Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Curious Case of the Missing Coach

Two characters I've talked little about thus far for this blog have been Carla and the Coach. The simple reason for this is that storyline hardly ever revolve around either of these characters. Another reason I haven't discussed either of them much is because, to be honest, their characters are pretty flat compared to the others in this show.

Carla is the constantly pregnant, foul-mouthed waitress who cannot stand Diane. And Coach is, well, the Coach. A lovable old man whose good at his job and dumber than dirt. Great minor characters for a sitcom, but alas static.

That said, I've become concerned as I've closed out season 3 of Cheers as The Coach appears to be missing.

In episode 60, all is well as Mayday and Coach go back to school to get their GEDs -- Coach, it is explained, went off to war while Sam was offered a minor league contract and thus neither one finished high school. Coach works hard to pull out an A in his last required class, geography, while Mayday simply bangs the teacher to get his A. Again, in episode 60 all is well a good.

Yet he doesn't appear to be around in episode 61. And ep 62, which I've already blogged about, is Coachless as well. The reason, as Sam explains, is that the Coach went up to Vermont to renew his driver's license because their test is easier than that in Massachusetts. Something's fishy...

In the following episode, Sam explains that the Coach is in Ohio for a family reunion. The only problem is it's not Coach's family but rather an African-American family who sent an invite to Coach's address by mistake. Not wanting to be rude, it is explained by dialogue, the Coach attended the reunion. That was in 1977, Sam explains, and Coach has made it out to Ohio every year since.

Mayday explains Coach's absence in the following episode, 64, by stating that he's visiting his sister in Minnesota. The kicker with this story is that Coach told his sister to pick him up from the airport so she, apparently also dumber than dirt, drove from Minnesota to Boston to meet him at the airport.

Again, something's afoot.

There's no sign of Coach, and no explanation for his absence, in the following episode. Yet in episode 66, Coach is back! And yet, he doesn't appear again in the series until episode 69 in which he's only in the cold open.

Not to spoil things -- because I'm going to do that in my next post -- but I do believe I know the reason behind all of this. But I'm going to have to do some research to find out what the hell happened to Coach and why, apparently, many of the final episodes of season 3 were shot out of order.

The Coach is Dead, Long Live The Coach

I make no delusions to myself as to the popularity of my literary status be it as a novelist, poet, or blogger; indeed, I do realize I don't have a lot of followers who read this blog regularly.

But I do know I have some people who read this blog. And from discussions I've had with some of these people, I understand that a good number, perhaps even a majority, of people who are joining me on my little journey here were never a big fan of Cheers, and thus have only seen a handful of episodes, if that. And I also know some of you have never even seen a single episode and only have a basic understanding of the show due to it's place in pop culture as a television icon.

So for those folks, what I'm discussing here today may be new information. But for those of us who watched the show (to some extent) as a child, we are aware of the fact that Diane leaves the show halfway through the series and is replaced by Rebecca Howe. That's always been the big change of the show since the switch of female lead had an impact on the tone of the series.

Yet there was another big change that occurs between seasons 3 and 4, which is (spoiler alert) the death of Nicholas Colasanto, the actor who portrayed Mayday's old pitching coach, Ernie Pantusso.

If that name, Ernie Pantusso, sounds foreign to you, it should. The character was hardly ever called by that name as he was known affectionately to everyone at Cheers simply as "Coach." Hell, even Diane, who never fails to call Norm "Norman" and Cliff "Clifford," calls Coach by his nickname.

His character was hardly original. Serving as Sam's main bartender, Coach was often naive, in over his head, and the butt of the joke. To put it more bluntly, Coach was dumb as hell. (Essentially, he was an older version of Barney Rubble from The Flintstones.)

I almost devoted a post solely to this character back in July when I started this project. Though I never wrote such a post, I already had the title in my mind ("Is the Coach Retarded?!?"). Throughout the series Coach would make asinine comments or correct people (ie Cliff) whenever they made a comment that was meant to be sarcastic. As I envisioned it, the post would have been an overly long (as most of my posts are) diatribe into TV's lineage of lovable morons from All in the Family's Edith Bunker, to the Coach, to Kimmy Gibbler from Full House and Waldo from Family Matters.

I still may write that post one day (especially given the fact that Coach is replaced by bright-eyed Woody Boyd who is just as dumb). But I'll stay focused on the Coach, who though as dumb as a sitcom character could possibly be, had a pivotal role in the series. He was the embodiment of Sam Malone's backstory. He was there when Mayday was in the minors and was a part of the Red Sox organization during Mayday's heyday.

Also, as the show recounts several times, he was also there when Malone spiraled out of control. And he was the one who, at the beginning of season 3, serves as a catalyst by convincing Diane to return to the bar to save Sam from himself.

After doing the research I said I'd do in my previous post, I discovered that the episodes of this season were indeed aired out of order. Nicholas Colasanto died in February of 1985, before the show could wrap it's production on season 3. This is why Coach was gone for episodes at a time with Sam either seen talking to him on the phone or explaining to Norm and Cliff the man's current whereabouts.

He appears in a few odd spots, only in the cold open of episodes because Colasanto was already dead at that point and the show's writers didn't know how to explain his absence. And because of that, the Coach's final scene is one in which an old friend from his days playing in the minors comes by, only to have Coach sing his praises to the entire bar. Known as "The Blind Man," the old friend supplemented his income selling venetian blinds. But of course Coach, in the nature of things, always assumed the guy couldn't see.

The man tries repeatedly to explain the origins of the nickname, only for Coach to warn him to watch out for the steps on the way out. Carla tries telling Coach that she believes his buddy can see. Coach's response? "In some ways, he can see more."

And on that note, the Coach leaves us. Obviously when an actor dies mid-season, it's impossible to give his character a proper send off. Yet this last scene of his seems, somehow, fitting. The Coach was dumb as hell, clearly. But in some ways, he was also a tad bit wise.

In some ways, he could see more.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Michael Richards, Phone Books, Travel Agents, and Other Things Horribly Outdated

Yeah, yeah, I know it's been nearly a month since my last post (in which I vowed to make one post a week). If you don't like the infrequency of my posts, you're more than welcome to go find someone else on the Internet who was lame enough to watch every single episode of Cheers and then blog about the experience.

In all seriousness, I am going to make the effort to blog more regularly. And it should be easier now that things have really started to pick up on this show.

Today, I want to talk about sitcom plot devices and the rapid change they encountered thanks to advancements in technology. Also, I want to talk about the HOLY SHIT! moment I witnessed in episode 62 of the series when Cosmo Kramer himself, Michael Richards, walked into the bar.

As you can see to your left, Richards looks, well, normal playing a customer sitting in a Boston tavern in 1985. Throughout the episode, he shows no signs of eccentricity or physical hilarity from the Seinfeld days. That said, Richards plays a character named Eddie who has all the makings of the asshole we all saw on stage at the LA Laugh Factory in the fall of 2007.

You see, the premise of the episode is this: Some years ago, back when Sam Malone was still a raging alcoholic and on his way out of the majors, he made a bet with Eddie that he could marry the actress Jacqueline Bisset by a set date. If Mayday fails in this goal, the bar belongs to Eddie. By this point, in the here and now of 1985, Sam has forgotten both the bet and Eddie himself. In typical a-hole fashion, however, Eddie has with him the signed paper from that drunken night and threatens legal action against Sam if he doesn't hold up to his end of the deal.

Typical sitcom fodder, no? Of course it is. And, also in typical sitcom fashion, it's foul-mouthed Carla (who, it should be noted, is at this point in the series preggerz with her SIXTH child!) who suggests to Mayday that the terms of the contract dictate he most marry a woman named Jackie Bisset, not necessarily the Jackie Bisset.

With this epiphany, Mayday, Norm and Cliff set off to find a woman named Jackie Bisset by -- wait for it -- combing over Cliff's extensive collection of phone books from every metropolitan area in the United States. Granted, I was only a 2-year-old at the time, but I had no idea how tough life was in 1985. It's amazing how so many dilemmas in movies and TV shows from the 70's, 80's, and even 90's would easily be solved with either Google or a cell phone. A quick search on Facebook would have easily gotten Sam a list of a hundred Jackie Bissets.

(This, by the way, raises the question: What would a Facebook profile of Mayday Malone look like, anyway? Would he be a celebrity athlete that people could "like" on Facebook? Or would Mayday have an actual regular person profile with upwards of 2,000 "friends," half of whom would have been former lovers and the other half of whom would be girls he'd actively be trying to nail? I think I'm on to something here...)

While on the topic of technology, it should also be noted that Sam could easily take the paper contract he signed with Eddie Google legal counsel who charge reasonably so that he can determine if the contract even has a leg to stand on. Hell, he could even look up Massachusetts law precedents himself to check the validity of the drunken contract signing.

Though I will get into this in a post in the very near future, the show goes on to date itself several more times in Season 3 with Sam struggling to hook up an answering machine for his office phone and later on needing Cliff to help him find a travel agent who can look into the possibility of there being any flights going from Boston to Italy that night. (Spoiler alert: A certain someone has run off to Italy with a certain Frasier Crane and a certain Mayday has mixed feelings about this certain someone...)

Eventually Cliff finds a Jackie B living in West Virginia who is willing to come up to Boston (based on the lie that she's won a free vacay from a radio station contest). She doesn't want to marry Mayday but eventually falls for him. Eddie comes back to the bar, ready to collect his prize, only to find Mayday has stumped him. Showing that he's not quite the a-hole he's been made out to be, Eddie calls off the bet. Diane talks Jackie B out of wanting to marry Sam and Mayday keeps the bar. Everyone wins and nothing changes.

Again, is this the stuff of typical sitcom narrative? Absolutely. And was the whole story wholly outdated by watching it in 2011? Of course. And I was obviously taken out of the episode so much that I wrote two legal pad pages worth of notes and paused Netflix to snap a photo of pre-Kramer, pre-racist ranter Michael Richards. But I did laugh a number of times. And I did enjoy myself. And more than being entertained by this show, I've come to learn that the 1980's were really tough in Reagan's America...