A TV SHOW ‘WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME.’
Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in July 2021.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of decent television out there nowadays. There’s a steady flow of positively engaging fiction series and well-researched documentaries out there for us all to enjoy in the modern era. Sometimes though, it’s nice to go back and find a simpler show. One of the now old-school comedies I recently re-discovered through this was the sitcom ‘Cheers.’
Now this was certainly not my first discovery of the show. As a youngster, I often recall seeing it appear on Channel 4 most evenings at around dinnertime. On a visit to Boston ten years ago, I visited the street where the exterior shots of the bar were filmed and I was always very aware of the catchy lyrics of the show’s iconic theme tune.
Being the geek that I am though, I couldn’t help but get my English Literature cap on while enjoying a few episodes last month. In essence, the show’s biggest charm is its simplicity. It’s set almost entirely on one set and carries with it all the energy and realism of watching a stage performance in any theatre.
Well, I suppose, they did tell us at the start of every single episode that “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience” after all. Lots of shows are filmed this way but very few of them (if indeed any) were edited without using ‘canned laughter.’ In other words, the audience laughter you hear on Cheers is actually real.
Aside from the pleasing aesthetic of watching an American-based sitcom operate like a relaxing theatrical production, another quirk of the show is the likability of the characters and their chemistry with each other. There’s no catch-phrases, no repetitive slogans, no pointless slapstick and no fully-fledged ‘stupid for the sake of being stupid’ character.
Everyone on the main cast has their strengths and their weaknesses – as any fictional character should have – and they put their personalities across in endearing ways on a consistent basis.
Sam has his ego about womanising and his playing days as a professional baseball pitcher. Woody is the innocent country boy adopting to life in the big city. Norm is the washed-up accountant who props up the bar alongside Cliff, the know-it-all mailman, who seems to have an opinion on everything, no matter what the topic along the counter may be.
In the earlier series, Diane represented the upper-middle class of American society before being replaced by Rebecca; a typical 1980s go-getter trying to make it big in the corporate world. A regular theme which appeared in movies of that era (‘Trading Places’, ‘Working Girl’ for etc). Then there’s Carla who (waitress) personifies the gruff-talking single mother who works almost constantly to feed her eight rowdy children at home.
Then you have Dr Fraiser Crane – yes, he had his own spin-off show later – and his wife Lillith, who offer psychological and scientific explanations to everything that goes on in the bar, even if they aren’t asked for it and even though they often, ironically, fall foul of their own advice themselves.
What I’m getting at is that no character is perfect. Nor should they be. They all have flaws and that’s what makes the show engaging. It’s as if you can’t help but root for each of them in their respective endeavours no matter what hijinx they get up to and the simplicity of the setting, a bar counter in a run-of-the-mill tavern in Massachusetts, gives it all a very local yet global feel.
Perhaps what I admire most about Cheers is not its character development or its charming theatricality. It’s the fact that the people of Boston themselves adored the show. I always imagine that when you put on a show, with a specific setting, the writers, producers and actors must surely feel they are walking a tightrope with how they portray the real-life locals.
During its eleven year run between 1982 and 1993, Cheers seemed to strike a chord with the residents of ‘America’s Walking City.’ The viewers saw themselves in the characters. Characters who faced the same dilemmas that they did and who, especially Cliff, weren’t afraid of ridicule anytime they spoke in their typically vowel-elongated ‘Baaawstan’ twang.
The show brought in references to history, science and culture in a non-condescending fashion. Sexual relations regularly crop up in the dialgue but certainly not in any offensive manner and, perhaps most pleasing to the locals, there was the occasional nod to the sports teams such as the Red Sox, the Celtics and the Bruins sprinkled throughout the series.
It’s the global appeal of the show has to be praised too, of course. In a way, it’s refreshing to still see a show where people openly discuss their feelings.
The thought of staring into a mobile phone all evening wasn’t on the horizon yet and, despite their ups and downs, the characters of Cheers remind us that making your way in the world today takes everything you got but taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Be sure to pop in if you’re looking for some nostalgia viewing.