Cheers: Season 4

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. For Season 4, a new face joins the Cheers regulars as Woodrow Tiberius “Woody” Boyd (played by Woody Harrelson) joins the cast as the watering hole’s new bartender. Another highlight of Season 4 is the first appearance of Dr. Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth) – a character that eventually became a recurring, Emmy®-winning role. Along with Sam’s bluster, Diane’s neuroses, Carla’s ire and Cliff and Norm’s various schemes, it’s another classic, hilarious season of Cheers.

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Cheers: Season 4  7.75

eyelights: Frasier Crane.
eyesores: Coach’s absence.

Following the death of Nick Colasanto, who played the adorable, but eternally daft, Coach for three seasons, the show-runners had to figure out what to do: replace him, or move on without their beloved character.

They chose the latter.

Though they did acknowledge his passing, in passing, they soon filled his shoes with a new character: Woody Boyd, a simpleton from Indiana who comes to Cheers to visit Coach, and ends up taking his place at the bar.

Meanwhile, they had to bring Sam and Diane back together somehow, all the while keeping Frasier in the picture (After all, Frasier had grown on people – and he’d become a staple of the show. They simply had to keep him).

This leads to some awkward contrivances, but the ends certainly justify the means much of the time.

Here are my favourite episodes:

Episode 5: Diane’s Nightmare: On a spooky, very stormy night, the gang finds out that Andy (a mentally troubled character from previous seasons) has escaped from the institution. Though Diane is rattled by the news, none of the others are. They all take turns going down to the cellar, never to return, leaving Diane alone. Then the power goes out. Then the phone goes dead. Then Diane goes to the cellar and her candle goes out. Brrr… Thankfully, it’s all just a nightmare. Frasier tries to reason it out with her, but then Andy really shows up… It’s a slightly contrived episode but it’s absurd enough that it gets good laughs.

Episode 13: Take My Shirt… Please: Diane is volunteering for a TV telethon. She suggests that Sam donate an item from his Red Sox years. He does, but the only person (*cough cough* Diane) who calls in for it does it for his sake. However, Sam doesn’t wants Diane’s help – or anyone else’s. It takes a while, but the shirt finally goes… though not as Sam expected. Meanwhile, Norm brings prospective clients to the bar, but it doesn’t work out; he scrambles through it until Cliff helps out. This one has lots of nice one-liners and it shows Sam’s more vulnerable side.

Episode 14: Suspicion: Carla points out a guy at the end of the bar staring at them and writing notes; she becomes suspicious of him. Sam doesn’t see what the big deal is, but Norm suggests talking to him. Woody tries his hand and is brushed off in a grim, annoyed fashion. They start thinking that he’s a spy. Cliff suggests that Woody is being surveilled and casts shade at the others too. Naturally, they all turn on each other. Well, it turns out that it was a psych class experiment by Diane. Not good. For days after, she thinks that they’re plotting their revenge. And, naturally, she makes a fool of herself. The one-liners in here are quite excellent. Even Woody gets a few good ones.

Episode 15: The Triangle: This is the strongest episode of the lot: Frasier’s lost his job, is low and has fallen into drink. As Diane is trying to get the gang to help him, they get into an elaborate conversation about Wile E. Coyote. But she finally gets Sam to talk to Frasier and make him feel like a shrink again. Frasier is convinced that Sam’s “depressed” because he’s still in love with Diane. Naturally, this leads to Sam and Diane arguing. Frasier eventually gets them to admit that they both love and hate each other. This one’s funny, smart, and even poignant.

Episode 24: Strange Bedfellows, Part 1: Janet Eldridge, campaigning as counselor, comes to the bar for a meet-and-greet. There’s a spark between her and Sam; he publicly asks her out, and she privately agrees. They hit it off, and then she takes him everywhere. Meanwhile, Diane and Frasier are campaigning for her opponent and Diane is worried that Sam’s being used. So she talks to Janet about it. This episode has sharp, swift dialogues. Plus Kate Mulgrew, who’s super smart and sexy, as Janet.

Episode 26: Strange Bedfellows, Part 3: Diane returns to apologize to Sam for eavesdropping in the last episode (see below). But she ends up listening in on Sam and Janet again while waiting for him in his office. Janet holds a press conference at Cheers and Diane sets them up by asking about their future plans. Naturally, it turns into fiasco. Then Janet dumps Sam because he clearly still has feelings for Diane. So Sam does a lot of thinking and picks up phone and proposes marriage to… someone. It’s an excellent episode, except for Diane’s juvenile press conference antics; it’s intelligent, funny, and emotional. Very nice.

The following episodes were notable, if not memorable:

Episode 8: Love Thy Neighbor: Sam is asked by his sportscaster friend, Dave, to go on the air. But he embarrasses Diane by referring to her as a “love bunny”. Meanwhile, Norm’s neighbour walks in to tell him that she thinks Vera and her husband are having an affair. Carla suggests her cousin, a P.I., to check this out. We discover that Norm’s more attached/sentimental then you’d expect. Wendt gets some really great moments in this one. The acting is subtle, and there’s an excellent mix of drama and humour.

Episode 10: The Barstoolie: Sam’s been dating a beautiful intellectual and they’re about to head out for a wild night when she befriends Diane – and asks the latter to have dinner with them. Obviously, this throws the whole date off. Meanwhile, Cliff’s dad tries to track him down, but Cliff wants nothing to do with him. Then his old man walks into Cheers. After a slow start, they eventually hit it off: Cliff and dad act a bit goofy together; they’re super sweet. But his dad tells him that he needs to get out of the country ASAP, and asks Cliff to join him in Australia. I loved the ending, bittersweet though it was, because Carla came out to save Cliff’s pride. Awww.

Episode 11: Don Juan Is Hell: Diane needs help with her paper on human sexuality, and Sam offers to help. It’s successful enough that her teacher wants to publish it. Eventually, Diane brings her class to Cheers to meet Sam. Meanwhile, Woody is studying to outdo Carla at sports trivia. Best of luck to him. It’s a pretty funny episode, but it feels like they’re treading water with Sam and Diane.

Episode 17: Second Time Around: Frasier walks in with Lilith, his date. She’s direct, cold and condescending. She’s awesome. When she dumps Frasier, Carla suggests that Sam give him one of his “hand-me-downs”. So he calls in Candy. Despite Diane’s skepticism, Frasier returns engaged and they hold the wedding at Cheers. Diane interjects. Of course she does. Anyway, it was nice to see Frasier go gaga.

Episode 18: The Peterson Principle: Frasier decides to show his and Diane’s trip to Europe on a projector in the backroom. The commentary is hilarious; Frasier is still really bitter. Seeing as he’s not over Diane, Sam suggests a night out on the town. Meanwhile, Norm is waiting to hear about an executive job he’s up for. But then he gets juicy info on his competitor and moral dilemma ensues. What’s nice is that Norm does the right thing a couple of times; he’s a class act. Unfortunately, we don’t see aftermath of Frasier and Sam’s night out.

Episode 25: Strange Bedfellows, Part 2: Sam and Janet are still dating. There’s a small rivalry between Diane and Janet and Diane realizes that she’s lost Sam. One night, while Diane is closing the bar, Sam and Janet come in. Startled, Diane hides. She overhears their exchange about his former relationships; Janet expresses her discomfort with Diane… wants him to fire her. Diane expects to be tossed, so she resigns; she makes a big speech to the gang, making fool of herself. Again. Meanwhile, Norm’s sister-in-law comes to visit, and parades around the house nearly naked. And then Vera leaves town… whoops.

My least favourite episodes are:

Episode 1: Birth, Death, Love and Rice: In the season opener, Sam returns from his trip to Italy, having failed to get Diane back; he’s super upset. A young county boy named Woody Boyd walks in; he’s a friend of Coach’s. He’s looking for work and is very eager, naïve, and fresh – so Sam gives him a chance. Then in walks Frasier, all grim and crabby: seems that Diane left him at the altar and he wants revenge on Sam. We find out that Diane is volunteering at a convent to make up for La Dolce Vita. Sam goes to talk to her, and they agree to part. She gets a really long solo bit. The episode lacks punch and laughs – especially during the Diane bit. The way they dismissed Coach was unfortunate, too. It’s not all bad, honestly, but it’s by far the worst episode of the lot.

Episode 16: Cliffie’s Big Score: This one’s not a bad episode – it’s just the most disappointing: Cliff is the recipient of a postal award – one of “only” 267 in Boston. He asks Diane to join him at the ceremony, but she has her cheese club that night. So he coerces Carla to go. But then Diane changes her mind, and Cliff asks Sam for help, who suggests simply getting Carla a date. It started strong, but the payoff after the ball was quite forced; it was way too awkward and embarrassing. I’d have given this a 7.75 at the beginning, but a 7.25 by the end. It’s hardly the weakest episode, but it belly-flopped dramatically.

The season’s biggest hurdle is the return to the tired dynamics of Sam and Diane. Though having Frasier around does pepper the proceedings, it feels as though the show-runners didn’t know what more to do with the pair.

By this point, staleness has set in and the sexual tension between the Sam and Diane seems diffused and slightly impotent, merely for show – though the characters and performances by Danson and Long are strong.

Many of the show’s staples also seemed to have run their course: the intro segments, for instance, are especially weak here; though they were once a riotous way to jumpstart the episodes, they’re now impotent, valueless.

The transition from Coach to Woody is also awkward and takes a long time to get into gear: at first, Woody is okay, but not really funny; he doesn’t quite replace Coach. Thankfully, he comes into his own later in the season.

This would stick in future seasons, as he finds his home amongst the gang at Cheers.

Ultimately, though Season 4 begins on shaky ground, enough so that I actually lost my enthusiasm (and stopped binge-watching), it eventually gets its groove back approximately midway and wraps up with a satisfying ending.

Sure, the laughs aren’t nearly as strong as they were in earlier seasons (the writing isn’t quite as clever as it was), but it’s a significant improvement over Season 3 and it serves up a greater amount of truly stellar episodes.

The 1985-86 season would eventually receive eight more Emmy Award nominations in various categories and win Rhea Perlman’s third award for her brilliant turn as Carla. ‘Cheers’ had managed to land on its feet.

More hurdles would come, notably the loss of Shelley Long, but its future was bright: ‘Cheers’ would be around for another seven seasons and would collect 28 Emmy Awards out of 117 nominations during its entire run.

And to think that it almost didn’t survive its first season…

Date of viewing: June 2017

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