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Cheers: The Complete First Season [DVD] [Import]
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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
The complex relationship between lowbrow ex-athlete bartender Sam and snobbish perpetual student and slumming barmaid Diane is the underpinning of the series, and the strangely electric chemistry is there from the get-go. Rumor had it the actors didn't get along in real life, but if so, they certainly deserved all their acting accolades because they look at each other with real affection - and undeniable attraction. The characters are flirtatious but just friends until the last episode of the season - and you can see their friendship deepen over time. This lends credibility to when the polar opposites finally end up in a clinch.
However, the seeds of their dysfunction are already there - Sam, while honest and loyal to a fault with his friends, is pathologically emotionally unavailable to women - and Diane is a co-dependent who thinks its her duty to get in there and teach him some morals and solve all his problems. (If you notice, Sam never takes one ounce of interest in Diane's everyday problems - he merely wants to bed her.)
Dysfunctional as it is, the sexual chemistry is palpable and it's what drives the series.
Sam seems to lose brain cells as the show goes on - but in this first season, he matches intellectual Diane barb for barb. He also has a charm about him in the first season that makes Diane's attraction to him (as well as his success with the ladies of Boston) completely realistic - unfortunately, this charm descends into one-dimensional buffoonery in the later seasons (especially in the Rebecca Howe seasons - which I can't watch).
A few of the jokes are hoary and repetitive (How often can Diane call Sam stupid? How often can Coach take something literally?) but for the most part, they stand up amazingly well. And where else are you going to find a sitcom that finds the funny in topics like Schopenhaur and John Dunne?
Cliff is but a footnote in the first season, his character will become more integral later on - but it's impressive to think he reportedly made up his character on the spot during a failed audition for Norm.
The series ends with Sam and Diane in a huge, hysterical argument that culminates in a passionate kiss, and I really don't think any two characters have ever done that kind of thing better. It's got to be one of the funniest, yet most touching, and also most sexually exciting scenes ever filmed for TV. (The defining moment where Sam yells 'How do you think it feels to be attracted to someone who makes you sick?' is surely one most of us can relate to.)
[Note: While it's no secret that the Sam/Diane relationship was an homage to Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn and '30s screwball comedies - the writers seem to overdo it during the 'Showdown' two partner finale and their big argument, which has Sam emitting lines like 'I've always wanted to pop you one!' and Diane actually saying things like 'I'm the best thing that's ever happened to you, and you're too stupid to realize it!' For characters who normally have such edgy wit, it's like they were suddenly thrown into a wayback machine for their ultimate clash. Somehow the chemistry between the actors makes it seem fresh though.]
The first season just makes you want to dive into the second season, which plumbs the discord between Sam and Diane even more winningly and to bigger laughs.
They just don't make 'em like this anymore.
The show is set in Cheers, a popular bar in Boston, Massachusetts. It's owned by Sam (Ted Danson), a former relief pitchers and former alcoholic. The staff includes Carla (Rhea Perlman), a short tempered waitress and Ernie "Coach" Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto), Sam's former coach who helps tend the bar and has taken one too many hits with a baseball over the years. The pilot brings a new waitress to the bar in the form of Diana (Shelley Long), a professional student who is dumped by her professor boyfriend at the bar. Her cultural touchstones are very different from her new co-workers and the patrons. Round out the cast are bar regulars, accountant Norm (George Wendt) and mailman Cliff (John Ratzenberger). What's interesting to note is that John Ratzenberger isn't in the main credits this season. He guests stars in every episode, however, and is promoted to regular status in the second season.
There are lots of laughs over the course of the 22 half hour episodes of the first season. Carla's attack on an obnoxious Yankees fan almost costs her the job, Diane takes a stand against female exploitation in the Miss Boston Barmaid contest, until she wins. Coach is upset by his daughter's obnoxious fiancée. On Christmas Eve, a stranger wanders into the bar and claims to be a spy. Norm uses Cheers to host his annual office party - a party with a toga theme. And a buddy from Sam's professional baseball days comes out of the closet at Cheers, causing the regulars to wonder if the clientele of the bar will change.
But the heart of the show, especially during the first year, was Sam and Diane's relationship. Their relationship is nothing new on TV - two people who are complete opposites trying to deny their feelings while impressing each other at the same time. It's familiar ground, but the chemistry between Shelley Long and Ted Danson is amazing. A simple exchange between them leaves you wondering just when they'll realize their attraction. This is the biggest constant, popping up in just about every episode, although it does become the focus of some of them, like the one where they agree to set each other up on blind dates, or the two part finale where Sam's brother comes to town and appears to be sweeping Diane off her feet.
With much of the focus this year being on Sam and Diane, it might be easy for the rest of the cast to get lost in the background, but that never happens. True, the characters are still being defined this year, but that's true with just about any show in its first season. The acting by all the regulars is great. They are making these characters their own right from the start, and it's this group of characters that were the core of the show for its eleven year run. Even so, it takes a little while to fall into the rhythm of the show and truly come to love them.
Some of the staples of the show were in place right from the start, like everyone yelling out "Norm" as he walks in the door or his lines as he goes to his normal stool at the bar. Carla's already complaining about her kids even as she becomes pregnant with another one (since Rhea Perlman was really pregnant with her first kid).
The show famously struggle in its first year. (It's often used as an example of a show being given time to grow since by today's standards it wouldn't have lasted all season.) I noticed while watching this season that the jokes were a bit slower in coming. Maybe that has something to do with it. I'm certainly not saying this season isn't funny; I laughed plenty of times. What I mean is that sometimes the jokes required a bit more set up than just one straight line. I actually like this. It makes the humor seem more real when every other line isn't a joke. In some ways, this is a very intelligent sitcom, which is ironic since it is set in a bar.
Speaking of setting, I'm trying to think of they left the bar once all season. If so, it was very brief. Almost every episode takes place completely in the main bar, the back room, and Sam's office.
Having watched the show randomly in reruns over the years, I was not too familiar with Coach. He's your typical not quite all there sitcom character, but he's very lovable. He gets some of the best lines of the season as his nearly constant confusion is always fresh and funny. You know it's coming, but you never quite know when or how. And underneath it all is a sweetness that makes you truly love this guy.
The 22 episodes from this season are all here on four discs. They are in stereo and full frame. The picture and sound aren't super outstanding, but for a show that is almost 30 years old, they work. I don't remember anything about the quality that really bothered me. Disc four does have a few extras, although most of them are compilations of greatest moments centering on certain characters. We get three of them, one for Sam and Diane and their insults, one for Coach, and one for Norm. Rounding out the extras are a very brief interview with Ted Danson and a trivia game. All of these are filled with clips from the season you've just watched, so there isn't much point to them.
The disappointing extras aside, season 1 of Cheers still brings the laughs. The show is still building this year, but it's already enjoyable.
This is one of our favorites.
When Cheers was originally broadcast I was working and didn't have too much time for TV.
Now, retired and wanting a pleasant evening away from current tv this is one of our favorites.