Like I said in my re-introductory post, I owe the inspiration for returning to this blog to the A.V. Club, who did a wonderful job reviewing the first two seasons of “Cheers.” Now I’ll try to take their lead and provide episodic reviews for the other nine seasons!
I’ll sprinkle in my thoughts on the first two years as we go. Can’t put it all into one review! So, I’ll touch briefly on the Season 2 finale that led into these episodes.
The character I have been most excited to see is Frasier. I think his spin-off is one of the best comedies ever and have become quite familiar with his character in Seattle. But I don’t remember much about him in Boston. So I came into this episode very curious about what Frasier was like back then. Especially since he used to hang out in a bar, which he rarely did in the 90s. Was he the same lovable pompous snob?
Anticipating Frasier’s arrival, I was very excited when I noticed a young (and trim) Kelsey Grammer standing near Sam’s office. There was no focus on him. He was just there as Sam came out. For that entire scene, Frasier is no more than a random barfly (like the old man in a hat – Al Rosen – who constantly looks right at the camera, and elicited character-breaking laughs last season by yelling “Sinatra!”). But knowing what we know now, it was fun to watch him react in the background to the things Sam said about his drinking problem.
Frasier doesn’t really come alive in the first episode. Trying to put myself in 1984, I could see him being no more than a recurring guest star. Someone who’s there to serve a purpose (talk Sam out of drinking) and provide a romantic foil (probably just a temporary boyfriend for Diane). In the second episode, though, Frasier comes to life. He shows an unexpected gamesmanship with Sam, able to joke (calling Diane “bonkers) and react in ways not meant for one-note characters. In this episode, I see Frasier as a future customer at the bar.
Of course, Frasier’s appearance is only significant in retrospect. The bigger issue, of course, is Sam’s drinking and Diane’s mental instability. They toyed with the idea of Sam falling off the wagon in season one, in one of the most poignant episodes of the series. I love a comedy that can ably mix in dramatic elements. Knowing what we do about the characters, Sam’s drunkness (perfectly played by Ted Danson) carries a heavy overtone even with the jokes. This is especially driven home by Coach’s disappointment and the fact that everyone in the bar thinks he has a problem. Sam’s problem is never treated as a side plot. It’s given the full attention it deserves.
Nick Colosanto was especially terrific in both episodes. His performance made it clear what life was like during Sam’s boozing days as a player. His genuine concern was touching. So much so that it made any usual Coach jokes feel out of place. I also thought his crafty ability to set up Sam, Diane and Frasier in part two was a little out of character. This is the guy who can’t keep his bank tellers straight. Although I guess he was able to pull off the con in Season 1 with Harry the Hat.
The thing I’m most surprised about in watching “Cheers” is that this isn’t the workplace comedy I thought it was. It’s really a romantic comedy. Sam and Diane are more central to the plot than I realized. Since Diane clearly had to come back to the bar, I thought the the set-up might be over the top (much like Diane’s ability to say Sam. Like when Sam couldn’t say “I love you,” this joke is never funny). But Frasier’s rushed treatment of Sam actually makes sense in a lot of ways (Frasier doesn’t want to belabor this, Sam realizes he’s repeating his mistakes) and Diane still does have some attraction to Sam. They both can still get each other’s goats and their back-and-forth is still sharp (I loved how their trading insults had so much affection tied in). I feel like the whole season will just be an elongated set up to eventually breaking up with Frasier and getting back with Sam. Did it feel that way at the time, I wonder?
– I love how “Cheers” does their “previously on” segment to begin the second half of a two-parter. It’s a lost art these days, as most shows no longer use “To Be Continued” as a cliffhanger that lasts a week. But I’ve watched a lot of classic television and “Cheers” probably has the best use of this device. Character-specific, entertaining, and fourth wall-breaking, which I think was fairly unique in those pre-mockumentary days. Cliff’s Florida slideshow was a nice way to start this second episode, but Coach’s diagram in last season’s finale had me in stitches…like most things Nicholas Colasanto did. They first did this, to some degree, in Season 1’s “Showdown,” but only at the very end with Carla asking Yaz to call her. Looking ahead, I see the next multiple part episode isn’t until Season 4…but it’s a three-parter. That should be a doozy.
– I love in the era of live studio audiences when actors would break down laughing. It happened in the aforementioned “Sinatra” moment, and I think it happens in the famous Thanksgiving episode. I enjoyed the opener to this season, where Coach makes his “my tie” joke. I’m assuming that joke was in there already, but the way Ratzenberger and Perlman reacted that his delivery was completely new. Or his enthusiasm is just infectious. Either way, I love seeing it.
– Diane’s flashback to the croquet game felt odd and out of place, although it was funny. I hope the show doesn’t go back to this device. It’s something a modern show does often, a cutaway gag, but seems wrong in 1984.
– A part of the show I continue to dislike is Carla’s hatred of Diane. I understand their rivalry, but Carla is over the top. Especially when Sam is in this state.
– I can’t stress how good Danson was in this episode. We should have all seen his fantastic performance in “Damages” coming.
– Best Joke — Carla: “She’s been locked up at a home for the silly in Connecticut for three months.” Diane: “I was not locked up, I could come and go at will. And besides, it’s not true. And how did you know about it?”
– Cliff’s Notes — Since Cliff is my favorite character, I’m also going to impart his best wisdom or anecdotes (usually made up) in each review. “And then after being in the Everglades a couple of days, the Seminole Indians found me and made me an honorary mail carrier of the tribe.”