Twenty-Five Years After Its Heyday, Is Cheers Still Funny?
For 1991 Week, Mark Blankenship uses 'The Days Of Wine And Neuroses' as a test case.
Original Air Dates: 1982-1993.
Why Did I Used To Watch? Because I was a sentient North American in the late '80s and early '90s. Everybody watched Cheers.
Why Didn't I Keep Watching? I did watch until the series finale, but after that, I never wanted to go back. I've happily revisited other sitcoms of the era, including The Golden Girls, early Simpsons episodes, and nearly every extant Roseanne and Seinfeld. Somehow, though, Cheers struck me as a show that wouldn't be funny anymore. In my memory, it was too broad and too hetero to hold my interest.
Why Give It Another Shot? When this site announced 1991 Week, I was curious about what was the highest-rated show on TV that year. Turns out it was the ninth season of Cheers, which also won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy. Given that nexus of popular and critical support, I figured I should take another look. (The entire series is on Hulu, so it's easy to find.) I opted for "The Days Of Wine And Neuroses," the episode that earned Kirstie Alley her 1991 Emmy for Best Actress In A Comedy (and let her give this famously insane speech, which included a shout-out to her then-husband's D.)
What Aspects Of The Rewatched Episode Would Seem To Invite Further Viewing? More than I expected! For one thing, the chemistry among the cast is incredible. By this point, they'd all been together for ages -- even Alley was a veteran, having long since replaced Shelley Long -- and their rhythm is delightful. That's also a credit to the writers, who know exactly how to bounce from a snarky Carla-ism to a dumb one-liner from Cliff to a bizarre aside from Lilith.
And speaking of Lilith: oh my god! She's still the greatest. This episode revolves around Rebecca getting a surprise marriage proposal from Robin just days before he gets out of prison, and to celebrate, Lilith throws Rebecca an engagement party in the bar. Only Rebecca doesn't seem properly grateful, so Lilith, burning with repressed fury, insists on leaving...until she gets a last-minute toast in her honor. Her face barely changes, but you can tell she's like, "Score one for me!" This probably doesn't sound funny at all, but Bebe Neuwirth makes it work like whoa.
Meanwhile, Kelsey Grammer hams it up in a subplot about the bar getting a karaoke machine. At first he mocks the thing, but then (naturally) he gets obsessed, regaling everyone with show tunes until they're about to lose their minds. You can see this conclusion coming from the gate, but it's still a hoot. It makes you understand why Frasier got his own show.
I'll also give it up to Kirstie Alley. She does a great job with Rebecca's increasingly drunken realization that she doesn't want to get married. Alley's been such a mannered actor for such a long time that I'd forgotten how funny she used to be. It's nice to be reminded.
What Aspects Of The Rewatched Episode Discourage Further Viewing? Sam Malone. I know he's supposed to be a charming lothario -- and Ted Danson is totally appealing -- but I'm not interested in hearing him talk about all the chicks he wants to bang, has banged, or chose not to bang because he's a gentleman. Now that I'm a grown-up and it's 2016, I don't have to pretend that shit is adorable. Put it in your pants, dude.
More importantly, this episode has a very obvious sitcom structure that feels woefully outdated in the loose-limbed era of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Broad City and Veep. For example: at one point, Rebecca tells some long story about the time she felt most alive, and Sam immediately assumes she's talking about the night they slept together. (See above.) But then she reveals that she was talking about riding a horse. OF COURSE SHE WAS. Then we get to hear the studio audience howl at Sam's misunderstanding. Ha...ha? A few predictable jokes are okay, but when all the jokes are predictable, mama's gotta bounce.
Final Verdict: It's still pretty good, but Cheers is too dated to merit a full rewatch. But for making me appreciate how forward-thinking Roseanne and Seinfeld really were, revisiting this episode was definitely a worthwhile exercise.