Stuck at home in a coronavirus quarantine? Already binged on all the bottled water and toilet paper you can get your hands on? Then it’s time to binge on all the stuff the MEL staff plans on enjoying while absolutely, definitely working very hard from home, yes sirree. In this edition, Staff Writer Brian VanHooker heads to the place where everyone knows your name — all while never leaving his couch.
No matter how many times I hear that immortal greeting for the everyman barfly Norm Peterson, I never tire of it. In fact, now that I’m back to binging Cheers start-to-finish for the umpteenth time in my life, I find myself unintentionally mouthing “Norm!” along with the characters on the screen. That’s not because I’m a quote-along-with-the-movie kind of guy or because I have any special love for catchphrases, it’s simply because that’s what watching Cheers does to you — it draws you in, sits you down at the bar and makes you feel like you’re right there with them, wasting your time away with the rest of the gang.
Running from 1982 to 1993, Cheers was one of the most successful and longest running sitcoms in TV history. It earned 28 Emmys over its voluminous 275 episodes and from the very beginning of the series, it’s easy to understand why. While even a legendary show like Seinfeld took time to find its footing, Cheers understood its formula right from the start, combining intelligent writing with immensely talented actors.
It was that strong start that gave NBC faith in the show long before the audience found it. Spending its first season at the bottom of the ratings, Cheers struggled at first, perhaps because it was hardly the most imaginative idea for a show: a bunch of people sitting around a Boston bar. But over time, America found it and stuck around thanks to the sharp writing and fantastic characters. And that quality carried through right to the end of the series, where the show went out on the top of its game — much like Seinfeld — and ended with one of the most memorable, heartfelt and satisfying conclusions to any television show ever (very much unlike Seinfeld).
Being that this was the first time I’d watched the show in a couple of years, I did worry that some of it might be notably dated now, particularly the womanizing Sam Malone (played by Ted Danson). And though I’m finding a few cringe-y moments here and there, Sam was always presented with the idea that his shallowness was his central flaw (along with his history with alcoholism). While Cheers is a series where very little changes over time, the one thing that does evolve is Sam, whose superficiality fades and gives way to a deeper yearning. Plus, whenever he does make a sexist remark, there’s Shelley Long’s hilarious Diane Chambers to cut him down to size (who would later be replaced with the nearly as good Kirstie Alley).
Along with the switch up of the lead female star, another notable change in the show was the loss of the character Coach, as actor Nicholas Colasanto died during the third season. While Woody Harrelson’s “Woody” would become a lovable simpleton in his own right, Colasanto served as the true heart of the show for those first few years and much of the series’ success was owed to him.
As for the rest, almost nothing changed. Rhea Perlman’s Carla always had a snarky thing to say and George Wendt’s Norm was always drinking at the end of the bar. John Ratzenberger’s Cliff Clavin (my favorite character, naturally) was always spouting off ridiculous facts — some true, and some that were just hilarious bullshit — and while Frasier didn’t enter until Season Three, he was so lovably pompous that Kelsey Grammer would end up playing him for the next 20 years, including in his own extraordinarily successful spin-off show.
But the most notable thing that doesn’t change about Cheers — and the reason why it’s the perfect binge specifically during quarantine — is the bar itself. Over the 100 plus hours of the series, the show rarely left the bar, and whenever it did venture outside of its central location, it did suffer a bit, almost seeming like a different series.
Rather than get stir crazy in their underground isolation, Cheers kept diving deeper into its characters, exploring their flaws and insecurities, all while enjoying a nice cold one. So as you find yourself similarly enclosed within the same few walls over the unforeseen future, embrace that familiarity and be grateful that you’re in a place where everybody knows your name — because, of course, you’re probably alone or with your immediate family.
Just make sure there’s beer there, too, otherwise you’ll lose your fucking mind.