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.