Our cable provider in New Zealand recently added a new channel. It’s called Jones!, which- I don’t know- is supposed to somehow feel homey and classic, I suppose. But it was their slogan that caught my pop-culture polluted brain: I love tv. Why yes. Yes, I do love TV. How did you know, Jones? While a lot of the shows on the channel are oldies that are lost on me, the comedy aging and the drama only just beginning to take steps towards the sort of overarching plots that we expect today, they’ve got a few things that made me note the channel number. (Thirteen for your interest. Because duh, you’re interested.)
The programme that had me the most, though, was Cheers. Even if you haven’t watched Cheers (which I hadn’t) it’s likely that you’ve heard of it. It’s a classic – the classic. It helped helm NBC’S Thursday night ‘Must See TV’, and the series finale – in the eleventh season, the eleventh. Season- was watched by over 40 million household viewers. NBC execs probably look at those stats now and weep.
And if my incredibly fun(!) and informative(!) stats haven’t convinced you of the brilliance of this sitcom yet, I’ll let Amy Poehler take over: “I would encourage any young person getting into comedy to sit down and watch the best television show that’s ever been on.”
I don’t know about you, but anything that Amy Poehler wants to watch is cool by me. And by cool I mean I’m ordering the dvds online now.*
Cheers is one of those rare things in television history (what I wouldn’t give for that to be a legitimate school subject, am I right): an ageless comedy. The pop-culture references are limited, and the jokes are formed on the basis of relationships, on the people that come in and out of this iconic little bar in Boston. Yes, I’ve found, there have been the occasional things that have caused a wince (an episode revolving around the regulars of Cheers worrying their bar will become a gay one, and another in which Norm is fired due to not allowing his boss to essentially sexually assault Diane), but overall these men and women, Sam and Diane, Carla and Coach; characters that are eternally stuck in the 80s, feel remarkably modern.
Cheers wasn’t afraid of being a smart comedy. It didn’t dumb things down for its audience, pack its twenty-two minutes full of purely physical gags or repeated jokes, and it never avoided moments of drama – the sometimes harsh truth of reality, whether these moments be romantic (oh and the romance in this show) or tragic. Cheers didn’t shy away from changing its characters, moving them forwards in ways that could sometimes hurt to watch, and in ways that you often didn’t want them to. Cheers feels so natural to watch because of how much modern television has taken from it. The romance of Sam and Diane and how it was set up has been copied and pasted everywhere over time. It’s thrilling and hilarious, and it hurts me to think that Shelley Long won’t be there when I make it up to season six. But often there’s nothing better than a little bittersweet television – and nothing more moving than when it occurs in a comedy slot. Cheers served its customers drinks and its viewers jokes for over ten seasons, and I trust in it- and its supporters’ claims (aka the entire comedy world) – to stay poignant, sharp and funny for as long as I watch.
The characters of Diane and Sam are essentially inescapable in television today. Britta and Jeff (Community) seem like the clearest cut and dry paper dolls of these characters at a first glance, but the way that the writers of this 80s classic knew exactly how to simultaneously drag-out and reward viewers in the couple’s romance feels a lot like what we’re seeing on New Girl right now. Diane and Sam were, and forever in history will be, the eternal will-they-won’t-they couple (excuse you, Ross and Rachel). And when you watch them together, every romantic-comedy plot you’ve ever seen play out on your screen just sort of clicks and you think: oh.
Because Cheers, this beautiful, brilliant little show about the different people who work in a bar in Boston and form a family in it, is where all of your favourite programmes have come from.
And it’s a beautiful place to be for twenty-two minutes, I can assure you.
*(Here in Middle Earth we don’t have that mythical thing you lot call ‘Netflix’. But a girl can dream.)