Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shouldn't Every Day Be Diane Chambers Day?

The season four finale of Cheers is a three-parter. This seems to be the norm with this show as the last two seasons had multipart finales and from the snooping around I did before starting this blog, the show ends with a three-part series finale as well.

Before getting to the finale, however, the show decides it wants to throw in as many curve balls as possible in regards to the SamAndDianeWillTheyWontTheyMelodrama. Throughout the season, Frasier has had to come to terms with losing Diane, which he seemingly ends up doing. Sam, meanwhile, convinces himself they are through but both he and Ms. Chambers exude a “never say never” attitude throughout the season.
Still, everything seems to be on an even keel. That is until a mysterious, never-before-referenced ex of Diane’s shows up in Boston. Before he comes by Cheers, the gang have some questions, leading to this exchange:

Diane: He's a man I dated for a bit in Europe.
Woody: Is that before or after you dumped doctor crane and sent him into an alcoholic tailspin?
Diane: After...
Frasier (standing right behind an unbeknownst Diane): How long after?!?

The old flame, simply known as Jack, is a mature, bearded and manly fellow whom Diane spent time with in and around Europe, supposedly. Additionally, he’s the exact image I see when I think of myself.

Loud, boisterious, and jolly, Jack takes no time to meet everyone at the bar and challenge Sam to an arm wrestling contest. Within 20 seconds of him being on screen, Sam and the Fras bond over their mutual hatred for the guy.

Not only is this dude a world traveler, but he's also a pilot (again, the exact image of how I view myself). So, naturally, the episode focuses on this ex-BF of Diane's taking her and Sam up in his plane. He has the two handle the controls while he checks out something in the back. And, in the nature of things, he dies, leaving S and D scared, crying, and fearing for their lives as they struggle to handle the controls. In the heat of the moment, they admit to still being in love and vow to marry should they survive.

And, once more in the nature of things, Jack wakes up, pronouncing he was pretending to be dead so that Sam and Diane could realize what they mean to each other. Fair enough, I guess...

The next episode is the oddly titled "Banditos (AKA Diane Chambers Day)" in which Sam and Co. finally feel bad for not accepting Diane as "one of the gang" after four years of working at the bar. This epiphany comes about after Sam invites everyone but her over to his place to watch a movie, leaving Ms. Chambers to feel like an outsider.

To make up for the slight, the gang -- which should be noted does seem to officially include Frasier -- decide to plan a day around Diane's interests rather than sports games. The group struggles to get a plan together until Frasier mentions that Diane's favorite opera is being shown in Boston and he could look into getting tickets for everyone. Carla, naturally, doesn't attend, while Frasier for some reason doesn't go either. This leaves Diane to be escorted by Sam, Woody, Norm and Cliff for her night out on Diane Chambers Day.

As you can see below, the gang are seated in a balcony box. And, naturally, display their fish-out-of-waterness within seconds of the opera beginning as Norm cracks open a beer. (Alcoholism: Hi-larious!)

The episode ends back at the bar with a scene not unlike that in the season 1 and 2 finales. Sam and Diane close up shop, with Diane still belieivng Diane Chambers Day and the opera trip were Sam's ideas. She drops her purse and, as they both bend down to pick it up, the two lock lips.

It's a lot of the same ole, same ole to be sure, but what's redeeming about the scene is Sam's admission that the ideas were Frasier's, not his own. He's begun to grow as a womanizing, good-timing tom cat. And that's just the kind of character development that's made this season so interesting... and impossibly long to get through and blog about.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Things Get Real for Mayday

At the end of the day, Cheers is a series about a bar, it’s owner and his waitstaff, and the drunks they serve. That said, it’s also really, really good.

I say this not based on the show’s reputation and lasting relevance, but on the strength of this fourth season which has taken me an eternity to finish. The whole Frasier meltdown intertwined with the SamAndDianeWillTheyWontTheyLoveDrama has been interesting to watch. Yet the more dramatic elements of the show have been spaced out enough this season that when they do occur, they seem to hit with a poignancy that’s atypical of sitcoms.

One great example of the show blending typical comedy with drama is the aptly titled “Dark Imaginings” in which Sam and Woody go head to head in racquetball. This, of course, comes about when Sam gets the impression people think Woody is more athletic and younger than he is. The problem, of course, is that Woody is more athletic and younger than Sam.

Mayday ends up with his whole body aching, leading to some rare physical comedy on the part of Ted Danson. Cue laugh track, end of show, right? That’s exactly where a show like, say, Everybody Loves Raymond would call it a day. Yet, Cheers takes it a step further with Sam not only going to the hospital with a hernia, but also going to great lengths to hide his injuries from the other characters.

Back at the bar, Diane overhears a table of nurses talking about a sexy patient they’ve been looking after named “Lance Manyon.” Diane drops a glass and declares, “My God, it’s Sam!”

Concerned, Carla, Woody, and Diane visit Mayday. Once the others leave, Diane talks Sam into letting her read for him. He agrees and lets her sit on his bed before slowly creeping away and pushing an end table against the hospital room door. Diane continues reading as Sam lowers the lights and shuts the curtains. Once aware of what ole’ Mayday is up to, Diane explains things will not be going how Sam intended. “This is a once in a lifetime chance to play doctor in a real hospital!” Sam protests, to no avail. Instead, his once (and probably future) lover takes pity on him by explaining he doesn’t have to use his libido to prove to himself he’s still young. Rather, Ms. Chambers argues, growing old is a good thing, particularly for men who she says become more distinguished in mid-life.

From here, Diane bids Mayday adieu and Sam is greeted by a roommate who recognizes him from his Red Sox days. The two have a conversation about accepting being in middle age before the new roommate is greeted with his own guest. She’s introduced to Sam and the three continue to make small talk for a minute before, naturally, Mayday hits on her and tells her if she’s everything thinking about leaving her boyfriend she can call up Sammy any time.

I should reiterate that last season on his way to break-up Diane’s wedding to Frasier, Sam hit on the stewardess of his flight. It makes perfect sense for him to hit on the wife/girlfriend of one of his fans. Worse than a casual rejection to his causal proposition, Mayday is hit with being told matter-of-factly that the woman is not the guy’s girlfriend, but his daughter. The two look down on Sam for his audacity and leave the room for a walk.

The studio audience gets a get laugh out of this, sure, but it leads to a great image in which Sam sits down at the chair near the window and looks out over the Boston night sky. No more laughter. No applauding. Just the audience looking at the main character of a sitcom being hit with the cold hard truth that he’s a tomcat for whom life just may have passed by.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Things Are Looking Up for the Fras...

It's taken me forever to get through season 4 of Cheers. This has been for a number of reasons, such as my other professional obligations.

But perhaps one of the reasons it's taken me months to get through this season is the fact that Frasier's downfall is (pathetically) hitting a little too close to home for me. This of course led to the well-received posts on what I dubbed "the art of hitting rock bottom." And throughout the season, the Fras has floated along on this show being depressed, unable to stand being around Diane while simultaneously unable to stay away from her, and trying in vein to fit in with Norm, Cliff and the gang by being just one of the regular joes.

And through that drifting along, something curious has happened -- Frasier has let go of Diane. It happened in episode 15, the appropriately titled "Triangle." In typical sitcom fashion, Diane convinces Sam to fake being depressed so that the actually depressed Frasier can get his mojo back by professionally treating Sam. Fras buys into Sam's depression but is convinced that it spurs from his love for Diane, thus complicating matters even worse than they were before.

By the episode's end, Frasier is able to accept that Diane and Sam are made for each other and pushes Sam to admit this fact to himself and to Diane. This all comes from the contrived nature of sitcom plots, sure, yet the episode's last scene has some realistic weight behind it with Frasier forcing Sam and Diane to address the elephant in the room. Of course it's a laugh out loud moment since Frasier ends up screaming at the two of them for being so naive to not see the obvious, but it still works as a great scene.

And with this episode, it seems Frasier Crane has come into his own as a main-stay character on Cheers. He will forever be intertwined into the SamAndDianeWillTheyWontTheyLoveDrama (which I'm stylizing as one word because, honestly, at this point it deserves to be it's own pronoun). But rather than just being the third person involved in the triangle, Frasier begins to come into his own as a character as season 4 pushes towards its conclusion.

He's beginning to come into the bar without any pretext of wanting to speak to Diane, leading to more scenes between he, Norm and Cliff, which works well with the three's dialouge bouncing off one another. And it doesn't hurt that nearly everything Frasier says goes over Woody's head, similar to what we used to see in the first two seasons of the show with Coach misinterpreting nearly everything coming out of Diane's mouth.

Another important development of Frasier's resurgence is the debut of Lilith, the character who becomes Frasier's wife and ex-wife. He introduces the gang to her as they stop by for a drink on their first date.

If you're familiar with Lilith at all, it should come as no surprise that she comes across as cold, impersonal, and uptight. The big laugh from her debut is her declaration that Frasier should not expect any sugar post-date. This would be fine with, and probably welcomed by, the Frasier we once knew. But fully developed Frasier, who considers Mayday Malone a good friend, is more than frustrated by the declaration.

Thus, sparks do not (yet) fly between Fras and Lilith in season 4. So, once again feeling the need to help out a friend, Mayday sets Fras up with one of his countless number of bimbos. Note that bimbo is not editorializing on my part, the actual description of the episode reads "Sam sets Frasier up with one of his young bimbos."

The bimbo in question here is a young Jennifer Tilly who plays her role pitch perfectly. She's exceptionally dumb, even by Mayday's low standards. But the kicker is she is just what Frasier needs after his bad date with Lilith. The two have nothing in common yet hit it off and get engaged. Of course typical sitcom storywriting rears its head and the two come to their senses after a talking down to by Sam and Diane. Still, this is a Frasier more personable and laid-back than we've seen before.

And perhaps most important of all, it is clear that Frasier has finally come into his own because Kelsey Grammar has finally been moved from a guest star to a regular cast member.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Love Song of Trevor and Colette

Around the start of the new year, I tweeted that I just watched the funniest episode of Cheers ever. I also mentioned I'd be writing about it the following week -- clearly, that didn't happen. Yet the month gap between saying I'd be writing about it and then actually doing that writing -- and the fact that I went back and re-watched it -- has only reaffirmed my love for the episode.

For those of you keeping score at home, it's episode 11 of season 4, entitled "Don Juan is Hell." In short, the premise is this: Diane, forever and always in grad school for some reason, is stressing out over her upcoming paper for her psychology class. Finding out that the focus of the paper is human sexuality, Sam is more than willing to lend a hand anyway he can. Crunched for time, Diane agrees and uses Sam as the subject of her paper, "The Don Juan Syndrome in Modern Culture." As you can probably gather, hilarity indeed ensues.

In the back office, Diane interviews Sam for her case study asking him about his sexual history, beginning with the loss of his virginity. To this question, Mayday responds "Well, I couldn't get to her house until the crossing guard showed up..."

Disgusted at the answer, Diane presses Mayday on his second encounter. "Well, that would've been the crossing guard." From there, Mayday http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifgoes on to freely give many more examples before Diane stops him. ("I'm writing a case study, not a resume!")

Sure, the jokes here are fairly one-dimensional and a bit immature. But the after three and a half seasons together, Ted Danson and Shelley Long certainly have great chemistry on screen together and their delivery of dialogue is pitch perfect for their characters. And besides, as someone who will forever cite Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is the greatest comedy of all time, this episode is certainly in my wheelhouse.

Later on, Diane's professor swings by the bar -- because, you know, talking to her after class is just too particular -- to give her warm reviews for her paper. He's amazed that such a man as Mayday, renamed in the paper as "Trevor", exists in this day and age (of 1985). Diane is delighted to learn he finds it publishable, but is embarrassed to hear that the professor feels the paper would benefit from her interviewing one of the self-esteemless bimbos who has served as one of many of Trevor's conquests. Wanting the paper to get published, she adds in some material from "Colette" who, of course, is herself.

Wanting to verify the accuracy of the paper, the professor meets Mayday who, without having read the paper, reassures the prof it's all true though "we had to change a few of the names to protect the satisfied." Besides the wittiness of the dialogue, the other joke here is the fact that, in the sitcommy nature of things, Sam hasn't read the paper beyond the title and has no idea Diane paints a portrait of a man who is pathetic, insecure, lonely and a clear case of arrested development.

One of the great delights of the episode is the professor's continual astonishment that Trevor/Sam/Mayday is an actual living, breathing human being. Whether intentional or not, it serves as a little bit of poking at the fourth wall seeing as the chauvinistic, oversexed Mayday is a character who in the real world would have been sued for harassment a thousand times over and/or murdered by a scorned lover for his tomcatting ways.

The prof suggests he hold the next class session at Cheers, an idea Diane is wholeheartedly against. Mayday, of course, is game. "It'd give some of students a chance to see the case study in the living flesh," the professor says, attempting to twist Diane's arm. "Well, I'm not gonna promise that, but we'll see how the evening goes," replies Sam, to thunderous applause from the live studio audience.

Diane reluctantly agrees and pleads with Sam that he read the paper before the class comes over. Obviously, he doesn't read a word of it, so when the class comes in for their meeting, he gathers them around and begins holding a Q & A session on his sexual history and methods, going so far as hitting on one of Diane's classmates in the process. From there, Mayday asks a male student how he approaches women and interrupts the kid once he says he politely asks a girl out and tries to take things slow and let love blossom naturally. ("Ok, now can anyone tell me where Barry here fell off the beam?")

Embarrassed, or perhaps ashamed, Diane puts a halt to the Q & A and speaks with Sam in the office. She reads from her paper, making sure it sinks in to Sam that the portrait painted in her case study is anything but flattering. Rather than get angry, Sam becomes dejected and buys into the argument Diane has made in her paper.

Saddened to see Mayday's feelings hurt, Diane protests that he is capable of having a relationship with a woman without sex serving as an ulterior motive. She uses the two of them as an example of a relationship Sam has with a woman where the friendship is mature, mutual and platonic. "I wish there was some well to prove it to you," Diane says. This, of course, prompts Sam to respond with "Maybe there is... sit on my lap."

Diane, understandably, is hesitant but does agree to the idea and together the two sit and try to have a conversation to prove they are two adults of the opposite sex who can maintain a professional, mature friendship. The cohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifnversation goes from the weather to vacationing in the sun to the idea of getting sunburnt to preventing sunburn through the rubbing of oil. They change topics to music and then religion, both times ending up speaking in sexual metaphors before quickly agreeing their relationship is clearly platonic.

So why, exactly, did I find this ep so funny? Again, the dialogue is witty and delivered brilliantly. But what I think makes the episode really stand out is the fact that it's 1985 and while the subject matter is mature, the actual dialogue is pretty PG. And as someone who is a fan of modern sitcoms that ere on the raunchy side, I can appreciate the subtlety of the hilarity.