WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME.

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. 

THE SIMPSONS: THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICA’S FIRST FAMILY.

Originally penned in April 2018.

I know it might seem a tad naff for a grown man in his mid-thirties to be discussing a cartoon show, but gosh darn it, as the Simpsons creators are planning the end of production, I can’t help but think about how this was a show that I essentially grew up with. But what was it that made The Simpsons rise so high before its eventual slump? Here’s my two cents on the matter.

By Jonathan Foley

Having started as crude illustrations that were aired as bumpers between the ad breaks of The Tracey Ullman Show back in the mid-eighties, Matt Groening’s characters got their own show in 1989. The very first full episode being a Christmas special where they ran a storyline about how they overcame financial difficulties, inhouse disputes and even adapted Santa’s Little Helper as the family dog.

In the years that followed this successful screening, the show went on to gather a huge cult following which appealed to so many age groups, social classes and nationalities. The reason for this lies in how the show wasn’t afraid to tackle societal issues, it earned the respect of celebrities without bowing down to them and what’s more is that it was brilliantly written and produced. 

It was also very unique in its appearance.  Groening himself has admitted that many people found the yellow skin tone and brightly coloured settings rather baffling at first. It didn’t look like any other show on television, but in essence, that’s precisely what this struggling cartoonist from Portland, Oregon wanted. 

Think about it. If you’re channel hopping and you stumble across an airing of The Simpsons, immediately, just by the colours used, you know it’s The Simpsons. A genius idea really. The writers also had no fear in politicising the show and satirised public figures and societies in general superbly well.

The Simpsons gained huge notoriety in 1992 when President George Bush slammed the show during a public address. In a passionate campaign speech, he urged the American family to “be a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons!” In their own way, the creators weren’t going to be bullied and in return, they hit back with Bart quoting the line: “Hey! We’re a lot like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to a Depression too!” Take that, George! 

Bush couldn’t have been more wrong in his condemnation of the Springfield family. Viewers who found themselves tuning in were subconsciously watching a show that was, believe it or not, highly relatable. On a domestic level, The Simpsons was one of the first ever shows that portrayed families going to church, having a drink or two too many and gleefully making fun of people in authority. Things that your normal everyday family could relate to,

The Simpsons was also a very intelligent show. A Facebook page called ‘Things I Know Because of The Simpsons’ was a great place for fans to post hidden gems that they spotted in certain episodes. The show often makes subtle yet highly complex mathematical gags and this led to the publication of the book ‘The Simpsons Secret Formula’ in 2013. 

I have to confess here that a lot of those maths jokes go over my head but another thing that the show does tremendously well is how it intertextualises itself with popular cinema. Some references are done as parodies and spoofs and a lot of them are very obvious mimics of other famous films and TV shows. 

Take Itchy and Scratchy for example; they are a very blatant nods to Tom and Jerry, but going deeper – and with a viewing of ‘The Simpsons Tribute to Cinema’ videos on Youtube – you’ll see that they often pay homage in their use of camera angles, soundtrack and dialogue to films like Citizen Kane, Pyscho, The Birds and even Disney movies amongst many others. 

Thus showing that the writers were not just maths geeks, but passionate students of filmcraft. 

During its heyday, The Simpsons were nothing short of fantastic in the way that they made a skit of American politics. Bill Clinton arguably got the worst of it with multiple jokes being made at his expensive. The most memorable one was perhaps in a clip where he states to Marge: “I know you don’t think you’re good enough for me, but trust me, you are. Heck, I’ve done it with pigs!” 

Another great weapon the writers possessed derives from how they tackled serious issues in a light-hearted way. Despite a satirical and comical front, the show often delved into themes such as the acceptance of homosexuality in society, the right to bear arms in the home, issues of an environmental nature and immigration. 

The episode where Mayor Quimby proposes mass deportation of all non-American born characters evidences this. Again though, brilliantly mimicked with Moe holding a sign that read ‘United States for United Statonions!’ instead of a basic ‘America for Americans!’ A subtle dig at the ignorance of Americans who oppose immigration of any kind.

Aside from the thematic approaches the show takes, it can never be forgotten that it was a great form of escapism with hilarious storylines and beloved characters. And despite all their flaws, the family still always showed great love and loyalty to one another through all their trials and tribulations. 

Episodes that spring to mind here at one where Homer gives up beer for a month. After all the temptations he had to fight off, he rewards himself with a trip to Moe’s, but before taking a sip of his much-sought frothy mug, he pauses. Homer can’t help but notice how alcohol has deeply affected the bodies and minds of the other customers and thus, opts to not have the drink. 

“Put it in the fridge, Moe. I’ve got a date with my wife” are his words. The episode closes beautifully one scene later with Homer and Marge taking a romantic bike ride and singing ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ to one another as the sun sets in the distance. There was a similar moment in the episode which saw Bart and Lisa go against one other in opposing hockey teams. Bart being the hot-shot striker on his team, Lisa being the goalie on the other.

Much of the build-up to their match shows them trash-talking and insulting one another and amid the frenzy of a hysterical crowd at their match, Bart’s team are awarded a penalty shot. Despite all their argy-bargy, both zone out from the shouts and taunts and remember that they are brother and sister after all. A lovely montage of them playing and laughing together as children is shown and with that, they jointly decide to end their squabble and hug one another amid all the boos and jeers. 

It’s easy to see why The Simpsons become so popular. It has declined a fair bit recently with its new writing team and I suppose nothing can last forever. It can’t be underestimated how great the show was for how relatable and intelligent it was.

It’s expected to end production sometime next year and when it does, I’ll be glad to say I was always a fan of ‘America’s First Family.’