Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Norm Peterson: Abject Failure or Everyman?

As you can discern from the title of this blog post, I'll be talking today about the character of Norm Peterson and his failings -- and if you watched more than three episodes of Cheers, you already know he had many.

Yet I should begin with my own failings as it's clear I haven't updated this site in awhile. I left the confines of my native Michigan for California and Arizona in two separate trips over the past few weeks and I have been kept busy with obligations and issues in both my professional and personal life. That said, there is no excuse for going more than a week without publishing at least some small post here. Who says one week is the rule? I do. And from now on, even though I'm going to get extremely busier as the weeks of the fall roll on, I will try my best to adhere to my own standards.

This brings us back to Norm, the lovable, consistently unemployed accountant/severe alcoholic who many would cite as their favorite character from Cheers. I've talked previously about Norm's struggles and accolades -- including the times in which he prevented his boss from forcing himself onto Diane and when he had a heart to heart with Sam and admitted he loves his wife Vera, both of which, naturally, occurred in Cheers' pool room.

And of course, Norm's wit is something that should never go unnoted as his way with words is on the shows many continual delights.

That all said, anyone who's watched the show understands Norm is essentially a never-do-well. Yet the reputation seems to change in one episode of season 3 once Normy gets a clean bill of health after a medical scare. Rejoicing in the fact that he's not going to die, Norm takes the good news as a sign he needs to do more with his life and decides to move to Bora Bora.

Needless to say, the rest of the gang is skeptical. Yet Norm insists that this is a final decision and even goes so far as to cancel a job interview by using the bar's phone so that everyone can see his seriousness. Norm's BFF, Cliff, of course believes Norm's putting everyone on and refuses to believe Norm's plans until the night Norm leaves the bar without his shoes (because, well you know, you don't need to wear shoes in French Polynesia...).

As you would expect, Cliff, and a few others, are depressed without Norm hanging out at the bar day in and day out. Yet, Cliff begins to take a certain pride in knowing Norm followed through with making such a bold decision, even if it's a decision that hurts Cliff himself since he's now sans-BFF. "To Norm!," Cliff says more than once in his somewhat stereotypical Bostonian accent as he salutes his friend.

And as anyone can figure out -- whether or not you've seen a single episode of Cheers -- Norm doesn't stay in Bora Bora forever. Hell, he doesn't even go to Bora Bora at all; he ends up living in the closet in Sam's office and having a friend mail Cliff postcards.

Eventually Sam discovers Norm living in his office (supposedly weeks after Norm was to have left the country) and tries to convince him to come out of hiding. Norm is hesitant to do so because he overhears Cliff's admiration for him and he's afraid of becoming a joke to his friends.

And it's this very conversation between Norm and Sam that has propelled me into writing a post about this one episode. Being afraid of what others think of you is something we all go through. And being afraid of letting friends know you've failed at something is sometimes even more difficult. But what can be even worse than failing is not following through with trying, which is exactly what Norm has done here as he chickened out of making a life altering change by leaving Boston for Bora Bora.

Mayday, always the encouraging friend, gets Norm to understand that it's okay to fail. And it's okay to change your mind. And it's okay to fail. Failure is something we all go through in life and is something we experience at varying levels. But no matter what, failure hurts. And here in this scene, I thought the show did a great job of portraying Norm and Sam as real people.

As I said before, Norm is perpetually unemployed throughout the series and things never go his way. But to see him vulnerable, unshowered and unshaven in Sam's office facing the consequences of his habitual failures makes him, and the show more endearing. In, most importantly, it makes the character of Norm someone with which we can all identify. And isn't that why so many of us love this show in the first place?

There have been 3-5 of these such discussions between these two, who by all accounts are the two male leads of this sitcom, and I've enjoyed them all as they've always come across as realistic, heartfelt, and have helped to add some depth to the characters and the show itself.