Cheers: Season 2

Synopsis: It’s a cozy little Boston bar where everybody knows your name…welcome to Cheers, the Emmy Award-winning, smash-hit television series that kept the laughs uncorked for 11 years.

In Cheers: The Complete Second Season, love is in the air – or is it? – as Sam “Mayday” Malone (Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) launch their turbulent, on-again off-again romance. Other hilarious “Season Two” highlights include Carla’s (Rhea Perlman) dismay at the sudden reappearance of her ex-husband, Nick Tortellit (Dan Hedaya), and his new bride (Jean Kasem); and Coach (Nicholas Colasanto) returns to the baseball field as the tyrannical manager of a Little League team!

Barflies Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger) add to the laughs with romantic entanglements and comic misadventures of their own, and episode guest stars include Dick Cavett, Christopher Lloyd, Fred Dryer, Markie Post and Harry Anderson.

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Cheers: Season 2 7.75

eyelights: its cast. its character dynamics. its setting. its infectious theme.
eyesores: its slightly more conventional humour. Sam and Diane’s romantic entanglements.

It’s hard to imagine now, after 11 seasons and a record number of Emmy nominations, but ‘Cheers’ almost didn’t make it to a second season: though the first one was well received by critics, ratings were abysmal. But NBC’s management decided to let the show grow, find its audience.

And it did.

After being in syndication for a few months, ‘Cheers’ finally picked up an audience and ratings for the second season improved dramatically; the show was on its way. It probably helped that the shows was nominated for and won 5 Emmys mere days before the second season premiered.

There were a few changes in store: John Ratzenberger’s Cliff Clavin was given a greater role; while he was initially just a side character, he was now part of the gang. As well, Sam and Diane’s relationship finally developed into romance, changing the character dynamics in the bar.

…though they continue to argue and challenge each other.

Here are my favourites:

Episode 5: Sumner’s Return: Sumner Sloane, the man Diane was dumped by in the Pilot episode of the series, leading her to take a job as a waitress, returns. Sumner asks for her forgiveness and invites her to have dinner with him and his spouse, Barbara, whom she was dumped for. Though she hesitates to invite Sam due to his featherweight intellect, she relents and he, upon Cliff’s suggestion, crams ‘War and Peace’ in three days to prove himself at the dinner table. It’s not as funny as some episodes, but it’s a well-written one.

Episode 6: Affairs of the Heart: A new patron, Hank, finds Carla really cute and likes her edge. Carla is hesitant, but Diane plays matchmaker and they hit it off. Still, Carla is afraid of being vulnerable so she pushes him away – that is, until Sam has a chat with her. But just as Carla and Hank decide to finally get frisky, Sam and Diane discover that Hank has a heart condition. I liked this one because it’s both funny and it shows a side of Carla that we don’t see much of. And, in small doses like this, it’s a nice touch.

Episode 9: They Called Me Mayday: By far the best episode features a cameo by Dick Cavett. It finds him having a quiet drink but attracting the attention of Diane, who’s a fan. Naturally, she wants to impress him and lays on him some of her poetry, which she hopes he might help her publish. Instead, he’s interested in Sam’s story, so Sam decides to hire her to write it for him. Meanwhile, an old rival of Norm’s decides to start seeing Vera, whom Norm broke up with. This leads to conflict, which involves wrestling on the barroom floor – all night long. This is one funny episode with excellent one-liners and repartee.

Episode 12: Where There’s a Will…: Tell me if you’ve heard this one: a man walks into a bar… Ahem, in this case it’s no joke: Malcolm Kramer comes in and tells Diane that he just found out that he’s only got six months to live. She can’t keep a secret, obviously, so when Sam discovers that Kramer used to bartend and misses it, they let him run the place for the night. Afterwards, he leaves them with a handwritten will giving the gang one hundred thousand dollars. They argue over its legitimacy, how to split it, …etc. It shows how tasteless and petty people can be, which was painful to watch. But it’s fun for the ethical dilemmas and the discussions of what could be done with a small fortune.

The following were notable, if not memorable:

Episode 3: Personal Business: After being away giving birth in Episode 2, Carla returns to Cheers to find Diane working there to help out in her absence. Because it causes tensions, and Diane doesn’t want Sam caught in between them, she quits. But, when she can’t find work, Sam rehires her. There are great discussions about mixing professional and personal lives in the workplace. However, Carla’s back as though nothing’s happened. Doesn’t she have to tend to the little one? And what happened to her twin sister, the feature of the last episode? Hmph! What a cop out!

Episode 11: Just Three Friends: Diane is reuniting with her childhood best friend, Heather, who is played by the super HOT Markie Post. The problem is that she’s very flirtatious and Sam is convinced that she’s making a play for him – and then he proceeds to tell Diane. Bad move: Diane is offended so Sam tries to be friendly with Heather, but then doubt creeps in and Diane freaks out. Meanwhile, to prevent a robbery, Coach brings in a friend’s vicious guard dog – but lets it loose in Sam’s office. This one almost made it to the top tier, but the performances are so broad and the situations so absurd that I had to knock it down a peg. But it’s a sexy, funny one.

Episode 13: Battle of the Exes: Carla is in the worst of moods because she discovered that her ex, Nick, is getting remarried. To make him jealous, she brings Sam along, telling Nick that they’re an item. Nick, stunned that Sam would pick her, begins to doubt his own decision and tries to win Carla back. Yes, on his wedding night. This one is notable for Carla’s hilarious attacks on the gang, pulling their shirts over their heads, for Nick and Loretta, and for a few sweet moments between Sam and Carla.

Episode 16: Cliff’s Rocky Moment: Cliff annoys another patron with all his trivial musings. It causes a conflict but Cliff chickens out. He shows up the next day with a work buddy who’s big and tall as “muscle” – but that doesn’t work either. Losing face with the gang, he decides to prove himself to hilarious effect. Meanwhile, Sam and Diane are competing in the football pool and he loses his $#!t at the way she’s successfully picking winners – throwing all conventional logic out the window. Very funny stuff, and Cliff has a nice moment of self-discipline and maturity, which was nice.

Episode 17: Fortune and Men’s Weight: Coach orders an antique fortune-telling machine without asking Sam, but they can’t return it because the salesman’s contact info is false. So they’re stuck with the machine, which becomes popular with the patrons. Only Carla sees it as an evil force – that is, until Diane starts to buy into her superstitions. It eventually puts her relationship with Sam into question. This one’s fun, though a bit vacuous.

Episode 22: I’ll Be Seeing You, Part 2: This is a continuation of Episode 21, in which Sam hires a painter to do a portrait of Diane, but doesn’t get along with him and gives Diane an ultimatum about leaving with the guy. Now she’s having her portrait done to prove to Sam that it was worth it. They argue over it and it devolves into the most hilarious physical confrontation between them. Though it starts off slow, it ends on a very high note, with explosive laughter and an emotional finish; it compensates for the rest. And there’s a terrific opening recap of Episode 21 by Coach, with black and white stills and doodles on them.

My least favourite episodes were:

Episode 1: Power Play: Continuing where the finale of Season One ended, the season opener finds Sam and Diane getting all lovey-dovey and trying to figure out what the next step is. They decide to go to her place, which leads the others to fill in for them in the episode; the balance is skewed. And our first visit outside Cheers is lackluster given Diane’s tackiness and the lack of presence of the others. There are a few good laughs, but it tries too hard to be funny to make up for a rejigged formula.

Episode 4: Homicidal Ham: This is by far the worst episode of the whole season. It finds Andy from Season One, Episode 17, returning to hold the bar up – but with an empty gun, as he just wants to be thrown back in jail because he has no future. There are great discussions about the penal system and social responsibility, but the episode is marred by Diane’s corniness as she tries to help Andy out by making his dream of being a theatre actor come true – and then panicking when she thinks he’s gone homicidal. Le sigh.

Season 2 features the first episodes set outside of the confines of Cheers itself, largely due to Sam and Diane’s relationship: Diane’s apartment becomes a secondary location for them and some of the gang. But it totally skews the dynamic, which is key to the success of ‘Cheers’.

I also find that they tried too hard to give all of the characters a bit of the spotlight; the best shows always revolved around Sam and Diane, with the others commenting on the action but not driving the plot. Now we’ve even got Norm sleeping in the bar while he’s in between jobs.

And, as much as he’s a terribly funny character, there’s way too much of Cliff; he’s definitely better as a small perk-me-up to punctuate the episodes. But, as a major character, he’s not endearing enough. The same can be said most of the side characters – even Coach, who’s adorable.

What makes ‘Cheers’ so good is when it feels populated by a motley crew of average but flawed strangers – not people we know too deeply. They chime in, serving their purpose, but they’re the small yet shining stars floating around the show’s central hub of Sam and Diane.

Here we’re losing our focus a bit.

A perfect example is the old man with the hat who sits at the bar. He appears in the background for the first time, making great faces. Later in the series, he would end up with one-liners, but he was never transformed into a main character – which is exactly as it should be.

Of note, I had already noticed that the extras were directed to react to the foreground action while remaining in the background, and to act as though they were actually hanging out in a bar. That’s a brilliant -though costly- touch; it really makes the bar look real, lived in.

Also of note, the pre-credit intros are not nearly as sharp; whereas they used to be delightful one-two punches, now they tend to serve more as preludes to the episodes themselves. By virtue of that, they’re not as funny, because the gags are strained to fit in with the rest of story.

The second season is slightly less stellar than the first: its dialogues aren’t as sharp and the balance between highbrow and lowbrow humour is skewing more towards the latter. But it remains a very good show with only one truly mediocre episode – which is excellent for a run of 22.

Overall, it’s a very solid season.

Dates of viewings: May 6-14, 2017

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