Analyzing Cheers

Cheers is a pioneer when it comes to sitcoms and is one of the best rated television shows of all time.  This show exemplifies the occasions when critics/analysts agree with fans that this was a well-made show.  It is so contrasting watching television programs as a fan rather an analyst.  The show is totally different to me since making the switch from a fan to having to be able to exam the ins and outs of Cheers.  This Boston based bar is the welcoming spot for the city’s “average Joe’s” who need a quick drink, but it becomes so much more.  The welcoming environment is realistic as TV show can get, from the furniture to the people it can be easy to forget that you are watching the tube.  The producers use single story arcs so if you miss an episode, you can watch the next one without missing a beat.  This show wants to be inclusive for all viewers and greet them with open arms.  The viewers are involved through being actually a part of the audience, and relating with the characters and episode plots.

Watching a show you love while trying to critique it, is not an easy task.  However there were many things I picked up on in season four episode 4 “Someday My Prince will Come.”  The first thing I noticed was the opener (which is done in every episode) and someone will say “Cheers is filmed in front of a live studio audience.”  This allows me to know right away that the laughs I hear were fans viewing the show live.  This is good information to recognize the difference between a laugh track and a real live audience. A laugh is made with technology, but a live audience is filled with living/thinking people with authentic reactions.  They are there most likely to insight laughs for the viewers to make ignite a joke better.

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The show was made in the 1980s, which is represented on the show through the characters, setting, and dialogue.  This show might not have done so well today due to their lack of diversity though, as there are rarely ever characters of color.  All of the characters are straight and all romantic stories involve a man and a woman.  The “Gay” American was almost never included, except for one episode where Sam’s old teammate comes out of the closest.  The main characters could all pass for their character’s occupation based off of their physique.  Let me just go through them:

-Sam Malone: Former Red Sox pitcher and now Bar owner. White, tall, 35ish, has a slimmer/athletic physique.

-Cliff Clavin: Mail man who lives with his mother.  Late 30s, average build and white.

-Frasier Crane: Psychiatrist, early 30s, white, about 6’1/thin and white.

-Norm Peterson: Late 30s, white, accountant, and overweight.

-Carla Tortelli: scrappy waitress, late 30s, white, very short and slim, mother of 7.

-Diane Chambers: Early 30s, white, intellectual/waitress, skinny/blonde.

Woody Boyd: Early 20s, white, bartender, and athletic build.

It is excruciatingly clear that middle-aged white people are represented.  The producers for whatever reason focused on that population and did not have many black, latino, asian characters.  Nobody could really be considered “the other” due to who their characters are.  Cliff and Norm are there stereotypical bar regulars, they come in everyday after work to escape reality.  Norm is your average American: overweight and at a job he does not care for.

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Each character has certain qualities that viewers can relate to or appreciate, which makes the show more enjoyable for them.  Sam is the athlete that does not have much book intelligence, but tries to be a good guy and create an environment worthy for his friends.  His womanizing brings in several attractive women but it is clear that he is unsure of what he wants in life.  Cliff is the bar know it all that can make your skin crawl with each agonizing random fact or statistics.  People come together in the bar to make fun of Cliff, as he is the punch line for many of their jokes.  For example:

Cliff “As a matter of fact I spent a good part of my youth in a laboratory.”

Carla “And you’d still be there today if a chimpanzee hadn’t taught you how to open your cage.”

Carla is the rough and foul-mouthed waitress who spends more time yelling at customer’s than getting their drinks.  Frasier and Diane are the bar intellectuals who help attract the educated audience.   In real bars there are tons of “Norms” whom come in everyday to get a beer, make fun of themselves, and to get away from their homes.  This reflected so many Americans whose families were not functioning well, their professional life was failing and they just need someone to talk to.  Woody made sure nothing got to serious by showing his immaturity and ignorance.

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This show tried to avoid social matters even though the character’s were working class people and took place in a time where being politically correct was needed.  Having said that, moral issued arrived in every episode, although the concept of telos will not find it’s way in this bar.  In this episode Diane is preaching on how she does not care about a man’s appearance, rather for what is in his brain.  When Diane meets the man of her dreams (smart, witty, and charming) she is torn because of how unattractive she finds him.  When she goes to break up with him, she is surprised to hear that he in fact has moved on from her.  Diane is relieved but ashamed that she let someone’s appearance dictate her feelings for him.

This program relates to the culture of time.  LGBTQ was not as evident as it is today, so the writers essentially crossed out that demographic.  Also fewer women were working than in today’s world, and even though Diane and Carla were employees they were only waitressing.  They had to listen to Sam, their male boss, which was the “status quo” in the 1980s.  A few characters had “power” or “domination” in this show.  Sam was the owner of the bar so he had power of Diane, Carla, and his customers.  Diane had the ability to confuse Sam’s empty head with her whit and jokes about his manhood.  Carla had the physical power to get what she wanted no matter what.  People (especially Cliff) feared her and customers would tip better so she would not lash out at them.  That being said, everyone has a voice and the ability to ask questions.  The customers had the same importance as the workers, which blended nicely.  Sam once scolded Diane for pretending to care about a man’s intellect when all that mattered to her was their looks.  He says, “Name one other reason (besides his looks) why anyone would go out with me. Can you?” She slyly says she cannot, without pointing out how he just insulted himself.  Her smile confuses Sam as the scene ends.

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Moments of intertextuality are evident throughout the episode.  For instance, Carla mentions the Red Sox.  That Boston baseball team is very near and dear to my heart so when the discuss it, I enjoy the show more.  There is also polysemy in this show being comedy and romance mixed into one.  People go to bars trying to find another mate.  The main plot line in the first five seasons was the on/off relationship of Diane and Sam.  That was included in almost every episode, but along the way Cliff, Norm, Carla, and Frasier developed into their own plots.  The intention for the program is showcase a place that is strictly for fun and to forget your troubles.  The bar is a place where people could go to the bartender to listen but not get into their business.  They are not trying to persuade anyone or inform the audience.  I think this show could influence viewers by having them relax about their problems.  So many times have characters came into the bar with anxiety about an issue only to have it resolved later.  They could also influence how viewers view fashion, hairstyles, and body image.  Look at Woody, he is an attractive guy but he is definitely on the skinnier side.  He showed men that they do not have to be muscular to find interested women.  Diane was a model for average women.  She was attractive but was not a size 0.  She brought “classiness” look with her wardrobe and tall hairstyle that many women emulated.

What makes Cheers so likable is their rich dialogue, realistic setting, and a wonderful cast.  The stories are full to the brim with jokes and the dialogue is as witty as can be.  Each character has people who can relate to them, either by their looks or attitudes.  Cheers has the ability to make their audience feel a part of what is happening on TV.  It is certainly a once in a lifetime show.

 

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