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Archive for September 1st, 2017

by Adam Ferenz

Cheers, named after the bar where everybody knows your name, is one of those legendary works that crop up from time to time. In terms of reputation and legacy it is, in the annals of US television, right there with works like MASH, Seinfeld, All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners, to name a few. Yet, Cheers is both unlike and precisely like those series. It is like them in that it is the synthesis of everything that came before, in the sitcom, and unlike them, in that nothing was the same after Diane Chambers walked through the door to that basement bar and met Sam Malone (the great Ted Danson) and the gang.

For starters, Cheers used more serialized moments-references to other episodes, ongoing character situations, and miniature arcs such as Frasier and Dianne’s initial courtship-than had been previously seen among US sitcoms, and it was both bawdier and meaner, yet also sharper, wittier and filled with more fully rounded characters, than those currently airing when it began. It is the cast-and the characters they play-which make the series what it is. Sam, Dianne, Rebecca, Coach, Woody, Frasier, Carla, Norm, Cliff and  recurring supporting players like Lilith, Ma Clavin, Robin (Rebecca’s second boss),  John Allen Hill (owner of the restaurant above Cheers, during the series later seasons)  and Gary, Sam’s rival from a nearby tavern, among others,  made the show what it was. Very quickly, within a season, the series felt like a group of characters you’d know for a while. By the end of its decade-plus long run, you did know them well, and had for years.

What makes this all the more remarkable is how much of the series takes place in the main room of the bar itself, or perhaps Sam’s office or the pool room-more of a nook at the back of the bar, really-and it is an approach that few series, aside from Barney Miller, have ever made work quite as well. Because of this setting limit, the series often took on a theatrical feeling. Yes, this was television, but it had more than a hint of the old boards about it. Of course, there was also Sam’s place, Dianne’s place, Rebecca’s place, Lillith and Frasier’s house, Woody’s in-laws and Carla’s new house, but those were the only sets we saw beyond more than a glancing capacity. The sojourns there made the audience yearn all the more for the comforts of Cheers itself, not because they were poorly designed or boring things happened there, but because Cheers had become our home, and these characters so identified with a single place, that it felt a bit odd seeing them away from the bar. (more…)

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