8 Reasons “Cheers” Should Be Your Next Netflix Commitment
During and since its eleven-year run from 1982-1993, Cheers has been touted as an exemplum of sitcom excellence. And frankly, up until a few weeks ago, I was getting pretty tired of hearing about it. What can anything from the ’80s tell me that I don’t already know?, I wondered. How many television sitcoms are actually that good?, I thought, face buried in hands, sweating profusely. What makes it any different from all the other sitcoms that promise to be funny? I asked God, flying a kite outside in the dead of night.
Few of us have consciously rejected Cheers. There’s not much to reject about a bunch of zany, lovable characters hanging out in a bar. It’s everything you want your real life to be, minus the hassle of going out and making your own, less fictional friends. Staring slack-jawed at a screen is so much easier—and with the advent of streaming on Netflix, the allure of Cheers is greater than ever.
About a month ago, I succumbed to Netflix’s wily “Recommended For You” advances and queued up episode one of Cheers. I have since finished the entire series—I don’t get out much—and feel compelled to tell you exactly what makes this show so watchable.
1) Smart, consistent comedy writing—what makes Cheers, Cheers.
The fact that these writers maintained their high standard of pace and quality for over ten years is astounding. This group of individuals did more than create a show—they created an identity.
Nothing like a Norm’s nipples comment to grab a viewer’s attention. Norm’s entrance wisecracks are one small example of the identity Cheers cultivated for itself during its run. But the humor extends well beyond that little gag, with each character adding a distinct, necessary element to the bar’s banter and (often absurd) goings-on. Naturally, some episodes are funnier than others—but never are they disappointing.
2) Character rapport (and integration!).
From season one, the show boasted hilariously developed characters: There’s Norm, that fat, complacent schmoe with accessible wit. There’s Cliff, a mommy’s-boy postal carrier with a severe case of know-it-all-ism. There’s Sam, the cocky stud with sometimes loftier ambitions. There’s Carla, the ever-pregnant and barbarous berater of anyone who crosses her path. The list goes on.
Barflies, Cheers employees, and a slew of random visitors are constantly bouncing jibes off each other, and the formula doesn’t get old. Why? Because each Cheers character brings something to the table in his or her own way (even that old punching bag, Diane—but we’ll get to her in a bit). The writers have an uncanny knack for blending original characters with new ones, integrating those newcomers to the point where they become essential.
Take characters like Kelsey Grammer‘s Frasier Crane, for instance.
Frasier Crane was introduced in the show’s third season in what was supposed to be a temporary stint as one of Diane’s paramours.
After Diane left the show in Season Five, Frasier Crane did not go the way of the dodo. Rather, Frasier Crane evolved from a visiting character into a featured character, ultimately becoming a main character—and appearing in every episode, right up through the series finale in 1993.
As if that wasn’t enough, you are probably well aware that the writers developed an eponymous spinoff for the character of Frasier Crane. Frasier went on to become one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, winning 37 Emmys and three Golden Globes (in addition to Cheers’ 28 Emmys and six Golden Globes—and these stats don’t even take into account their combined hundreds of nominations). What began as a multi-episode guest arc in 1985 turned into Kelsey Grammer’s record-tying 20-year portrayal of Dr. Frasier Crane.
Yep. Cheers did something right. Frasier Crane fit right into their beloved cast from the start, owing to the fact that…
3) They’re all jerks (and it’s hilarious).
This is actually a great sitcom formula. For a contemporary example, consider It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Ask yourself: Would you want to know or encounter any of those characters? No. Because they are ceaselessly selfish, and in every episode they throw each other under the bus in aggressive and often lethal ways.
The same goes for Cheers. No level of assholery is off-limits—and no alliances exist within it: Married characters will crap on their spouses without a blink. Characters in a relationships will gleefully (and publicly) malign their significant others. Friends will screw each other over multiple times per episode—and yet, with a dash of sitcom magic, all will return to normal by the following week.
Cheers‘ prime example of acerb is waitress Carla, who spews venom virtually every time she opens her mouth. While she takes care not to spare anyone from her path of verbal destruction—barring, perhaps, Sam—she fosters a particularly blinding hatred for Cliff and Diane.
What is most enjoyable about Carla’s ribbing is its charmingly graphic, violent nature—a fading art, due to the wussiness of today’s television.
Diane: What can be more enjoyable than opening your heart with holiday cheer?
Carla: Opening yours with a can opener?
You can’t beat that kind of visual.
4) …but every jerk knows your name.
This song is a direct appeal to the lonely saps of the world, which is likely a sad percentage of us at heart (oh, stop being stoic). Dat b-flat major is like “Come on in!” Watching Cheers is like being a part of a family. A fictional family. From decades ago. And you know what? Each of them is just as big a screw-up as you are (some of them more so).
Elements of the show may even be designed to make you feel better about your life—because the one thing you probably have that these schmucks don’t is a place to be…besides a bar. More than a few of them spend morning, noon, and night drinking draught beers and getting into zany and/or dramatic situations. Okay, so maybe that sounds awesome. But if these people were real, they would actually be really, really, really, really, really depressing. Case in point: Cliff’s cringeworthy stand-up routine.
Cliff is lonely, eccentric, needy, and has creepy mother issues. He is cursed with some major personality flaws and ill manners, to the point where he feels compelled, in one episode, to punish himself using shock aversion therapy. Then there’s Norm, who is arguably the funniest character on the show. But this man is aging, overweight, bored by his wife, floats from dead-end job to dead-end job (though is usually unemployed). Makes you feel a little better about yourself, right?
This cast of weirdos may trade blows and insults on a daily basis, but in the end, they ARE a family, and they have each other’s backs. It’s love. Well, except when it comes to….
5) Everybody hates Diane.
“I should’ve killed her when I had the chance.” – Frasier Crane (“The Proposal,” Season 5, Episode 1)
It’s hard to say whether the writers intended for Diane to be so loathsome from the show’s beginning, but they seem to have caught on by a few episodes into the series—why else would so much of the show’s humor be at her expense?
Diane is narcissistic. Whiny. Grating. Condescending. Hypocritical. She hurts people repeatedly and, in spite of her alleged intelligence, acts almost sociopathically oblivious to their pain. This woman is appallingly lacking in self-awareness. Consequently, as viewers, we are all but invited to take pleasure in Diane’s torment, which comes at gratifyingly regular intervals.
Diane does serve a purpose beyond “punching bag”; this purpose can mostly be chalked up to sex appeal. Fans were wild about the chemistry between Sam and Diane (and still are, if the scores of hilarious fan videos on YouTube are to be believed). But in spite of how much Diane sucks, everything works out (no spoilers), because Cheers knows character. Which leads us to…
6) Norm and Cliff.
Let me make the hilarity of that a little clearer for you:
The characters as a collective are one thing, but Norm and Cliff merit their own category. Each brings something so valuable to the show. While they each work on their own to provide the show with something it needs, they also work in tandem to provide clever comic relief from whatever dramatic goings-on (Sam and Diane…yeesh) are occurring in the bar.
As mentioned above, these two are generally down on their luck, but it’s just as easy to laugh with them as it is to laugh at them. Cliff tends to be the butt of a joke, while Norm tends to be the one cracking it. And yet, they are so willing to make fools of themselves, regardless of whether the situation calls for it—though the situation does call for it, surprisingly often.
*(One of the greatest Cheers episodes, in my opinion, is “Norm, Is That You?,” in which Norm must pretend to be a flamboyant homosexual. I won’t reveal anything beyond that.)
7) The lovable idiot.
Unfortunately, Ernie “Coach” Pantuso appears only in the first three seasons of the program, due to the passing of actor Nick Colasanto in 1985. Three seasons is more than enough time to fall in love with this character. The writers of Cheers manage—remarkably—to make the goofy/absentminded archetype so lovable, when it generally tends to be annoying and beaten to death. There aren’t many other idiots this endearing, barring perhaps Homer Simpson from the earlier Simpsons seasons (until, like many from the breed, he grew to be increasingly stupid until no trace of subtlety or funniness remains).
Colasanto acts this role so well. Maybe it’s the fact that Coach has some seeds of wisdom for all his craziness. He isn’t just some blithering idiot—there’s a substantive character behind all that goofiness.
After Colasanto’s passing, Cheers introduced Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), a down-on-the-farm Indiana boy who carries on the absentminded, innocent personality of Coach. They make Woody a lovable character in his own right, though at times it is hard to avoid the fact that he is a direct and complete surrogate for the void left by Coach. That said, the formula worked and they stuck with it.
Why are you still here?