Cheers was that kind of place that songs have been written about. Billy Joel’s Piano Man describes such a place where the patrons are, for the most part, regulars and pretty much family. In the days before huge screen televisions and satellite networks, Cheers would likely have been considered a sports bar. In those days the sports was more the talk of the place and not merely gathering to watch 127 games at a time. The bar’s owner was Sam Malone (Danson). Sam was a washed up baseball player for the local Boston Red Sox. He was a pitcher who liked to drink a bit too much. So, what does he do? He buys a bar. Actually the character has kicked the drinking and is always seen sporting a bottle of water. At first his bartender was his old baseball coach, until Nicholas Colasanto passed away after 3 years. Coach was replaced by Woody, played by Woody Harrelson. Woody was a farm boy with naiveté and small town charm reminiscent of Radar from MASH. His innocence was often the butt of the jokes. In a strange coincidence, the show’s popular theme song, performed by Gary Portnoy, sounded a lot like Harrelson’s voice, and for years it was believed by anyone too lazy to read the credits that Harrelson sang the tune. The barmaid was Carla, played by Danny DiVito’s wife Rhea Perlman. She reminded us a lot of her husband’s Louie character from Taxi. She was abrasive, sarcastic, and more than willing to kick a guy when he was down. She had a soft spot for Sam, however, and was often protective of him. Kirstie Alley played Rebecca Howe, an on again off again romantic interest for Sam and also on again off again owner of Cheers in later years. She replaced Shelly Long who played Sam’s romantic interest and barmaid Diane for the first half of the show’s run. The steady customers offered most of the stories for Cheers. Cliff, played by John Ratzenberger, was a postman who spent more time nursing a beer than actually delivering the mail. He often joked about how hard it was to fire a civil service employee. He was a knowitall and too often bored his comrades with longwinded explanations for even the simplest concepts. His best friend was Norm (George Wendt). Norm was one of the more popular patrons, greeted with shouts of “NORM” whenever he entered the bar. He sat in the same stool, usually griping about his life but unwilling to move off his seat and actually do anything about it. He was married to an unseen wife who worked while he loafed at Cheers. Finally Kelsey Grammer played psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane. You might recognize that character the most because he got his own show after 9 years on Cheers which lasted another decade. Frasier was the elitist who acted superior to the others but deep down just wanted to be one of the guys.
Cheers was a simple show with very little fluff. The location almost never left the confines of the bar. The elegance of the series can be found in just how much could be mined in such a limited location. These characters had tremendous chemistry, and it was so easy to believe these relationships had existed forever. Part of the charm was our desire as an audience to hang out with these characters. Each week the series invited us to pull up a stool and be a part of the family. When Cheers went terribly astray it was the romantic entanglements, first with Diane and finally with Rebecca. We like Sam more when he’s his womanizing self playing the field. Cheers never needed complicated relationships. We all reveled in the absolute simplicity of this
One of the more annoying characters on Cheers had a big year in season 9. Roger Rees plays Robin Colcord, another romantic interest for Rebecca and again sometimes owner of Cheers. In the opening episode, Love Is A Really, Really Perfectly Okay Thing, Rebecca is obsessing about her first intimate moment with Robin. Ho Hum. Unfortunately for us, this goes on nearly all season long. Cliff gets jealous when his Ma takes a shine to Woody and treats him “like the son she never had” in Ma Always Liked You Best. Cheers celebrated its 200th episode with Grease, which deals with the closing of the often mentioned Hungry Heifer and the gang’s attempt to keep it open. Bad Neighbor Sam introduces us to a new character. John Hill, played by Keene Curtis, buys the restaurant upstairs and his snobbish demeanor rubs Sam the wrong way. The two would constantly continue to bicker in the episodes to come. One of Carla’s best episodes finds her in a rare off balance moment because she thinks the foosball table is possessed in Achilles Hill. My favorite all time Frasier moment occurs in I’m Getting My Act Together And Sticking It In Your Face. Frasier attempts to add culture to the gang and decides to expose them to Dickens. He gets carried away when he tries to tell them the story of David and The Coppers In The Field. While we never meet Norm’s wife Vera, we get close in It’s A Wonderful Wife. Vera gets a job upstairs, forcing Norm to consider going to another bar. We don’t see Vera, but we do hear her. It all adds up to a good year at Cheers.
Each episode of Cheers is presented in its original full frame broadcast format. Most of the time the picture is fine and likely is a good representation of the original broadcast quality. There are times when grain and compression artifacts are quite obvious here. Colors are a little soft, likely due to typical sitcom production values.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is serviceable for the kind of a show Cheers is. Let’s face it, the dialog is pretty much all there is here, and it is reproduced just fine.
I liked Cheers when it was on in spite of some of the lame romantic moments. It was a comfortable show more than anything else and was great escape sit-com. The topics were really never that high handed, and the show didn’t need to stretch into constant innuendo to get a laugh. It was arguably the best sit com of the 80’s. Cheers is also a great reminder to the networks that sometimes if you give a show some time to develop and find its audience, good things can happen. Cheers didn’t explode on the scene with immediate numbers. Those were the days of patience. If you have the previous 8 sets, I don’t see any reason to stop now. If you haven’t yet started yet, what are you waiting for. Don’t we all “wanna go where everybody knows your name”?