My family watches TV together. We don’t exactly look like a Norman Rockwell painting from the Saturday Evening Post, but it gives me an excuse to get them in the same room for a half an hour or so. When my girls entered their teens, it became challenging to get them to eat with the rest of us (they always had sports or school work or some other excuse to eat before or after the rest of the family). By watching a TV show together – and setting the informal rule that you can’t watch “ahead” of the family – our dinners in front of the tube have actually done a nice job of bringing us together. They look forward to the show, and I get to sneak in some family communication in the process (everybody wins).
However, summers can be tough. During the TV season, we watch sitcoms like Modern Family, The Goldbergs, Brooklyn Nine-nine and Black-ish. When they are on hiatus, we are forced to dig up old shows on Netflix. This summer, I started us on one of the most iconic TV sitcoms in American history, Cheers. For the uninitiated, Cheers began as an unconventional love story between Sam Malone, a former professional baseball player and Diane Chambers, an overeducated but chronically underemployed waitress. The show took place in the Boston bar that Sam owned called, appropriately, Cheers.
Just a few seasons into Cheers, however, it became clear that the bar itself was the star of the show. Its colorful cast of regulars became a hilarious family that dominated the airwaves for eleven seasons, ending in 1993. My youngest daughter loves the show, and often asks for “one more episode” as we are cleaning up after dinner.
I am enjoying our time with the show, too, Though I watched a good number of the episodes in its original run, I’ve been consistently surprised at how many things I missed. It’s become a little bit of a social science experiment for me. I watch closely to see just how much American culture has changed in the past 30 years or so. Here are a few things I’ve noticed:
#1: Sam and Diane had a very unhealthy relationship. Not only do they insult one another constantly, they actually get into physical altercations on a regular basis. These are played for laughs, but few, if any, of their brawls would ever make it onto the air today.
#2: Cheers had a lot of jokes about sex. I actually find myself squirming at times. Anybody who says that TV shows today are raunchier than they were in 1987 needs to watch Cheers. Sometimes the double entendres fly fast and furious, but other times they speak very frankly. Today, Sam would be diagnosed with a sex addiction and put into treatment. It’s all very funny, of course, but also fascinating. We may allow more colorful language on TV in 2017, but in the 1980s, they just used different words to say the same things.
#3: Many of the characters started out as shallow barfly stereotypes. Before Norm and Cliff develop into real people, they are essentially treated like props. They act as a Greek chorus, vapidly cheering on Sam as he makes lewd comments to his endless parade of love interests. It’s refreshing when the writers stop treating them like clowns and start to give them some depth.
#4: Coach was both funny and sad. I would feel terrible for laughing at the antics of a character so clearly afflicted with early onset dementia if it wasn’t for the kind actions of those around him. Sam, in particular, constantly looks out for his aging mentor. Somehow, the way he puts his arm around Coach after he says something naive and hilarious makes it OK for us to see the humor in it.
#5: Carla and Sam kissed passionately. I did not remember this part of the show, and it really creeped me out when I saw it. For some reason, I always viewed Carla as one of the guys, and it was odd to see the show’s two best friends (yes, even closer than Norm and Cliff) in a lip lock. Of course they admitted that it was not meant to be, but I was blindsided nonetheless.
If you get a chance, I recommend revisiting this seminal program. We wouldn’t be where we are today in entertainment if we hadn’t had Cheers. “Must See TV” on Thursday evenings is really where binge watching got its start. I know there are some huge Cheers fans out there. If that includes you, let me know what else I should look for as I finish up watching one of the funniest TV shows we’ve ever had.