Each November I tell myself, “Self, you should really watch more than just the “Thanksgiving Orphans” episode of Cheers this year. Then I debate whether to just watch the rest of season five, which I own on DVD, or dive into the entire series on a streaming service. And, every year, I end up just watching that single episode around Thanksgiving.
Last spring I came across the article I’ve linked to below. I read it and hung onto it, just in case one year I finally started watching old Cheers episodes.
Well, my friends, this is that year!
Last week I started Cheers from season one, episode one and am about halfway through the first year of TV’s greatest ever comedy.
A few takeaways:
- The pilot was magical and perfect. Sometimes when you go back and watch the pilot of a classic show, it seems very different than what followed. Over-acting, unformed characters, things that were tried and discarded for other elements that became staples over time. S1E1 of Cheers avoids those errors. It is smart, funny, confident, provides origin stories for its key players, and plants all the seeds for what would come over the next 10+ seasons.
- As I’ve watched season one, I’ve laughed at some of the technical elements that were lacking in TV back then. The camerawork is strange. Sometimes scenes are out-of-focus, or the camera is hunting through a scene to find the proper focus. Sometimes in stationary scenes the camera shakes. Today, those scenes would be reshot until they were perfect. And the sound was terrible. Some lines are inaudible because of noise from elsewhere on the set. Other lines, spoken off-camera, were clearly dubbed in later and are presented at a much louder level than the rest of the audio. I assume all of this is because of the big, open set that used boom mics that, back then, just couldn’t lock in on the desired actors without getting into the frame.
- Ted Danson had a weird skin tone in season one. He was super tan, but whether because of the lighting or the cameras or just the deterioration of the tape over the years, he has a strange, greenish tone to his skin that makes him look ill.
- I’ve laughed most at Coach’s lines. Back when Cheers was still something people talked about, I argued that Coach was a way better character than Woody Boyd. I still stand by that. Coach is an utter delight, and the closing scene of episode five, “Coach’s Daughter,” remains one of the greatest moments in the series’ history.
- That episode highlighted what Cheers was so good at. It was a comedy – a barroom comedy for crying out loud – that was never afraid to offer intelligent, emotionally impactful scenes.
That leads me to the link. Last night I watched “Endless Slumper” and re-read the article after. As good as the closing scene of “Coach’s Daughter” is, “Endless Slumper” ends with an even more powerful moment. The author of the piece is right: you can feel the delicious tension in the audience in the 30 seconds when Sam is contemplating whether to take a drink or not. There is an intensity in the performances of Ted Danson and Shelly Long that the show had not offered before. But, as the show would do time-and-again over the years, it didn’t oversell the moment. There was always a release without stretching the drama out too long or turning it into a cheesy, “lesson” moment.
My summer rewatching of The Office petered out in season five, when the show began throwing in the mid 80s instead of the low 90s. I’m pretty sure I’m in for Cheers for awhile, now. Or at least until it begins to disappoint, although I’m not sure that will happen.
- How quaint! ↩