Cheers has become sort of under-appreciated over the years. I find reruns of Seinfeld a little unwatchable, to be honest. (I know I'm in the minority on this, especially here. I just don't think it holds up well, even though it had a big influence on TV.) People in that oral history point out Cheers isn't even on the radar of most young comedy writers radar anymore.

    It's funny, one of the scenes I remember the most is the one at the end of Season 2 where Sam and Diane get in a slap fight, which seems like something you'd have a tough time doing these days.

    Anyway, this isn't as properly thought out as I hoped it might be. I know some people like to say the show lost all its mojo when Shelly Long left, and that it wasn't the same. There is some truth to that. But it's still one of the first modern comedies that tried to do actual storytelling, that asked its characters to evolve over the arc of a season (or series). And there is a pathos woven into a lot of the comedy that I didn't really get as a kid when I was watching it.

    This scene is a great example. Sam is in group therapy for sex addiction. And Danson's delivery of the punchline is just so perfect. I laugh literally every time I watch it. But then he sort of nods and they cut to the credits and you understand, subtly, that this is an actual problem for Sam and he's going to have to grow and change from the cad that he's always been.

    So, in summary, what made Cheers so good? And why does it hold up in a way some shows don't for a lot of smart people?
  2. Norrin Radd

    Norrin Radd New Member

    That oral history presents most of the reasons fort why it was great. It was a family in a bar. And they nailed every single character that expanded the family. Frasier, Woody, Rebecca, Lilith, Kelly, Henri, John Hill, Nick Tortelli, Tortelli's second wife played by Jean Kasem, Robin Colcord, Evan Drake . . . OK, Eddie LeBec wasn't really special, but he also sucked on L.A, morning radio as well.

    A plot or two didn't work - Sam's pitching comeback still leaves me cold - but for the most part, the show just worked.

    Every new character was great. There's no Cousin Oliver among them. No Nikki and Paolo. Every secondary character was well done also.

    It wasn't mean-spirited or "EDGY!!!!!" enough (Seinfeld, Simpsons), and it didn't have enough hot chicks in the regular cast (Friends). So no one talks about it.

    To me, they perfected the formula they tried on Taxi, with Cheers. It's my favorite sitcom of all time. Watch every rerun when I can catch it.

    While early episodes were good, it became great after Diane left. It opened up the storytelling. The Frasier-Lilith relationship was a major backbone for the show, expanding its storytelling possibilities beyond just typical bar hounds.

    Saw a taping in it's final season. It unfortunately was not one of the more memorable episodes. But still, to be in there, 20 feet from the bar . . . great show.
  3. KJIM

    KJIM Well-Known Member

    I do not under-appreciate Cheers at all. By the end, I don't think anyone did.

    I've been re-watching episodes for awhile (on season four now) and am still impressed with the writing. The zingers are still awesome.

    But I just don't think I'd use "under-appreciated" to describe "Cheers." At all. Not now, and really, not ever.
  4. Azrael

    Azrael Well-Known Member

    In trying to save 'Cheers' from the shadow of 'Seinfeld,' I wonder if some of its advocates aren't now themselves overlooking 'Mary Tyler Moore' or even 'The Bob Newhart Show' from the generation directly preceding it.
  5. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    KJIM: Read the oral history please. There is a whole discussion about how it's underappeciated. It's not some shit I made up.
  6. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    For Your Consideration.

    Is it like "Quite Frankly" with Stephen A. Smith?
  7. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I'll come back to this when I've read the oral history, but for now, Versatile's all-time single sitcom season power rankings:

    1. Cheers, Season 2: Sam and Diane, in ... love?
    2. Seinfeld, Season 4: "The Contest" leads the greatest non-serialized season in sitcom or drama history.
    3. The Office, Season 2: All you 'shippers who think Season 3 is better are lame.
    4. Cheers, Season 1: I am convinced this is the best first season of any show that lasted five.
    5. Community, Season 2: This is probably the most polarizing choice on my list, but it hits all of my funny bones.
    6. Parks and Recreation, Season 3: This show evolved quickly and formed into something great.
    7. Arrested Development, Season 2: The laughs of the third season combine with the continuity and plot twists of the first.
    8. Seinfeld, Season 7: This season contains Seinfeld's only fully realized serialized plot.
    9. How I Met Your Mother, Season 2: "Slap Bet" and a lot of important relationship building defined this show at its peak.
    10. Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 3: At 10 episodes, it's difficult to put this any higher, but all 10 were great.

    (Animated shows were not considered.)
  8. Beaker

    Beaker Active Member

    Haven't finished reading the oral history yet, but I think people of my generation certainly under-appreciate Cheers. I was born the year it premiered, so obviously I was just a little kid during the show's run.

    When I was a little older, pre-Netflix era, my only real exposure to the show was reruns on Nick at Nite and such. As much as I love Seinfeld, there's something much more elemental about Cheers--just people sitting at the bar and chatting. While the jokes were great, there's a much less snarky quality about them, which has always made the show feel more big-hearted to me. There's definitely a lot of appeal to that.
  9. Greenhorn

    Greenhorn Active Member

    Many brilliant Cheers moments: Frasier's bachelor party with the Wang Chung quote, Norm carrying Tom Skerritt across his lawn and the unforgettable John Cleese episode.
  10. Huggy

    Huggy Well-Known Member

    The Book Club, Woody's Wedding (which I was glad to see made GQ's list of memorable episodes - it was a fucking riot), Frazier appearing as Binky the Clown and the one where Emma Thompson starred as children's performer Nanny G, Frazier's ex-wife.
  11. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Physical comedy is always really hard to do well. It's typically kind of a ploy for cheap laughs, and not particularly memorable. But that's one of the reasons I love "Thanksgiving Orphans" (the food fight episode) because it nails the build-up to the physical comedy so well. I think the moment where Diane tries to calm everything down and Sam splats her in the face with cranberry sauce is one of the best moments in the entire series.

  12. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I agree with half of this. The show opened up when Shelley Long left, but it lost its focus and purpose to me. As I said in the How I Met Your Mother thread, the stakes were gone. Maybe part of this is because I watched it all after the fact. But I didn't know all the details, I hadn't heard spoilers. Yet I knew from early in Season 6 that Rebecca and Sam weren't going to have anything like what Diane and Sam had. That was a good thing for the show and sustained it for those last six seasons, but it left me wanting for Diane.

    The chemistry between Ted Danson and Long was special, maybe the best ever. That moment Double Down mentioned in the Thanksgiving episode was one of the better ones. The boat episode. The slap fight. The night at the opera and the bar scene that followed. My Cheers memories center around Sam and Diane. Also, Coach was my favorite character, and Woody was one great replacement but never quite topped Coach.
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