Cheers: Season 3

Synopsis: It’s the 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. Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long) face the breakup of their explosive relationship in Cheers: The Complete Third Season – a predicament that brings the new character of Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) into the show’s comedic mix. Along with the additional laughs provided by the antics of Carla (Rhea Perlman), Cliff (John Ratzenberger) and norm (George Wendt), the Cheers cast also says goodbye to actor Nicholas “Coach” Colasanto, whose untimely death occurred shortly after the taping of the episode “Cheerio, Cheers.” 

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Cheers: Season 3 7.5

eyelights: its cast. its setting. its infectious theme. the addition of Frasier Crane.
eyesores: its weaker intro segments. its more conventional humour. its lackluster wrap-up.

By 1984-85 and its third season, ‘Cheers’ was gaining momentum: not only were ratings and viewership up, but the show continued to rack up awards, winning two of a whopping twelve Emmy nominations.

Given the end of Sam and Diane’s romance in Season 2, the showrunners decided to bring in a new love interest for Diane in Frasier Crane, a psychiatrist who has overseen her nervous breakdown.

Sam, naturally, would return to his revolving-door lovelife.

The purpose of bringing in Frasier was to create a love triangle of sorts, as Sam and Diane struggle with their desire for each other – he was supposed to be dumped by Diane and soon forgotten. But Kelsey Grammer reinvigorated the group dynamic as Frasier and he became a regular – though not without some growing pains, as audiences disliked mixing in another egghead with their regulars.

TV viewers had grown attached to the gang – but he’d eventually gown on them too.

Here are my favourite episodes:

Episode 2: Rebound, Part 2: This episode starts off nicely with a recap of the last episode, courtesy of Cliff. Except that he’s so self-obsessed that we’re shown slides of his Florida trip. Ha. After falling off the wagon, Sam is sober again. Coach convinces Diane to return to Cheers for Sam’s sake and gets Sam to hire her for her sake (wily, but silly, man!). The one-liners are stellar and the performances are equal to the material.

Episode 12: A Ditch in Time: By far the strongest episode of the season, this one finds Sam going out with a friend of Diane’s, despite the latter’s protests. Then he discovers why: Amanda has severe attachment issues. Now he can’t seem to get rid of her and she even shows up with her parents. Meanwhile, Norm and Vera are trying to have a baby – and our favourite barfly is anything but enthusiastic. The dialogues and retorts are very strong here: it’s a funny, smart and touching episode.

Episode 19: Behind Every Great Man: A reporter walks into Cheers looking to interview people about the Boston dating scene. When she is unresponsive to his advances, Sam decides to pick Diane’s brain about French culture so that he may impress the journalist. But Diane thinks he’s expressing interest in her because he still likes her. There’s some serious misunderstandings, with him saying one thing and her thinking he means something else. Nice. But probably the funniest thing about this episode is that Coach is away visiting family – but not his own: an African-American family he mistakenly joined once before and has been revisiting since. Silly bunt.

Episode 22: Cheerio, Cheers: This one isn’t exactly the funniest episode but it’s a deeply emotional one: Frasier gets a gig at the University of Bolognia and asks Diane to join him. The Cheers gang throw her a farewell party and their goodbyes are touching – though Sam and Diane have a difficult time separating, literally. She later calls him from the road and their conversation is polite and warm – but you can tell that they’re both torn. Wow.

The following episodes were notable, if not memorable:

Episode 3: I Call Your Name: Diane is crabby because of Frasier, leading Carla to being the nice one and apologizing to customers for her. Frasier comes in seeking Sam’s advice, and of course they swap Diane jokes. Sam can’t keep it to himself, which leads Diane to consider various forms of retribution, then reconsidering, …etc.; her reaction is hilarious. Meanwhile, Cliff is concerned because a colleague has lifted a perfume sample from a magazine he was delivering. He advises management, which leads the culprit to Cheers looking for Cliff – to help him find the tattletale. Aside for Frasier’s exaggerated laughter, this has some good moments.

Episode 4: Fairy Tales Can Come True: This one’s not as funny, but it’s heartwarming. It’s set at Hallowe’en and Cheers is holding a costume party. Cliff meets a woman at the bar and they actually hit it off. Except that they don’t reveal their identity to each other – they simply agree to meet again the night after at 8PM. Cliff is nervous. She’s nervous. They’re awkward. But they’re a great match. It was nice to see. Meanwhile, Frasier can’t go to a Pops concert with Diane so he recommends that she go with Sam. This is Cliff’s episode, and it actually works. Unfortunately, his mystery date just disappears by the next episode, as though she had never existed, which is really frustrating; I’d have liked to see more of her, of them.

Episode 7: Sam Turns the Other Cheek: This is the second-part of a two-parter that finds Coach falling for Irene, one of the bar’s patrons. After accepting his marriage proposal, she suddenly wins the lottery and her focus changes completely. What makes this episode excellent is how bittersweet it is: Coach is such a dear, remaining hopeful throughout. What humour there is comes from just how willingly blind he is to the situation – even after she’s moved away without telling him. Perhaps the highlight of the episode is the opening update that we get from each of the characters, who recount what happened in the last episode in turn when they get home – except Sam, who’s watching The Three Stooges. Fun stuff.

Episode 9: An American Family: Nick, Carla’s ex, shows up laying claim on one of their kids; since his ditzy spouse can’t have children, he’s decided to just take one back. Carla won’t hear it, of course, but Nick is willing to sue her. Then he uses his powers of seduction on her – and she simply can’t resist. She regrets caving in, but it all works out in the end. Meanwhile, Diane is upset that Sam has reserved an Inn they’d gone to together for one of his dates. It’s the unfolding of Nick’s absurd ploy (instead of adopting, let’s say…) that makes this one enjoyable.

Episode 10: Diane’s Allergy: Diane and Frasier are planning to move in together and are worried that Sam might be upset about it. He turns the tables on Diane and suggests that she‘s still not over him. In fact, she begins to somatize her emotions after they make the move and has all sorts of allergic reactions. When they insist it’s because of Frasier’s dog, Sam graciously offers to take the pooch in. But it doesn’t help. This episode is fun because Sam’s not as much of chowderhead here, it gives Shelley Long a rare chance to be silly, and it spotlights Frasier nicely.

Episode 18: Bar Bet: Eddy, a man Sam drank with a year ago, is coming in to cash in: seems that Sam boasted that he’d be married to Jacqueline Bisset within the year. Now he has only 24 hours to marry her or he loses the bar. Since it’s all written down, he could get sued, and he doesn’t want to admit publicly that he’d fallen off the wagon. So, instead, he plots to marry… “Jacqueline Bisset”. What makes this episode terrific is how the whole gang works together to solve Sam’s problem; there’s terrific bonding and teamwork here. Otherwise, it’s a merely amusing episode.

Episode 20: If Ever I Would Leave You: Nick’s sunk to his lowest: Loretta’s left him and he’s out of work. He asks Carla to take him back but she won’t bend, so he imposes on Sam to let him do odd jobs around the bar, and uses that opportunity to try to sweeten Carla. But, just as she’s about to reconsider, Loretta comes in looking for him – and the weasel finds a ridiculous way to ditch Carla. I liked seeing Carla so resolute and it was interesting to watch Nick try so hard, given that he’s such a loser. I did dislike how the gang were trying to mollify Carla, though: they should have known how terrible Nick was for her by then; they should have had her back, not put a knife to it.

Episode 23: The Bartender’s Tale: Diane’s left to Europe with Frasier so Sam is interviewing replacements. Naturally, he gets hotties, but Carla vetoes them all. Then he finds Lillian, a matronly Irish who really knows her stuff. He’s obviously not as keen, but Carla likes her and she wins everyone over. Then Lillian’s gorgeous daughter walks in – on a break from her lingerie modeling gig. Sam’s interest is piqued, and she hits on him heavily, but he has to contend with Carla and Lillian… Though the set-up is facile, it’s a really well-delivered episode with nice moments.

My least favourite episodes are:

Episode 11: Peterson Crusoe: Carla keeps insulting Diane’s waitressing skills, so they wager on which one will make the most tips by the end of the night. Naturally, Diane wins, though it’s completely inexplicable. It sucks the energy out of Carla, who forces Diane to say she cheated even though she didn’t. Meanwhile, Norm has a health scare and decides to leave his barfly life behind, go travel the world – except that he gets cold feet and winds up living in Sam’s backroom for weeks. It’s not horrible, but it’s not stellar either.

Episode 24: The Belles of St. Clete’s: When an older woman walks into Cheers, Carla thinks that she’s recognized her former school headmistress. The woman doesn’t recognize her, but Carla’s hatred is so pervasive that she even invites her former classmates to come check her out. Except that no one recognizes the woman, leading to Carla’s disappointment. Then she and the woman speak. Meanwhile, Cliff pretends to have had an affair while in Florida, and Sam and Norm cover for him despite the truth. The Diane and Frasier bits are especially uninspired here.

Personally, I think that the addition of Frasier is a tremendous boon to the show; that he’s intelligent, but equally torn about Diane as Sam is, makes for an interesting dynamic between them. In fact, his first few episodes find him poking fun at Diane behind her back with Sam, which is slightly shocking yet mordantly funny; though he respects her many qualities, he too sees her flaws.

It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Kelsey Grammer doing this so brilliantly, though apparently John Lithgow had been approached and turned the part down; Grammer is both serious and corny.

He’s perfect.

His addition adds a freshness that makes up for the staleness of some of the other characters, who are, by this point, turning into caricatures, as dialed up versions of their original conceptions.

His energy also compensates for Coach’s waning: Nicholas Colasanto was extremely ill and didn’t have the spark that made him so endearing in previous seasons. His material was also slightly weaker. He would end up passing away before the season’s end, but the producers had enough material to cover many of the episodes – and, when they didn’t, they found silly ways to justify his absence.

The old man who looks a bit like Winston Churchill, who sits at the bar, begins to interacts with the Cheers gang here as well, which adds another fun component to make up for the lackluster ones.

One gets the impression that the showrunners were dealt difficult hands and found ways around them, forcing the show to evolve in discrete but effective ways – something that proved beneficial.

There can be a little bit of fatigue growing in any sitcom as it finds its formula and becomes paralyzed by the fear of straying away from it. ‘Cheers’ certainly suffered from small bouts of that. For instance, the opening intros were no longer fresh and hilarious, as they had been, nor were Norm’s arrivals, which had been such a bright spot in each episode. Here you can feel the strain.

But, with Frasier showing up, and minuscule little additions to the overall picture, ‘Cheers’ manages to keep some of its vitality for yet another largely funny season, inconsistent though it is.

At 25 episodes, it remains a pretty solid effort.

Dates of viewing: May 14-23, 2017

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