“You wanna be where everybody knows your name”
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 Shelley 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 know-it-all 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.
And who wouldn’t want that? In its landmark final year Cheers kept on delivering pretty much the same. It’s remarkable that this cast remained almost untouched since the first year a decade ago. Coach passed and Diane left, but the patrons just kept coming back week after week, providing that friendly ambiance that Billy Joel likely understood when he wrote Piano Man. 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 Americana snapshot.
So, how did the final season of Cheers play out? Shelley Long returns to the bar in the end so that we learn what ever happened to Diane. One of the funniest ever episodes happens to be It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad Bar. Robin informs the gang that there is a money belt stashed somewhere in the bar and it’s loaded with cash. Harry Anderson returns one last time as Harry The Hat in Bar Wars VII: The Naked Prey. He’s here to help Sam win the fight with Gary’s once and for all. Norm gets his dream job of beer taster at a brewery in The King Of Beers. Cliff believes that the old man who moved into his building is actually Adolph Hitler in the extremely funny, Feelings…Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. This is the season that Frasier and Lilith break up, leading to the return of the good doctor to his hometown of Seattle for his own spin-off series.
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 artifact are quite obvious here. Colors are a little soft, likely due to typical sit-com 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.
Nothing. The set should have contained the tribute to the show which was broadcast with the last episode. Shame on you, Paramount.
Cheers finally closed its doors in May of 1993 after a good 11 year run. It never stopped being funny and was one of the best sit-coms of all time. It’s always bittersweet to see a show go out while it’s still at the top of its game. You’re spared desperate storylines and gimmicks to bring back the viewers, but sometimes these characters become like family and you know you’ll miss them on some level. Cheers didn’t end with a spectacular finish, and I always thought that it was for the best. We can still believe that Cliff and Norm are sidling up to the bar, even if for us it was “last call”.