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 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 co 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.

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