6.27.2014

Ann Coulter and the World Cup

Election years and World Cups bring out the stupid from Americans the way the summer rain brings out the smell of urine on Chicago Avenue.

In case you missed it Ann Coulter wrote an op-ed entitled "America's National Pastime: Hating Soccer." I'm pretty much going to quote the entire thing in my rebuttal here, so no need to click the link but it is provided so no one thinks I'm misquoting her.

I'll use pictures of Thea Gill, who played an Ann Coulter cypher in Joe Dante's ambitious failure of satire for Masters of Horror, "Homecoming," rather than actual pictures of the pundit.
I normally happily ignore Ann Coulter, the way I ignore similar Manson Girls like Bill Maher, Sean Hannity, whomever. I feel that you are attached to what you attack, and those who express endless outrage over Sarah Palin or Obama or The Tea Party or Fox News are actually enabling the very problem they claim to passionately oppose. It also leads to huge-ass blind spots. Anyway - that's the approach I try to take; when I see some "trending" item that is just a call to outrage, I am instantly skeptical and just try to remove it as fast as possible without thinking any more of it.

But, sometimes...

Before we begin, I had a stroll through Ann Coulter's (it feels weird referring to her as "Ann" or "Coulter" or even "Ms. Coulter" so I'll just use her full name each time) twitter to see if she's a confirmed soccer-hater or just exploiting the occasion of the World Cup to drive traffic to her site/ light straw men on fire. Seems to be the latter. 

I only went back to June 9th - admittedly not too far - but it was so unpleasant an experience I just had to stop. But before yesterday, her only soccer-related tweet was this:


Hardly all that confrontational. Let me make something clear here. Don't like soccer? No problem. Don't like the World Cup? Also no problem. But for some reason the very idea of soccer (and the audacity of the rest of the world - who invented it - to call it football) seems to make a certain demographic in this country very defensive. I'm not exactly sure why this is the case, but it's something I've noticed each time the Cup comes around. 

It's a perfect inversion of a bit from a Simpsons episode - most things trigger a Simpsons episode in my head - Season 3's "Mother Simpson." In a flashback sequence, we get this great moment from Abe Simpson:

(Homer's Mom) "Isn't Homer cute?"
(Abe) "Probably. I'm trying to watch the Super Bowl! If people don't support this thing, it might not make it."
Whenever I am confronted by this reactionary defensiveness I describe, I think of this. On one hand, we tend to take the NFL's popularity for granted, but on the other, at least some of the humor comes from the pointlessness of Abe's loyalty, here. The Super Bowl will endure with or without his support and certainly not at the expense of his family, etc. 

The World Cup is the biggest and greatest sporting tournament on planet Earth. And it will endure with or without the attention of anyone in America. Maybe this is the root of the anti-Cup reactionaries? Realization of their own ephemeral impact on the world? Or perhaps fear that the NFL will be taken away from them if they don't defend it as strenuously and myopically as abortion or gun rights activists defend their own lines in the sand? Who the fuck knows. Who the fuck cares. 

Oh, sorry in advance for any profanity. 

Anyway, after posting her column yesterday, she had some follow-up tweets. Here's the first:


Regarding the first, this is of course a reference to Luis Suarez's biting attack on Italian player Giorgio Chiellini. This was Suarez's third biting attack, and FIFA banned him for four months.

Ridiculous, that. Should be a lifetime ban with reinstatement/ appeal only after psych eval. How could anything else be acceptable? The backlash against the ban is rather shocking to see. Though not really. Here's a tweet from Duleep Allirajah in response to the first biting attack, who writes football for Spiked-Online and elsewhere:

So, as you can see, it's not just Ann Coulter; even those who write professionally about football are sometimes prone to clueless twaddle. Duleep has doubled (though I suppose it's tripled, now) down on this idiocy in a recent column. God help us.

Anyway - it's interesting that Ann Coulter sees Suarez's assault on Chiellini as "girly" and not "sociopathic."


As for her second tweet:



I have zero love for the IRS and think what's going on in this country with regards to it is absolutely shameful. But what does this even mean? I'll assume it's just satirical and move on, but the non-sequitur of it all deserves mention.

Let's get to her remarks.

"I've held off on writing about soccer for a decade -- or about the length of the average soccer game -- so as not to offend anyone. But enough is enough. Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation's moral decay."

I guess we should establish up front that Ann Coulter views herself as a satirist, so employment of exaggeration or ridicule should be viewed through that lens. So I'm not particularly bothered by that last line, as I think she's attempting to be funny. But this "length of the average soccer game" business needs to be addressed once and for all, as I hear this talking point all too often from the anti-soccer reactionaries. 

See, soccer is played in two 45-minute halves with a few minutes added to each half. These are added (and forgive me for over-explaining it, but I also employ exaggeration pursuant to my goals) to compensate for any time wasted in the previous 45 minutes. These "stoppage time" minutes are a source of great confusion to anti-soccer reactionaries, but few things in any sport are more self-evident. See, the clock never stops in soccer. Similarly, there are no commercial interruptions in soccer. Combine these two facts and you have one of the only sporting events you can watch on tv or in person and, barring any Overtimes, know exactly when you will be done watching it. 

How is this so confusing to people? Even the New York Times is befuddled. Even allowing for the unfortunate per capita amount of idiots, morons, and imbeciles in this country - all of whom are allowed to vote, have credit cards, consume natural resources, and purchase firearms - this is baffling to me.


Let me put it another way. If the ref awards 5 minutes of stoppage time, you know roundabout 5 minutes later, the game will be over. When there's 5 minutes left of a football game, when there's half-an-inning left of baseball, when there's ten seconds left of a basketball game, or when there's a tiebreaker set in tennis, you might still be watching any of these things a half-hour or even an hour later. (Basketball, especially - I have seen the last minute of a basketball game last for a half hour.)

And you know what? Who cares how long any of these games last in comparison to one another? What works for one doesn't have to work for any other. That this even needs to be clarified is a source of bewilderment to me.

"(1) Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls -- all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they're standing alone at the plate. But there's also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks."

Yes, surely what is missing from soccer is individual achievement and individual glory.

You don't even have to watch that, though, to recognize how ridiculous an assertion it is. The implication is that in "real" sports, a player is personally responsible for his or her own greatness. Putting aside the idea of assists and the entire idea of team sports in general for a second, I can't believe someone is saying this in relation to soccer. Particularly the "all in front of a crowd" business. 

Thank God Arsenal's keeper doesn't need to worry about failing in front of all these people.

"In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway." 
  
This is as good a place as any to get this "almost no one scores anyway" business out of the way. First, as mentioned above, sports are not required to mirror all aspects of other sports. High-scoring games like basketball, for example, are not a sound basis for comparison to American football, where each touchdown is 6 points, or to tennis, where 4 15-point winners combine for a game victory, and 6 games combine for a set victory, and sets combine to win matches, etc. So, just on the face of it, it's a ridiculous complaint, but going a little further: as any baseball fan knows, a no-hitter/ shutout does not equal boring. It (usually) equals great pitching. So yes, there are some scoreless soccer matches that are boring, just as there are some low-scoring baseball games (or high-scoring basketball games) that are boring as hell. But one does not automatically equal the other. 

As for blame being dispersed, I don't even know what to say, Ann Coulter. Have you never looked at any post-match remarks? Dumb question - of course you haven't.

(I will be fluctuating between addressing Ann Coulter directly and speaking in the third person. Apologies for any confusion.)

"There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child's fragile self-esteem is bruised. There's a reason perpetually alarmed women are called "soccer moms," not "football moms." "

A-ha, I see your error, here. You are confusing the world's biggest sporting event with children's weekend soccer games here in the ol' USA. Easy mistake.

Not the Super Bowl. Hell, these guys aren't even in the NFL or NCAA.
Not the World Series. (These guys are actually from Edinburgh. That's Scotland, Ann Coulter, all the way over in Scotland, can you believe it? Playing baseball?)
And as astounding as it is this is not the Stanley Cup. I know! I was floored, myself.
There seems to be an implication that the "everyone's a winner" attitude for children's sports is actually harmful to children's self-esteem runs counter to the opinion of most children's psychologists, teachers, and parents. It turns them into soccer moms? Not football moms, or something? She's probably right. They probably can't even tell the difference between little league and the majors either.

"Do they even have MVPs in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in. That's when we're supposed to go wild. I'm already asleep. "

Yes, they actually do have MVPs in soccer. Every league and every tournament. Quite a lot of them. This is not privileged information. But if your point is could there even be a Most Valuable Player in a sport so devoid of individual achievement, even in satire, this is remarkably off the mark. It reminds me of a friend's anti-soccer comment from about 10 years ago, before he knew better: "The thing I don't like about it is that there are no formations." Actually: it's all formations.

"(2) Liberal moms like soccer because it's a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys. No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level. "

Again, you are confusing little league with the majors. I'm not so sure Mia Hamm in her prime couldn't have been a starter on any number of men's teams, but regardless, soccer is not co-ed. The Women's World Cup is held in a whole different year than the Men's World Cup. Still time to get a jersey for Canada '15.

(3) No other "sport" ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer. This was an actual marquee sign by the freeway in Long Beach, California, about a World Cup game last week: "2nd period, 11 minutes left, score: 0:0." Two hours later, another World Cup game was on the same screen: "1st period, 8 minutes left, score: 0:0." If Michael Jackson had treated his chronic insomnia with a tape of Argentina vs. Brazil instead of Propofol, he'd still be alive, although bored.

We've already covered this. But perhaps it bears repeating: how other sports conclude has absolutely no bearing on how soccer should conclude. You hear some variation of this every World Cup, as a friend pointed out yesterday: "Soccer won't catch on until [stupid rule change.]" Beyond the "catching on" aspect (i.e. soccer is pretty well-the-fuck-caught-on on Planet Earth) I don't think people talk about how utterly stupid this is enough. Allow me to demonstrate with other sports:

"No one is going to care about tennis until it's played on ice, like any real sport."

"Baseball would only be interesting if each run counted for 6 points." (Also acceptable: "If a baseball game is scoreless in the 9th inning, each team should automatically be awarded 10 runs; it's the only way anyone's going to be interested!")

"Until basketball nets are moved to thirty feet above the floor, I can't take it seriously."

Leaving aside the absurdity of such approaches, there's this presumption that making things "more American" is what soccer is missing to be "relevant." Only for brain-dead Americans, actually; the rest of us (and the rest of the world) don't have this problem.


"Even in football, by which I mean football, there are very few scoreless ties -- and it's a lot harder to score when a half-dozen 300-pound bruisers are trying to crush you."

This "by which I mean football" thing always cracks me up. Is calling the sport by its actual name really so threatening? Would people be so hopelessly confused to entertain the same term applying both to American football and international football? (Or Aussie Rules football?) F. Scott Fitzgerald - as American as they come - once wrote that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. I'll add that the ability to hold two definitions of  "football" without collapsing into a shuddering pile of sobbing goo might be a good test for a fourth-or-fifth-rate intelligence. 

(4) The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. As Lady Thatcher reportedly said after Germany had beaten England in some major soccer game: Don't worry. After all, twice in this century we beat them at their national game.

I love that Thatcher quote. She never said it, but it's still a great line, and it would be perfectly applicable to any German victory over the English team. 

Moving past that: a) there are plenty of opportunities for personal humiliation and major injury in soccer. Or as billions of earthlings call it - without qualification - "football." b) this is as absurd a basis for what constitutes a sport as they come. And most importantly c) I don't think someone who confuses little league games with major league games can credibly define what constitutes a sport to begin with.

"Baseball and basketball present a constant threat of personal disgrace. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game -- and it's not a stroll on beach to be on ice with a puck flying around at 100 miles per hour. After a football game, ambulances carry off the wounded. After a soccer game, every player gets a ribbon and a juice box."

Tell that to Andres Escobar's family. Also, soccer balls can travel at a high velocity, as well. Try stopping one with your face sometime and see if you agree or disagree.

"(5) You can't use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here's a great idea: Let's create a game where you're not allowed to use them!"

I doubt Ann Coulter even believes in evolution so it's odd to bring opposable thumbs into it. (Maybe she does; probably unfair of me to project that on her based on contextual stupidity.) But this has to be the reaching-iest anti-soccer complaint I've ever heard.

(6) I resent the force-fed aspect of soccer. The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO's "Girls," light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. 

This is actually the bullet point that led me to writing this rebuttal. First, who the hell is demanding people love light-rail, of all things?? Granted I avoid reactionary media the way I avoid main-line-of-resistance trench warfare, but are there actually factions for something like this? Really? Second, I'm not a fan of HBO's "Girls," Beyonce, or Hilary Clinton. I can't stand when people do this. This sort of logical fallacy is not even close to being the exclusive province of the so-called right. Here's allegedly-left-wing douche bag Steven Weber responding to a tweet of mine during the 2012 electoral season:


Somehow, in pointing out (via a Salon article, of all things! i.e. one of the kneejerk-anti-GOP crowd's most sympathetic organs) that it is at best disingenuous to accuse the other side of things your own side is equally guilty of, I am by extension "obstructing Congress, fomenting racism and hating women." Steven Weber? Meet Ann Coulter. Never mind how unbelievably rude this is - maybe don't assume people who disagree with you are automatically Nazis? Maybe? As someone who thinks most elected or deemed-electable Democrats and Republicans are insane and hypocritical, I am forever being told I'm shilling for either side whenever I am critical of one to the other. This is the default position of far too many people these days. One nation under logical fallacies.

"The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is "catching on" is exceeded only by the ones pretending women's basketball is fascinating. I note that we don't have to be endlessly told how exciting football is." 

As linked to above, the NYT is hardly an expert on the topic. Also, no one who lives in this country needs to be told anything about football (the American variety) yet every year thousands of hours of ass-headed sports punditry assaults the ear and eye from radio, ESPN, magazines, and TV commercials. For every hour of (American) football you've ever watched, there's probably 100 hours of speculation, analysis and jackassery. So no, no one needs to be told endlessly how exciting football is; you couldn't get a word in edgewise, anyway.

(7) It's foreign. In fact, that's the precise reason the Times is constantly hectoring Americans to love soccer. One group of sports fans with whom soccer is not "catching on" at all, is African-Americans. They remain distinctly unimpressed by the fact that the French like it. 

I'm not sure when people want to know what African-Americans are thinking that their first go-to is Ann Coulter.

I'm equally unsure that encouraging people to look beyond their own little worlds and provincial opinions is either a bad thing or something the Times is all that good at. It seems the job of the Times is the same as almost every other American paper: let me know 24-7 what the President is up to. (I mean, seriously. I have been over-updated on this topic for decades now.)

(8) Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it's European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren't committing mass murder by guillotine.

Despite being subjected to Chinese-style brainwashing in the public schools to use centimeters and Celsius, ask any American for the temperature, and he'll say something like "70 degrees." Ask how far Boston is from New York City, he'll say it's about 200 miles.


Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more "rational" than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a man's thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. That's easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters?"

Sounds like someone needs a dose of Atom and His Package:


I love that "Sounds cooler than my .20-something inches gun" line.

The stupidity of these anti-metric-system remarks should hopefully be self-evident, but I'll just say: I don't know if anyone is "resisting" the metric system out of national pride. More the opposite - we secretly suspect we'd be exposed as incredible dunderheads if we actually had to learn the system the rest of the world (and 100% of the scientific community) uses. (Because it's better. And, ironically, easier.) 

One last thing: do liberals adore the metric system? I have seen no evidence of this. Nor for Chinese-style-brainwashing.

(9) Soccer is not "catching on." Headlines this week proclaimed "Record U.S. ratings for World Cup," and we had to hear -- again -- about the "growing popularity of soccer in the United States."

The USA-Portugal game was the blockbuster match, garnering 18.2 million viewers on ESPN. This beat the second-most watched soccer game ever: The 1999 Women's World Cup final (USA vs. China) on ABC. (In soccer, the women's games are as thrilling as the men's.) Run-of-the-mill, regular-season Sunday Night Football games average more than 20 million viewers; NFL playoff games get 30 to 40 million viewers; and this year's Super Bowl had 111.5 million viewers." 


Ratings in just one market - even as big a market as the U.S. - don't mean too, too much. Money does, though. And as John Oliver recently said of FIFA in a memorable rant, "When your rainy day reserve fund is large enough where you have to worry about cartoon ducks swimming through it, you're not a not-for-profit organization."


Ratings for American audiences might only reflect what is shown and promoted on American television screens. It's just a thought. Beyond this wild speculation, though,  the cold-hard-cash-fact of the case is: FIFA wins. By a lot. NFL commands a nice little portion of the front - and I love the NFL as much as anyone, nothing against it - but come on.

"Remember when the media tried to foist British soccer star David Beckham and his permanently camera-ready wife on us a few years ago? Their arrival in America was heralded with 24-7 news coverage. That lasted about two days. Ratings tanked. No one cared."

First, it was hardly 24-7. I remember that year very well. Second, no one cared because it was David fucking Beckham and Posh fucking Spice, not because it was soccer. Anyone who needs a little history lesson on such things has only to watch a little movie called Once In A Lifetime about Pele's arrival at the New York Cosmos in the '70s. Pele was a legend; Beckham and Posh are just celebrities. Which is cool and all, just we already have plenty of those.

"If more "Americans" are watching soccer today, it's only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy's 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time."

I can only speak for myself here, but my interest in soccer started when my family moved to then-West-Germany in 1981. Not that I was all that aware, I'm just saying that's when it technically started. I remember seeing an Alicante '82 shirt the following year and that's when I began playing myself. (One of the communist drones, apparently, by Ann Coulter's reckoning. We were 100 klicks from the Iron Curtain and playing at Rhein Main Air Force Base; how could we not have known we were playing into Uncle Joe's hands?) Which has nothing to do with anything, up to and including whatever Teddy Kennedy did in 1965. 

Actually, though, it does have to do with what a whole bunch of Americans - many of whose great-grandfathers were not born on American shores - did in World War 2, i.e. how the Army Corps of Engineers (my father's employer) ended up in Germany. To imply that Americans who snuck in via Teddy Kennedy's Senate voodoo are half or mongrel Americans is bad enough. To imply that interest in the sport itself is only a result of their swarthy and backward sub-American ways - whatever they are -  is demonstrably stupid and racist as shit. You fucking lunatic. 



It seems Ann Coulter's worldview - much like Steven Weber's in our cherished exchange above - does not allow for any possibility not explicitly spelled out by their respective propaganda shit-shovellers. 

Maybe they - or anyone who so aggressively campaigns against things they know absolutely nothing about - should sit down and shut the front door for a spell. 

Or better yet, lighten up and join the party. 

Maybe not Ann Coulter, though. Too soon, too soon.

6.25.2014

Cheers: Gary's Olde Towne Tavern

In many ways, the Gary's Olde Towne Tavern episodes (aka the Bar Wars episodes) epitomize both the good and the bad of the later seasons of Cheers


For those unfamiliar with them, these episodes detail the rivalry between the gang at Cheers and the bar down the way, Gary's Olde Towne Tavern. The rivalry was pretty one-sided; at the time of the first Bar Wars episode, the record stood at 173-to-1 in favor of Gary. (How either bar found the time to stage 174 sporting competitions is never explained.) With one memorable exception, sports were left to one side after the first episode in favor of increasingly complicated pranks and practical jokes, and in this arena, despite some major humiliations, Cheers eventually proved triumphant.

Says Ken Levine: "We had two actors who played Gary, in no particular order. Joel Polis played him (the first time the character appeared) in 1985 episode." 

One of those actors you've seen all over the place but might not place the name. Or if you're like me, you may have seen him in a movie you've seen a thousand times (John Carpenter's The Thing) and not even realized it was the same guy.
Fuchs.
"When we wrote the first Bar Wars episode (1988) Joel wasn’t available. It was the very end of the season. We had no other scripts so we just had to recast. Robert Desiderio became Gary."

Veteran of dozens of shows and soaps. Married to Judith Light.
"For Bar Wars II we went back to Joel Polis and used him one other time. Otherwise, it was Robert Desiderio. Confusing? I don’t understand why we did it either. Hopefully this mystery will be tackled in Inception."

Adding a further wrinkle? The titles. The first "Bar Wars" is in Season 6, but Gary first appears in:

Season 4, Episode 9. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Peter Casey and David Lee.
This is the episode where Sam on Carla's suggestion challenges Gary to a game of bowling. Carla's thinking is fairly airtight:

"All of those other sports required real athletic ability, but with bowling, we got the makings of a great team. You go to any bowling alley, what do you see? A bunch of out-of-shape couch potatoes who do nothing but sit around and swill beer."

The plot revolves around trying to get Woody, a bowling prodigy who swore off the pins after maiming a man in a bowling alley accident back in Hanover, to join the team. He is unable to overcome his PTSD, but luckily Diane is a secret prodigy herself and with her help the Cheers gang wins the day. 


At the bowling alley Sam naturally macs on one of Gary's waitresses:


Despite being given a name (Tawny) in the script, Kim Waltrip is credited simply as "Woman" in the credits. Go figure. She went on to have a pretty successful career as a producer, one of the vice-chairs of Kim and Jim Productions.

This episode sets the stage for all the Bar Wars episodes to come, but watching them altogether as I just finished doing, it really stands apart. This is primarily due to the difference between the Sam and Diane years and the Cheers A.D. years i.e. both the Cheers gang and Gary himself are more cartoonish in the latter. But this produces an unintentionally realistic evolution common to a lot of real-world rivalries: you start off just wanting to win, then you don't just want to win, you want to avenge your losses, and then you become obsessed. It's the Red Sox / Yankees in microcosm.

The next time Gary appears is in:

Season 6, Episode 23. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.
While this could more accurately be called "Bar Wars: Gary, pt. 2," that's not the direction they elected to take.
 
In addition to setting the template for all subsequent Bar Wars eps, Al Rosen gets some memorable lines.

"Holy mackerel, this isn't Cheers?"
"Pretty weenie." (He delivers this line in two different spots.)
Either Ken Levine or David Isaacs must be a Dante Gabriel Rosetti fan. He's referenced in two separate Bar Wars eps.

First in this one when Norm and Cliff hijack Gary's satelite feed during a boxing match to read poetry to Gary's incensed patrons.
And later in Season 10's "Bar Wars: The Final Judgment."
This opening salvo in the now officially designated Bar Wars saga is probably best known for two things: the sheep-in-Rebecca's-office prank

and the guest appearance of notorious drunk legendary Red Sox player:

"It was only a couple of years later when his mistress Margot Adams wrote a big expose in Playboy magazine detailing their affair. In her article she mentions how thrilled they were when this Cheers gig came up because it meant a free trip to a three day tryst. He’d have guested on Agriculture This Week if they popped for a first class plane ticket.

In the article, Margot also maintains that Boggs asked her for a pair of panties because he had promised the guys on the team that he could come back with Kirstie Alley’s panties. I was on the stage when Kirstie read this. Her expression was priceless. Kirstie was very cool about stuff like that. From then on I would occasionally say to her, “Listen, Kirstie, I’m going to my high school reunion and at graduation I promised the guys that I would bring a pair of your panties to the reunion so if you wouldn’t mind…?” She always laughed and then told me to go fuck myself."

Speaking of Rebecca, this belt is very 80s.


Next up:

Season 7, Episode 10. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.
Here, Cheers and Gary's Olde Towne Tavern compete for the distinction of Boston's Best Bloody Mary. There's some fun disguise-and-misdirection comedy from Woody, as well as this well-worn-but-gets-me-everytime-gag:

(muffled speaking ) "What? What are you trying to say? He's trying to say something..."
"I said 'Don't rip off the tape!'" ( screams )
By the way - in case any people in charge of such things ever put eyes on this - my DVDs have several episodes in need of more consistent color correction. This is one of them.


I'm sure it has to do with the original film - maybe it deteriorated or something. And actually it adds kind of a surreal tint to things when it happens, as if someone has spliced in long-lost footage and not told anyone. Except the footage is what originally aired, or at least what I've seen in re-runs. Anyway. 

(And since my days of upgrading formats are pretty much done, I guess this is how the episode will look to me until every last DVD-capable device I have no longer functions. I have way too many DVD collections to replace them all with blu-rays or holograms and whatever else is coming down the home entertainment pike. But for the sake of future generations just thought I'd mention it.) 

Moving on to:

Season 8, Episode 21. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.
"Tecumseh" is the name of the cigar store Indian statue right near the front door featured prominently in every episode. It was never given a name before this episode. (The same thing happened the season 8 finale when the moose head on the wall suddenly was named  Dave the Moose.)

This is one of the two Bar Wars eps that doesn't feature Gary, either the Polis or Desiderio version. Convinced that Gary has stolen Tecumseh, the gang pranks Gary's only to discover Rebecca sent the statue out for cleaning. On high alert for Gary's anticipated revenge, they end up attacking the fire marshal when he arrives for an inspection:

His repeated "What are you doing?"s - despite it being perfectly obvious what they're doing - always crack me up. Also: Sam's sweater.
and decide to prank themselves as a show of good faith to head off any further escalation. 


I mentioned before that the Bar Wars eps epitomize elements of the Cheers A.D. years. I wouldn't say the A.D. years are "catchphrase comedy" years per se, at least in the negative sense of the term, but there was a discernible shift in humor away from character-based comedy and into situational comedy, sight gags, and lines easily recalled at water coolers and lunchrooms and buses the next morning. The fire marshal's "What are you doing?" was one of those lines. I think Cheers was a cut above most shows that relied on this approach, but it's worth mentioning.

Season 9, Episode 2. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Larry Balmagia.
One of my faves. Cheers hires Kevin McHale as a ringer for their basketball game with Gary's. We take hilarious guest spots and cameos by sports players on TV or in movies for granted nowadays - when Derek Jeter showed up at the end of The Other Guys, I remember thinking this; he showed up earlier in the film (obviously, if you've seen that one) but it's his reprise at the end that is the a-ha-genius! moment - but outside of the classic Simpsons episode "Homer at the Bat," no one in the early 90s did it better than Cheers with Kevin McHale.

The McHale/ Bird era of the Celtics is really the only one I ever watched faithfully. I kind of retired from caring about the sport altogether when that old gang broke up. So I'm biased, undoubtedly. But it's a fun episode, particularly the way the Cheers gang's machinations inevitably backfire.

 
YouTube does feature some of the funnier bits from this episode in a montage that Blogger absolutely refuses to let me embed for some reason, so here's a link. Everyone from Hanover knows French Lick is the doofus capital of Indiana.

Season 10, Episode 7. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.
There were two Bar Wars eps in Season 10. This one sets up the other. To teach Sam a lesson, everyone at Cheers conspires with everyone at Gary's to make Sam believe Gary is dead. He isn't, obviously, but don't let knowing that spoil you. It's almost more fun to anticipate it. The reveal at the end is handled so well, and I'll go on record to say I'll give Robert Desiderio a lifetime pass for the way he delivers "DO YOU, MALONE?!"

Some of the pranks are a little on the ridiculous side:


but so is the whole fake-death-and-funeral thing, I guess, and who cares? This bit with the Halloween song playing unstoppably is fun.

"Hey, that's not 'Funkytown...'" Ahh, Phil.
It's definitely more Green Acres than Cheers had ever been before this. That annoyed the crap out of me at the time. Usually I get a kick out of such differences of opinion with my younger self, but this is one of those times where I wish I could get him to lighten the hell up.

Season 10, Episode 23. Directed by Rick Beren. (Who?) Written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.
Ken Levine thought this one was the weakest of them all. I've linked to this way too much in this post, but what the hell, here he is again:

"The gang thinks a wise guy buys Gary’s bar so a prank unleashes the Mafia after them. We were reaching. And sometimes too clever for our own good. In Bar Wars II, there’s a Bloody Mary contest. We had a number of twists and turns, and after turning in the script, the staff added a few more. By the end I think there were maybe six too many. It was the Big Sleep of Bar Wars episodes – no one alive can tell you exactly what happened."

I'm assuming he's contrasting the complexity of this episode to the simplicity of "Bar Wars 2." I can see that. But its spinning-off-the-rail-ness is pretty much my favorite thing about this entire Gary's Heimskringla to begin with.

Or maybe like I mentioned last time - I just love it when they shot outside the bar.


Finally:

Season 11, Episode 19. Directed by James Burrows. Written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.
The picture above is from my favorite bit of the episode. Sam hires an Irish band for St. Patrick's Day, but when they arrive their songs are either too aggressive ("Limey scum! Limey scum!") or too morose. They only get through the first line of their third number ("'Twas a baby's crib that floated by -") before Sam kicks them out in frustration.

"And everywhere I looked was death! death! death!" has been in my head since first hearing it, same as "Al-ban-i-a!" from Season 3's "Teacher's Pet." (It's the same link as last time. But any excuse.) Too funny. Anyway, yeah, these guys are the best. I wish YouTube was more cooperative. (There's this, but it's horrible quality.)

The last season of Cheers managed to maintain the status quo of previous seasons while taking a long, fond look back at itself. Without being too nostalgic, I should add. You can watch the entire 11th season and not even realize you're seeing sequels and wrap-ups to a Greatest Hits of Cheers episodes. "Bar Wars VII: The Naked Prey" wraps up the rivalry once and for all and reprises Harry the Hat.


"Face it, you're a bunch of losers. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's the way God made you. If it weren't for you guys, how would we know who the winners were?"


I was surprised this time around by how much is packed into this episode. Yet it doesn't feel stuffed (or as if they were "reaching," as mentioned above for pt. VI.) The very last line is delivered by Ted Danson pretty much perfectly. (It's not all that remarkable out of context.)


NEXT: The A.D. years, 10-ish faves.

Trivia note: In case I haven't mentioned Ken Levine enough in these remarks, this is the only episode he ever appears in. 

At the bar in a background shot post-credits.