Cheers: Complete First Season [DVD] [Import]
The definition of comfort television is this: You want to go where everybody knows your name. And you're always glad you came. Long one of DVD's most wanted, Cheers is at last open for business in this four-disc set that contains all 22 episodes of the first, and best, season of one of the defining series of the 1980s. Cheers inherited the mantle from Taxi as television's best ensemble-driven workplace comedy. It can be instructive to return to a long-running series' more humble beginnings. While Cheers got drunk on farce in its later seasons, it began life as a much more grounded human comedy. In these inaugural episodes, the action does not stray from the Boston bar owned by Sam Malone, a washed-up baseball player three years sober. The straws that stir the drink are the lineup of MVPs: Nick Colasanto as addled Coach; Rhea Perlman, the Thelma Ritter of her generation, as surly and fertile waitress Carla; George Wendt as quintessential barfly Norm; and John Ratzenberger as Cliff, the bar know-it-all ready with "little-known facts" (and blessedly far from the pathetic blowhard his character would evolve into).
Spiking this concoction is the palpable chemistry between Ted Danson's Sam and Shelley Long's Diane Chambers, fledgling waitress and self-described "student of life." The battle lines are drawn in the episode "Sam's Women": He's the "dim ex-baseball player" and she, "the post graduate." But, as Carla so indelicately puts it, they can't "put their glands on hold." In the first blush of lust, they were primetime's most potent mismatched couple until Moonlighting's David and Maddie bantered entendres. Here are little remembered facts: Sam was initially "an astute judge of human character." Guest stars Fred Dryer ("Sam at Eleven") and Julia Duffy ("Any Friend of Diane's") were among those considered for the roles of Sam and Diane. A pre-"Night Court" Harry Anderson stole his scenes in his recurring role as flim-flam man Harry ("Pick a Con...Any Con"). The lack of a commentary track is a disappointment, as are the extras that wouldn't fill a shot glass. Still, Cheers patrons can expect plenty of happy hours with this set. --Donald Liebenson