7.08.2014

Cheers: The Final Season

"I don’t get a sense that Cheers is revered the way it should be by younger viewers. But can it ever mean to future generations what it meant to us? When something changes TV, it’s hard to look back on it, decades later, and appreciate that change."

“I hope and assume that every good comedy writer, no matter the age, has a moment where they discover how great Cheers is. And I would encourage any young person getting into comedy to sit down and watch it.”

Let me start things off with this "We Will Rock You" opening bit I failed to mention last time. It belongs in the A.D. post and not this one but better late than never. It pains me to point out that Glenn Beck is one of the background extras in this. He wasn't "Glenn Beck" at the time, just some guy. Simpler days, my friends, simpler days.

For reasons previously relayed, I divided Cheers into the Sam and Diane era and the After Diane era. In The Final Season the characters remind me more of their A.D. selves than their S-and-D selves, but the sensibilities of both eras combine unreasonably well, so it gets its own separate entry. 

I'll stick with the format I've been using all along though I'll add a "Nice Callback" category where applicable. Some Season 11 callbacks that don't appear below: Harry the Hat's return in the last Bar Wars ep, and Carla's sequel to the "Leap Into an Open Grave" drink from way back in Season 1 in "Lonely at the Top."

I apologize in advance for word-bloat and tangents and yadda yadda. To paraphrase J.D. Salinger (from "For Esmé with Love and Squalor") if my notes should cause the reader an uneasy moment or two, so much the better. Here are 10-ish favorite eps from The Final Season of Cheers.

Episode 2. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Tom Leopold.

Plot: Carla takes a job at Mr. Pubbs, a mega-bar chain that has recently opened in Boston. (Rebecca burned down the bar in the season opener, hence Carla's working elsewhere.) Meanwhile, Frasier and Lilith counsel Woody and Kelly on how to reconcile their religious differences. (She's Lutheran Church of America; he's Lutheran Church of Missouri Synod. "Heretic!")

Opening Bit: Tim (a background regular) comes into the bar after hearing about the fire and compliments Sam on its reconstruction. He asks how it started, and Rebecca is produced to deliver her carefully-worded spiel confessing her culpability.

Tim went on to coach high school baseball after Cheers. And did quite well at it, by all accounts.

Notes: The best bits here have to do with how overwhelming Mr. Pubbs is.

Norm and Cliff are sent to pick up Carla for the grand re-opening...
but they find themselves unable to leave, bedazzled by the free food, neon, babes, and big screen TVs. (A similar fate befalls the other Cheers regulars sent to rescue Cliff and Norm.)

I remember how jarring these sort of pub-chains were when they first started popping up. I can't recall the name of the place, but a Mr. Pubbs-esque place opened in Harvard Square around this time and when I went to it, I had to chuckle at how perfectly Cheers captured the pertinent details. One thing that's worth mentioning - Mr. Pubbs had a constant background noise of Dick-Dale-esque surf rock. This was a few years before Tarantino popularized that in Pulp Fiction. Was this a SoCal thing in the early 90s, conflicting appropriations of Dick Dale? I have no idea.

Sam, of course, can't compete. He offers his regulars Saltines with melted cheese to entice them, ("a buck a plate!") but as he's doing so, Mr. Pubbs brings out plate after plate of ribs and wings, etc. I imagine a lot of bar-owners were in a similar spot when these sorts of places began dotting the landscape. Neither can he compete with the wage Mr. Pubbs is paying Carla. Which is a good segue to...

Nice Callback: Carla is committed to staying at Mr. Pubbs once she realizes how much more money she makes there, but her departure is sealed when she's asked to train a new waitress:

"I know what you're thinking," she says. "'She doesn't look like a waitress.' That's because I'm really a writer. Or, actuellement... a poetess."

Great Lines: Pretty much everything with Bernard (Glenn Shadix) who comes to the bar to fix the phone but spends all his time sleazily hitting on Rebecca. "You ever see the ceiling of a phone truck?"

"Lesbian, huh? You'd be surprised how many of those I run into in a day."

There's also one of my favorite Phil moments, though it doesn't - and I apologize for writing this so often during these little reviews, but damn if it isn't true - transcribe so well. When first Norm and Cliff and then the other regulars (Tim, Paul et al.) don't return, Rebecca says: "You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of that spooky movie, where those people keep going into the barn and then they disappear. And so they send other people to go in there and they disappear. And then, still others go in the barn and they disappear. And then they find out that there's a psycho killer in there stabbing everybody. What was the name of that movie?" 

"Don't Go In The Barn." (Phil, matter-of-factly.)

Man, that slays me. It's also a (minor) callback to the set-up at the beginning of "Diane's Nightmare."

Episode 2. Directed by John Ratzenberger. Written by Dan O'Shannon.

Plot: Norm's new job seems like a dream come true when he becomes a beer taster at a brewery. Rebecca finds she can't tear herself away from the bar's new slot machine. 


Opening Bit: Frasier attempts to refute Cliff's assertion that it has been scientifically proven that being married is a "real babe's magnet."

Lilith's untimely (or timely, depending how you look at it) arrival arrests the experiment before a firm conclusion can be reached.

Notes: Most of the humor for this episode stems from Norm's chronic beer consumption. It is because of it that he excels at his new job, and it is because of it that he loses it within a week. Which makes the subtext of everything rather dark, but at no time are you in any danger of thinking you're watching Leaving Las Vegas.


Nice callback: Norm's penchant for self-sabotage has been dealt with in more than a few episodes, but this is an appropriate swan song for all of them.

Also, the slot machine recalls "Fortune and Men's Weight."

Episode 4. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Sue Herring.

Plot: While Rebecca resorts to desperate measures to quit smoking, Henrí challenges Sam to a contest to see who can get the most phone numbers.

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." (Not as over-used then as it has become since.)

Opening Bit: Everyone rushes to sign Cliff's letter of application to the Eco-pod once he tells them it would keep him away from the bar for up to a year. He mistakes their enthusiasm for fraternal good feeling.

Notes: I don't understand the title. You? Also - back in the Sam and Diane years, it was established the gang has kind of a tradition going with the movie The Magnificent Seven. Which unless I am totally missing it is not referenced whatsoever in this episode. Curious. Not a dealbreaker by any stretch, just hey, while I'm here.

Henrí was a recurring character played by Anthony Cistaro. He had a bit of a catchphrase going with his (horrendous French accent) "I'm going to steal your girlfriend, Woo-dee." This episode is undoubtedly his finest hour.

(Henrí) "France! France has won!"
(Frasier) "There's something you never hear."
Henrí wins the battle, but as we see at episode's end, Sam lives to fight another day.

Great lines: "What would Metropolis be like if Superman retired? Oops, only one thing wrong with that scenario: Superman gives a damn." (Cliff, before Sam relents and agrees to the contest.)


Episode 5. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.

Plot: The wikipedia write-up for this is kind of funny: "Maggie returns to Cheers and Cliffie, this time claiming she's carrying his baby. Rebecca hires a hack songwriter (John Mahoney) to create a jingle for the bar. Frasier does not recognize him."

More on Mahoney's character in a bit, but he played Frasier's father on Frasier.

Opening Bit / Nice Callback: Andy Andy appears, demanding to see Diane.


Notes: Two quick technical things. One, here's a rarely-used camera angle:


The brick wall over Norm's shoulder was only ever used a couple of times. Normally, of course, that's where the studio audience sat. I don't know how much actual effort it was to raise/slide the wall into place, but this shot only occupies a couple of seconds. I wonder why they felt the need to cut to this odd angle that requires adding a wall/ cutting off the audience? (EDIT: See comments for answer.)

And two:

The location of the men's room sometimes changed.

Unless they had co-ed bathrooms? Nope - they have the little gender-designator-icons on each door. I'm not criticizing - I mean, who cares - it's just kind of funny. I suppose I could be remembering incorrectly, but offhand I can think of at least one episode that had the men's room being the one closer to the pool room. ("Homicidal Ham." Then again, the character who used it was Andy, who's crazy. So... I'll just end this here.)

Cliff's plot with Maggie is fun and all, but John Mahoney steals the episode as Sy Flembeck, the hack jingle-writer that Rebecca hires. The ad exec who handles her business is ready to assign her the agency's top writer, but when she announces she's only willing to spend $200 he cancels that request. ("Someone wake up Sy Flembeck.")


Sy arrives assuming he's to be fired, and it's worth presenting his remarks (before being interrupted with the news he's got an actual gig) in full. Best read in John Mahoney's voice, but if you don't know it, just picture some rapid-fire "yeah, see!" old-timey-movie-character:

"So, it's curtains for me, huh? The old Adios, Flembeck. I knew this day'd come. I gave this firm the best years of my life. It turns around and kicks me right in the old hemorrhoid hotel. (To Rebecca:) Pardon my French, babe. Well, before I go, let me tell you something, Mr. Pimply-Faced-Teenager-Who's-Running-the-Shop-This-Week. I wrote Chocolate, Chocolate, Who Ate My Bar? when you were still dangling from your mother's breast, you cheap S.O.B. and -"

That "Hemorrhoid Hotel" line and the "Mister Pimply-Faced..." bit are just delivered so perfectly. I also love that they name a fake jingle ("Chocolate, Chocolate") that sounds like it could legitimately be an advertising legend.

Episode 8. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Fred Graver. (Your guess is as good as mine re: that sweater.)

Plot: The gang has Thanksgiving dinner in the bar. (Nice Callback: "Thanksgiving Orphans," only this time Cliff's at the kiddie table.) Kelly's father assumes Woody is blackmailing him after (he thinks) Woody caught him cheating on Kelly's mother.

Opening Bit: Carla has tied Cliff to the fence outside for calling her a dwarf. Sam refuses to untie him/ get involved.

Notes: Here is where I'll mention my affection for the proprietor of Melville's / Carla's love toy John Allen Hill, played by Keene Curtis. He only appears for a few lines (when the gang appropriates his plates and silverware for their dinner, they trip the silent alarm, which brings him to the scene) but he makes the scene he's in, as always. This isn't his only appearance in this countdown, but I'll just tip my cap to him here.

R.I.P., 1923 - 2002.
Great Line: "For God's sake, Woody, just sign or make your mark or whatever it is you do." (Mr. Gaines. I've pilfered this line almost every time I've asked for someone's signature. #AndNowYouKnow...)


Episode 15. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.

Plot: Carla's daughter Serafina (Leah Remini) is getting married, which brings Nick Tortelli (her father, Carla's ex-husband) and his wife Loretta (Jean Kasem) back to Cheers.

Opening Bit: The old contraception gag. (i.e. Woody goes to the pharmacy and buys a hundred things he doesn't need because he's too shy to purchase condoms.) Normally I'm forgiving, but even in 1993 this joke was a million years old.

Nice Callback: Nick and Loretta are brought back for one last memorable go-round and are both fantastic, as always. Dan Hedaya's bizarre mannerisms and random fluctuations of volume are showcased nicely. 


Additionally, Carla's son Gino, first seen in "Honor Thy Mother," the episode where Carla's mother tries to get her to convince him to change his name to Benito Mussolini, something Gino is all too willing to do. "They'll call me 'the Dooch!'" (That one came a hair close to being in the A.D. blog; I adore it. As close as the Dana Delaney episode did for this TFS post:

"Love Me, Love My Car." But the others nuddged them both respectively aside.

Where the hell was I? Oh yes, Carla's son Gino returns for more tormenting of Rebecca.

"I did not appreciate those nude photos you sent."
"Best I could do at the machine at the mall."


Great Lines: "Nicky got one of those word-a-day calendars. We played word games all the way from Las Vegas. (Leans in conspiratorially) I'm insipid." (Loretta)



Episode 18. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Fred Graver.

Plot: The guys head to the old drive-in movie theater for one last flick before it is to be torn down. Cheers' former owner, Gus, returns and runs the bar for one night.

Opening Bit: The rooftop jumper on the nightly news is Carla's babysitter, so she needs to leave early.

Notes: Okay, so this is a bit anticlimactic for me, as this could be my favorite of all the non-Sam-and-Diane episodes. Pat Hingle does a great turn as Gus O'Malley, whose combative management style consists mainly of telling everyone to move their butts and stop flapping their lips. I don't always love Hingle, but he sells the crap out of this. And there's a nice moment with him at the end of the episode that even lets him leave on an uplifting note. 


Might be a bit of a stretch to call it a "Nice Callback" - perhaps I should name this part "Don't Call It a Comeback; I've Been Here for Years" and I won't even link to it, because I'm sure it's already echoing through your head just from reading that - but it reminded me of some of the Sam-and-Diane-era's stronger guest turns. ("The Spy Who Came In for a Cold One" and "Someday My Prince Will Come," among others.)

All the stuff at the drive-in is just gold. Poor Cliff.

Great Lines: Here's one especially relevant (perhaps) to this blog: "Gentlemen, may I suggest that you are not mourning the loss of this drive-in but rather the loss of your youth?" 

The whole Godzilla / drive-in metaphor is really perfect for this sort of thing, especially for the characters involved.

(Cliff) Isn't that the part usually played by Akiro Nakamoto? 
(Norm) Yeah, but she left halfway through the Godzilla series.
(Woody) I don't understand. Why would an actress leave right in the middle of a successful series?
 
 

And finally: "If you have any more problems, just do what you did before... Lean into the horn and scream They're killing us, They're killing us." (Drive-in security guard, before Cliff gives him stamps as a tip.)


Episode 20. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Rebecca Parr Cioffi.

Plot: Sam locks himself out of the bar and begins an epic search for a place to crash for the night.

Opening Bit: Norm wishes Vera a happy anniversary by coming outside the bar and waving at her car as she drives by.

Notes: Pound for pound, this may be the funniest episode of the whole series. It lacks the heart of "The Last Picture Show," otherwise it might likewise my favorite of the A.D. era. 

This is, to my knowledge, the only regular-sized episode to feature two commercial breaks. A Cheers episode went Opening Bit/ credits (commercial) pt. 1 (commercial) pt. 2 (commercial) end credits. "Look Before You Sleep" has an extra part in there. As with the camera angle above, this is not the sort of question with which I'd bother Ken Levine's blog - he regularly solicits questions from readers and a lot of them are Cheers-related - but I'd be curious to know why these things happened.

Let's break this down a bit. Sam tells Norm and Cliff (who is conspicuously more wasted than we've ever seen him) he was up all night killing silverfish and is exhausted. His apartment's getting fumigated so he's made plans to spend the night with an old flame. After they leave, she arrives but with bad news: she can't make their date.

Speaking of Sam's date, until only a short time ago I thought she was played by Sean Young.


She's not, though - sorry to any/all I may have argued with on the subject over the years. The actual actress is:
Who just so happened to play Joval in "Captain's Holiday," one of my favorite TNG eps:

If you're thinking I exploited the occasion to produce yet another picture of a scantily-clad woman, I don't blame you, but I do always try to footnote the Trek/Cheers connections. Not my fault she's a Risan pleasure valet.

Sam locks himself out as a result of above, and things really take off as he tries in vain to find a room. Every hotel is booked, he discovers, as (hotel clerk's words) "this town is infested with Shriners."

Peter MacNicol is fantastic in this brief turn as the taciturn man at the desk.
From this point on, he makes his way to everyone (except for Woody)'s house to try in vain and find a place to crash. As Sam's anguish increases, Ted Danson's talent for exasperation / physical comedy gets a chance to shine. Even better, Sam is prevented from getting a night's sleep at every stop because of surreal exaggerations of everyone's quirks: Carla's athletic perversions with John Allen Hill, Frasier's psychological battle with his tantruming toddler,

Norm's beer-sublimated fear of his wife,

and best of all, Cliff's... well, Cliffness. He is at first welcomed with open arms by Cliff and Ma Clavin, but soon their familial drama explodes in full force.

"You're the enabler! You're the enabler!"
Cliff's Mom is as always fantastic. What else would you expect from:

Rebecca, the choice of last resort given Sam's remarks to her at the episode's beginning, of course locks herself out...

and they all end up back at Cliff's.

It's all a clever and kinetic way of showcasing everyone's individual quirks while moving a story through multiple sets (and some terrific guest turns.) It's really amazing how much is packed into these 23 minutes. 

Great Lines: "Cliff, you just don't get it, do you?" "...No."


Episode 21. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Dan O'Shannon, Tom Anderson, Dan Staley and Rob Long.

Plot: More Frasier wink-wink from the wiki summary: "Frasier decides to conduct an experiment in voter psychology by getting Woody on the ballot for city council and is shocked by the results. During the campaign, Woody is interviewed by a reporter; Frasier does not recognize her."

Peri Gilpin (Roz on Frasier) plays the reporter.
Opening Bit: George "Spanky" McFarland from The Little Rascals comes in for a beer, but he pretends to be someone else so Cliff will stop bothering him.

Notes: The comedy of this episode revolves around Frasier's cynicism re: the democratic process in America. When our current President ran on a "Change" ticket in 2008, I saw a clip from this episode making the rounds, usually with a pro-GOP slant. While Frasier's comments about low information voters and politicians who don't actually say anything are as applicable today as they were then, I think the essential humor/ point of it all is lost when it's shoehorned into a partisan argument.


This skewers both sides of the demonstrably false divide in American politics. And it's more than cynicism for cynicism's sake; it makes a real point about delusional optimism and pie-eyed expectations. I can't help but wonder where the hell the Frasier Cranes of the world went to; we could use a bit more of this perspective in 2014.

Philip Baker Hall as Councilman Fogarty.

Additionally, the episode takes the joke to a Dead Zone place in Frasier's imagination:

The missiles are flying... Hallelujiah.

There's a great fade from Frasier's face into the atomic explosion at Bikini Atoll, but it didn't screencap all that well. Too bad - it's funny. 

Nice Callback? Janet Eldridge in "Strange Bedfellows." But only slightly. The title of this one makes a similar enough point, though.

Great Lines: (exchange between Frasier and Woody)

"The voters of Boston are sheep!"
"I thought that was just a Hanover thing..."
"All I'm saying is that when it comes to voting people turn off their brains. I submit we could put a chimpanzee on the ballot and garner 10 percent of the vote."
"Whoah, two Hanover things in one day?"

"Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go do my route now."


Episodes 26, 27, and 28. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Glen and Les Charles.

Plot: Diane returns, Rebecca gets married, and the gang ponders the meaning of life. (Cliff's answer? Sensible shoes.)

80 million Americans tuned in to watch the series finale. One third of the country. (Edged out only by the series finale of M*A*S*H.)


I was one of them. (I mean, duh.) The funny thing is, it's not even one of my favorite episodes of the Final Season. But I kind of have to include it here. It's not that it's bad, just that I prefer most of the episodes detailed above. As series finales go, it does its job, definitely, and disappointed no one. Well, except for those who felt Sam and Diane should end up together. An opinion I don't respect very much. The Sam and Diane era ended perfectly in "I Do and Adieu;" anything after that is going to be outside the truly relevant window of Sam and Diane in my opinion. "One for the Road" is perfectly fun and appropriate for the finale, just saying: the essential Sam and Diane story is impacted only mildly by the slight continuation contained here.

Great Line: "She dropped you like a bad habit. Sorry I didn't bring that up." (Norm, to Frasier.)

Opening Bit: Frasier is happy to discover the gang is broadening its TV-watching horizons by tuning into the Ace Awards, until he learns they're only doing so to leer at Kim Alexis

Who, along with Mike Ditka, is one of the presenters.

Notes: Rick Berman is allegedly one of the background actors in this episode but I can't find him. This is now the 3rd time I've hunted for him to no avail. There will not be a 4th! Someone out there, please, find and screencap this damn man.

Rebecca's character arc comes to a satisfactory end. She ends up with her Shoot to Kill co-star Tom Berenger.

"You did good, Rebecca."

Everyone at the bar is surprised when Diane appears onscreen, accepting an outstanding award for writing a cable movie.

She gives a long-winded and very-Diane speech.

Sam sends a note of congratulations, and soon she is back in the bar. 

Much to Carla's shock and disbelief.
Naturally, she and Sam try and fool one another about how great their lives are. Both pretend to be married with children.

This leads to a great scene in Melville's when Diane's decoy-husband's actual husband arrives to confront him.
Anthony Heald: a William Atherton for the 90s.

From there, Sam and Diane fall right back into things and nearly elope. Sam tells the gang at Cheers they're not his real family, and his and Diane's flying off into the sunset is grounded only by separate hallucinations that the pilot is talking directly to either of them during a delayed takeoff. They're pointedly reminded how and why they're just no good for one another.


Sam returns to the bar where he and the remaining cast smoke cigars and have a quiet goodbye. Norm tells Sam that he knew he'd never leave because Sam could never walk out on his one, true love. The last few shots are memorable:

"Sorry, we're closed."

I absolutely love that last outside shot of the bar. The end credits were a special occasion, as well:


Says Amy Poehler: "I could watch the series finale every day. When Danson turns the bar’s lights out, it’s that rare moment in TV where it feels incredibly real and earned and sweet. And that episode’s still packed with jokes, you know? I remember watching that and being so crushed that I wasn’t going to see that family again."

Amen, Ms. Poehler, amen. Ken Levine's blog on the last night is worth reading in its entirety, but I'd like to reproduce its ending here as it's an appropriate end to this overview:

"My partner David Isaacs and I have what we call the “Prince of the City” theory. Simply put it means the moment you think you’re hot shit is the moment you will be cut back down to size. It never fails.

So it’s about 2 a.m., I’m walking back to the hotel. It’s a bit chilly, I’m wearing a trench coat to protect against any more rain. And I’m reflecting on the night and how this little show I’ve been involved with had become a national phenomenon. And I allowed myself to think I must be a pretty damn good writer to be a part of it. Just at that moment a passing truck roared through a big puddle and I got completely drenched. I mean, sopping wet, soaked to the bone. And I had to laugh.  

Hail to thee, Prince of the City."
~

Not quite done yet, folks! Next up is a brief overview of Cheers-related Frasier episodes and then an epilogue showcasing all the Cheers crap I've accumulated over the years. (Finally, a reason to break out my boardgame.)

3 comments:

  1. I wish I could remember whether I'd seen all of the series or not by the time the finale aired. I don't think I had; I'm not even sure I'd seen a single Diane episode at that point. I do remember liking it a lot, though.

    Henri, Henri, Henri . . . is there a more satisfyingly annoying character in all of television history?

    Some great episodes here. The Woody-as-politician one stands out as being one which I remember cackling at like a loon.

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    1. I was trying to figure out where "One for the Road" fits into my top 10 series finales. It's in there, definitely, just not sure where.

      The episode where Woody and Kelly get married ("An Old Fashioned Wedding," season 10 finale) has some great Henri stuff. The one above has so many moments I couldn't fit in, but his "Sam! I am thrashing you soundly!" remark is ringing in my ears.

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  2. I just discovered yet another Ken Levine post worth sharing:

    http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2006/12/more-on-frasier-you-didnt.html

    Specifically, because it appears to answer my question as to why they chose that odd camera angle that necessitated sliding out the fourth wall (where the studio audience sat, otherwise) in "Do Not Forsake Me O'My Postman." Apparently all of the John Mahoney stuff had to be shot the week after the live taping, as the actor hired to play Sy Flembeck (alleged to be Don Knotts, in the comments) left after the dress rehearsal and never came back.

    ReplyDelete