By Roger Cormier
Whether it could be transparently quantified or not, every scripted comedy that currently exists is influenced by Cheers. Sometimes the inspirations are known to the creators behind the shows — like with Michael Schur and Dan Harmon, the two men responsible for Parks and Recreation and Community respectively, comedies that have occupied Cheers’ night and network for a few years now. In every Schur interview, he effusively praises the 1982-1993 show and its smart, fiery dialogue that evoked the crispness and literacy of old radio plays and legitimate theater while everyone else was quoting movies and beginning to comment on television itself; Harmon alternates between calling the Greendale study room table the equivalent to the Cheers bar and the 2001:A Space Odyssey monolith. Other showrunners for the most part are of those gentleman’s ages, meaning that the show that lasted for eleven seasons had been on at some point during their most instructive years. It doesn’t matter that shows like Barney Miller and Taxi existed before Cheers and were just as critically praised and funny while dealing with a surrogate family: neither lasted for more than a decade. Also, like the great M*A*S*H, they weren’t the big critical and financial darling when the writers were getting their first writing gigs. Not to mention that they didn’t seemingly invent true TV romance. Or was it lust with Sam Malone and Diane Chambers? Either way, Sam and Diane are the Adam and Eve of “Will They, Won’t They” relationships, somehow both the original and the absolute set standard to all men and women who love and hate each other and take a season or two to open up about it.
I watch twenty different comedic series every week, during the summer, but I haven’t seen an entire episode of Cheers. Why? Because I am a member of my generation, the just slightly too young to qualify by most people’s standards of Generation Y but definitely one of the oldest Millennials to roam the planet. Cheers simply doesn’t roll off of my peers’ tongues as much as the nineties shows The Simpsons, Seinfeld and Friends, just to name a few. Those shows were around when we were growing up, liked on its initial viewings despite not entirely understanding all of the jokes, while the grown ups that we respected and the ones we hated enjoyed them too. Cheers is on the staid Hallmark Channel, tucked away to rot and make moth friends between old Hallmark Hall of Fame Made-For-TV movies. Even though the word “timeless” is eventually used whenever it’s mentioned, there’s a mistaken sense that Cheers is not relatable in 2013 to 18-34 year olds, when I strongly suspect, by everything men and women older than me whose opinions about television I respect say and write, that Cliff Clavin is just as quotable as Homer Simpson or Chandler Bing.
I should be open about all of the knowledge I possess about Cheers, through reading, listening, and the brief journeys to that Made-for-TV movie haven, without revealing anything too spoilery: I know what happens with Sam and Diane. I know that Shelley Long left after season five to pursue a movie career that never worked out. She was replaced by Rebecca, played by Kirstie Alley, but in the series finale Shelley came back. The entire cast got very drunk the night the series finale aired on The Tonight Show. The final episode was a big deal, the second highest rated farewell party of all-time, a record that will no doubt stand forever unless six hundred channels and the internet disappears overnight. I know that Coach was dumb, and then after the actor who played him died, Woody Harrelson played a man named Woody who was possibly dumber and sweeter than Coach, letting it be okay for “smart” comedies to carry at least one moron on its roster (e.g. Andy Dwyer, Troy Barnes). I know of the yearly Bar Wars, which pitted the Cheers bar with some different Boston tavern. Cliff was a mail carrier who was a trivial know-it-all who once appeared on Jeopardy!. Norm was a barfly, and while the theme song implied that everybody knew each others’ name, they were most excited to say Norm’s name when he entered. That theme song – everyone knows that song, even the Ice King, as “we learned in a heartbreaking flashback episode of the dark “for kids” Cartoon Network series Adventure Time a few months ago.
There is always room in life for self-improvement, so I am going to remedy this gaping oversight and watch all two hundred and seventy installments of Cheers over the next eleven weeks, writing about each season every Thursday and thinking about how so many (if not all) of the greatest comedies are heavily indebted to the show. All of the episodes are available on Netflix Instant, so you are more than welcome dear reader to watch along with me, whether you’re like me and witnessing these for the first time, or a veteran that wants to catch something they must have missed before. It shouldn’t be too hard to find the time: missing a few days of TBS’ two hour afternoon block of Friends wont make you remember Chandler’s love of scones any less.