This is the newest post in 2011′s Surveillance Summer Watch series featuring Cheers and Hill Street Blues. For the next couple of months, I’ll be writing weekly reviews of episodes from each series’ first seasons, with Cheerson Tuesdays and Hill Street Blues on Thursdays. For more information, see this post and for all the SSW pieces, visit this page.
Whoa, here we are at the end of what feels like a too-short journey through the first season of Cheers. Before I get started with a look at this two-part finale, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who read, commented, tweeted/retweeted the pieces this summer. It has been a real delight to watch this series and write about it for you guys and gals. Anyway, thanks.
But on to Cheers‘ season one finale, the two-part “Showdown.” It is basically impossible to find out how audiences responded to an episode that aired nearly 20 years ago, but I have to say that I would be really interested to see what folks thought of this episode. In a lot of ways, “Showdown” reflects all the great parts of Cheers that I have been praising over the past eight weeks. It’s very funny and sometimes surprisingly earnest and serious and everyone in the cast gets at least one or two moments to shine. Yet, I can’t help but think Sam and Diane’s relationship suffocates things just a little too much. These 46ish minutes are nearly all about Sam and Diane’s smoldering feelings and at a certain point, I was really ready for the series to pull the trigger on something instead of all stalling further.
Part of that stalling stems from the fact that this two-parter feels very finale-y. Last week, I talked about the series’ ability to overcome generally gimmicky premises because of the bar setting and the sharp writing and while that’s mostly true for these episodes, there is a little bit of a sense that drama exists for really no reason at all. It’s one thing to have Sam and Diane continue to circle one another and for a new man to get between the two of them, it’s even more heightened when that new man is Sam’s golden boy brother Derek (who we actually never see, which I thought was a really fun approach — because really, who can be cooler than Ted Danson in 1982?). And it doesn’t stop with the two leads either: Norm gets a new job! Coach might be leaving for Venezuela so he can coach again! Carla has officially had enough of Sam and Diane’s nonsense! Cliff has to use the bathroom! Well okay, that last one doesn’t have much of a finale vibe too it, but I think you get the point nevertheless.
I don’t have too much of a problem with these developments because I have the glorious future knowledge of knowing that Coach doesn’t leave the series and because these episodes do not hammer home these moments as if they are “big changes” or something, but they’re still present and still somewhat odd. We know that Carla doesn’t really like Diane much at all, but she repeatedly demeans Diane’s probable relationship with Sam throughout “Showdown” — so much more than ever before. Perhaps Carla is only reacting to the ways in which Sam and Diane’s relationship itself is escalating, but for a few seconds it felt like the series was trying to create more drama than was truly necessary.*
*Random question: Do we think that if a series has a character constantly berate the stupidity of a will-they-or-won’t-they couple the series then gets a pass for continuing to do the things that make said character berate them in the first place? That kind of self-reflexivity is really tricky, I’d love to hear some thoughts on it.
For Coach and Norm, the developments are even less necessary. We are randomly told that Coach might be leaving in the first part of the finale and then succinctly told he won’t be in the second part. There is barely any beat any between those points, aside from Coach learning Spanish and generally being funny. But it is not like Coach not going to Venezuela is now going to alter his character that much. He didn’t seem to care either way. And the same could be said for Norm. We already knew he was without a job, but it didn’t appear to bother him over the last few episodes leading into “Showdown.” In part one, Derek gets him a job and in part two, Norm announces he hated it/was fired. Again, there’s no real point to the story other than to emphasize how awesome Sam’s brother is — or at least appears to be — in the first half. I’m all for Coach and Norm having things to do, especially in a finale that is already too Sam and Diane heavy for my liking, but I think there might have been a better way to go about it. Carla’s story feels the most integrated into the series’ fabric and what came before, so I’m less concerned about that, but again, it did feel as if the Charles’ script was pushing a bit too far for characters who work best when they just get to react to the things around them.
Which brings us back to Sam and Diane. For better or for worse, Cheers‘ first season is about the awkward, tension-filled courtship between these two people and in that respect, it makes sense that the finale spends most of its time on allowing the two of them to more overtly express some of their feelings. If “Showdown” wouldn’t have provided movement on the Sam-Diane front, I might have been filling up this post with references to The Killing and a lack of resolution or I could have easily included a more extensive discussion about television’s obsession with delayed coupling of its romantic pairings. Instead, Cheers finally pulls the trigger on Sam and Diane here, but not until going through a whole lot of maneuvering. As the season progressed, I found myself at least somewhat invested in the relationship between Sam and Diane and I guess that would mean I wanted them to get together. And like I said, I think the series had to go there by the end of this episode, so I don’t want to criticize the thought process.
However, I’m less enamored by the execution. If we think back to the last half-dozen episodes or so leading into the finale, it seemed really, really obvious that Sam and Diane not only liked one another, they were outwardly saying as much to each other. Things really picked up with “Diane’s Perfect Date” and in last week’s trio of episodes, Sam was repeatedly asking Diane to go to bed with him. I know that he was doing so in a somewhat playful manner, but neither one of them is so dumb or blind that they couldn’t see the signs and the sexual tension between one another. This isn’t a Ross and Rachel situation where one of the characters is hopelessly in love and the other is entirely blind to that love. Sam and Diane knew the stakes, they knew how the other person felt. That knowledge almost felt nonexistent in these episodes once Sam’s brother showed up. Sam turned into a silent, pouting dope and Diane became even more oblivious and blind to her surroundings. I get that’s what the Derek character is supposed to do to people, but bringing him in that this moment to throw a wrench into this relationship didn’t work for me, at all really.
The Sam and Diane problems continued in the second part of the episode, but somewhat less so. After a few days of the high life with Derek, Diane has second thoughts about which Malone brother she wants to spend her time with. Eventually, she confronts Sam and it turns into one, long, extremely drawn-out argument between the two of them…before they finally kiss. Look, I understand that the bickering and the yelling is what defines Sam and Diane’s relationship. It’s how they first met and it’s how we first got to know them as well, but when combined with the yanking around that came with Derek’s arrival, I found myself wanting to slap both of them in the back of the head.
Interestingly, I think times have changed a lot when it comes to the unresolved sexual tension will-they-or-won’t-they stuff on television. These days, it feels like characters generally like one another, even if the romantic feelings are sort of bubbling underneath the surface. And even if they don’t totally like each other’s company, it is certainly not as antagonistic and visceral as Sam and Diane are with one another. Except maybe Community‘s Jeff and Britta, but I think the way their relationship has played out serves as a makeshift commentary on how stupid relationships like Sam and Diane are. Terrible romantic comedies in film still do this, but television appears to have moved away from it for the most part. I don’t mind will-they-or-won’t-they, I really don’t. But I have more difficultly swallowing the couples who basically hate each other so much that it turns into like, love or lust. And what’s worse is that over the last few episodes, Sam and Diane appeared to be moving towards a friendship or at least something resembling one. So yeah, they’re “together” now, but it feels like they hate one another more than ever. And in the process of getting there, I lost a lot of interest in their relationship.
Ultimately though, this conclusion doesn’t damage the entire season’s worth of stories. “Showdown” makes Sam and Diane look more stupid, childish and immature than ever before, but at least it still brings them to a temporary resolution that they can quickly back out of as soon as season two begins. This finale was still relatively reflective of the season as a whole: It was damn funny and mostly focused on the characters (even if the focus had too much of a finale sheen painted over it). I came into this series with only really knowledge about Sam and Diane’s relationship and how people have grown to hate them. For the most part, I can see why people now feel that way and why that’s the one thing I knew about Cheers prior to my viewing. However, I’ve grown to really appreciate Cheers for its ability to consistently deliver funny, inoffensive comedy that has a character focus. Sometimes the series is too broad and sometimes it spends too much time on its main romantic pairing, but most of the time, Cheers finds a nice balance of all its characters and elements.
I don’t think I would call this one of the greatest seasons of comedy that I’ve ever personally seen, but it’s in that second tier. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the most obvious modern-day comparison has to be Modern Family. Both series had wonderful pilots that well-established the characters and the world and from there, nothing really changed because it didn’t really have to. I might prefer a sharper, niche-ier brand of comedy, but there is no shame in churning out consistent B+ episodes that literally anyone can understand and enjoy. I sure hope that Cheers‘ second season doesn’t fall flat like Modern Family‘s did, though. Maybe I’ll just have to find out for myself and bring back the Cheers watch sooner than later.
Other thoughts — Well, actually just good lines from the episode(s):
- “Fred and Ginger are taking a break, but they’ll be back to nauseate you in just a moment.”
- “Oh Sam, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
- “Hard to get for me used mean that I had to sit through dinner.”
- “Now there’s so much gossip you all should have dryers on your heads.”
- “No the Spanish was fine. They didn’t like my English.”
- “I’ve got it: Your hot for Sam’s chili.”
- “The truth is, if that woman packed her bags and left me, I don’t know what I would do…first.”
- “Do I get to kiss the bride?” “I think you know what you can kiss.”