Narrative Structure

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The narrative structure for the hit 80’s television program, Cheers created a platform that would influence sitcoms forever.  This is a show that never made things too serious and audiences 15 and above adored.  Nevertheless, there are times where the show would have a serious topic but they would lighten the mood by With each character having their own unique personality it was easy for the writers to make enough material to last for 11 seasons (275 episodes.)  Normally each episode usually is a brand new story so a viewer could miss an episode and would not miss a beat the next time they watched.  Having said that, viewers should be familiar with the characters so they what their roles are.  An episode I looked to review was the season four classic: “Dark Imaginings” where Sam Malone (Ted Danson) hurts himself while dating a younger girl who is very active.  This makes Sam feel insecure because he is having trouble keeping up.  The viewers expect this show to keep issues light with a heavy dose of high-brow comedy in a low-brow setting.  The plot is different in each episode and is told with much comedic delight while every character shares an equal role.

The genre of the show is in every way a comedy which is what the audience expects.  The conventions of the show are typical of a sitcom. For starters it was 30 minutes long and the goal is to evoke laughter.  In addition, it is filmed in front of a live audience and had an ensemble cast.  The plot is usually pretty simple, a problem is introduced and usually resolved by the end of the episode.  (Conventions were found on pages 94/95 of Television Criticism by Victoria O’Donnell.)

The way Cheers is run was very unique for during their run.  There are seven characters whom each hold the same narrative importance.  The story changes but the characters do not from episode to episode. These 30 minute segments are jam-packed with hilarity.  During this episode it begins with their classic cold opening scene; this time a barbershop quartet walks in quarreling about how one member cost them the championship.  That member quits and Norm please with them for him to be the replacement saying it was his dream to sing.  He performs well and is offered the job which he turns down.  They asked him “Why not you said it was your dream?”  which he replied with “And I’ve done that, I’m done now.  Thanks boys.” This is scene is always followed by the iconic theme song by Gary Portnoy “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” which is accompanied by the opening credits. The song sets up the show by showcasing that it is a welcoming place for good times.  This episode dealt with a problem that everyone goes through: getting older.  Fellow bar crawler Cliff Clavin (John Ratzsenberger) starts off the episode with a turnip that he says looks like June Lockhart.  His friends are all concerned as they think he has gone off the deep end his friend Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammar) says he will council him.

 

Soon after Sam walks in with his new flame (they usually only last an episode) Bonnie who loves skiing, racquetball, and hiking.  This is where the show gets interesting and entices the viewers.  Sam feigns interests in these so he get in bed with her.  Diane asks Sam if she was broke a baby tooth giving him a hickey.  He gets very self conscious as she points out the age difference.  At first look this is just another one of Sam one-episode girlfriends, but she actually represents Sam’s refusal to grow old.  He keeps dating younger girls because he knows he will not live forever and his sexism problems are not going away.  Sam feigns interests in these so he get in bed with her.  Diane asks Sam if she broke a “baby tooth giving him a hickey”.  He gets very self conscious as she points out the age difference.  The scene pans over to Norm who is content with his average lifestyle yet pretends to be worried about nuclear warfare with Carla, who calls him out on his lie.  Later on, Woody makes Sam feel even older when he says Sam might be a bit out of his element to be playing racquetball.  Woody is much younger but Sam comes roaring into bar after a victory, sporing a new limp.  He leaves the bar with Bonnie to go skiing in Maine, even though it is quite evident he is hurting.  After a few scenes of bar chatter filled with quick jokes, Cliff comes in upset about his therapy bill from Frasier.

It should be noted that time is successive as each scene/conversation comes after another.  In addition, there is no real hero or villain in this episode.  Sam is his own worst enemy due to his sensitive nature.  He is a sex addict who does not know what he really wants in life.  Diane soon finds out from a customer that Sam is in the hospital with a hernia.  She rushes to the ER and he is surprised to see her, he lies and said he donated blood.  Diane gives him tough love by calling him out on dating young women, excessive exercise, and lying about his injury.  She tells him to embrace growing up but he cannot and replies “Once you accept old age, that’s when you become old.”

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There were several instances where I could identify the Hermeneutic Code.  For starters, there is enigma after when Sam is limping following his game of racquetball with Woody.  We do not now why he is hurt or what the injury is but we it is somewhat serious.  The first delay comes when Sam is no where to be found the day after his injury.  The next delay comes later when Sam is in the hospital, but he vehemently denies that his problems were serious.  Even though Sam is suffering from a hernia, he relents any accusations from Diane that he is growing old.  He even leaves the hospital too early and causes further damages his body.  I almost thought a complete resolution was going to happen when Sam meets his hospital-mate.  They talk about how age is just a number and that they can still be the strong, skirt chasing guys they were twenty years ago.  However my hopes were vanquished when a young woman comes in (who Sam thinks is the man’s girlfriend) but turns out to be his daughter.  This depresses Sam even more, as he stares out the window pondering his life.

I love this episode because it showcases the depth Sam Malone’s character has.  In most episodes he is just worried about having sex and good times with his buddies.  However, here it shows his humanistic side, especially because age is an issue every human being faces.  Sam does not feel old yet he cannot help but feel his deterioration.  The show ends with an instrumental of the theme song with a black background and the credits in yellow font like every show.  This episode had a beginning, middle, and end (Sam brings in young girl, he gets hurt, and reflects on time.)  In addition, there is no closure because we are not sure if Sam has come to to terms with his age. However, this topic is never brought up again.  This was one of the more important and memorable episodes of the season.

I love this episode because of how much you learn about Sam.  We all know he struggles with his inner peace but it is never brought to light.  Every character seems to pitch to help him out and shows how regular people can come together, they are not just employees and customers but rather a family.  The writers are able to make us all laugh through what was a hard time for Sam and made the show enjoyable.  The episode would not have been as fun to watch if all the characters did not play their role.  This episode was told like most, where a problem is created however Sam does not have complete closure by the end.  Even though it was a little different than most episodes, it still did the job of supplying endless amounts of comedy.

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