Here’s to “Cheers.”

When I was growing up in the eighties, Cheers was one of my favorite tv shows. Now, with the advent of TiVo and Netflix, I’ve been slowly but surely re-watching the entire series and it remains one of the best comedies ever to grace the small screen. There are some strange anachronisms to be sure; there are no minorities whatsoever, there’s a faint whiff of homophobia, and the sad remnants of a hard-fought sexual revolution has left traces of an almost 50’s view of women.

2013-10-4328cheers09This last feature is one of the best and worst qualities of the series. Sam Malone’s womanizing during the first half of the series is played mostly for laughs but in the latter half the character grows and changes through his relationships with the women (Carla, Diane and then Rebecca) of the show. After eleven seasons it’s really only Sam and Rebecca that evolve and change.

In the end, after watching the series finale, Sam is alone in the dark. And he’s okay with it. And that’s the real journey… after eleven season chasing women, fighting old conceptions of manhood and what was “good” in life, he was okay with being alone. He’s grown to that point of being happy with himself (and his real love, “Cheers.”) (It is interesting to note that the one Cheers spin-off, “Frasier”, also ended on a similar note.)

 

(Side Note: if you can find it on the internet, it’s fun to watch the Cheers cast destroy The Tonight Show. Jay Leno and NBC thought it would be fun to have the cast at a real Boston bar and celebrate the finale. The cast thought it would be fun to get drunk and mess with each other and Jay for the live broadcast.)

Overall, this is an amazing show that any one interested how comedy works needs to watch and study. The construction of the humor is nigh perfect and the relationships compose some of the best sitcom writing ever.

 

If you don’t want to watch the entire series and would rather cherry-pick the best episodes here are some of my personal favorites:

 

Season 1-

Episode 1- Give Me a Ring Sometime. The very first episode neatly and expertly introduces all of the characters, their interactions and the general thrust for the first five seasons.

Episode 5- Coach’s Daughter. Oh, man. This has one of the best scenes in a sitcom ever. And the strange thing is that this will be first and last time we see Coach’s daughter, but their scene near the end is a beautiful, almost haunting, conversation.

Episode 8- Truce or Consequences. Carla and Diane work on their relationship and it’s damn funny.

Episode 16- The Boys in the Bar. A weird, off-putting episode where the “friendly” gang is afraid of Cheers becoming a gay bar. Their statements and actions seem out-of-place nowadays but it was 1983. We’ve come a long way and this episode shows how far we were.

Episode 19- Pick a Con… Any Con. The recurring character, Harry “The Hat” Anderson works a poker con at Cheers and it’s one of my all-time favorite episodes. Simply wonderful. I was disappointed when Harry Anderson did Night Court… I thought it was going to be this character who was infinitely more interesting than a judge.

cheers-cast-photo

Season 2-

Episode 1- Power Play. After a two part season 1 finale, this really feels like a third episode. Sam & Diane are finally together and the bar reacts appropriately.

Episode 19- Coach Buries a Grudge. A story of past loves and whether some things are too big to be forgiven. I like Coach episodes.

Episode 21 & 22- I’ll Be Seeing You. A two part season finale. With guest-star Christopher Lloyd, this cast goes from hilarity to drama from scene to scene, moment to moment. Whenever anyone says they don’t like Diane, I point out this episode… it’s really quite sad and powerful and is the best demonstration of Sam and Diane’s relationship. The acting from Shelly Long and Ted Danson, and their chemistry is top-notch.

 

Season 3-

How can a series keep hitting milestones but not betray the original concept? I don’t know how to do it but Cheers did it back in the eighties and did it well. Sam & Diane… will they or won’t they? They do and then break up and then back together and both situations are equally funny.

Episode 1 & 2- Rebound. Hilarious fallout from the Sam & Diane breakup plus the introduction of Frasier Crane. Coach is a prime mover here and it works so well.

Episode 4- Fairy Tales Can Come True. Cliff finally gets a girlfriend and it’s sweet and sad at the same time. Something this series does so well. You think you’re Sam, but you’re probably Cliff.

(Honorable Mention) Episode 8- Diane Meets Mom. Nancy Marchand plays Frasiers Mom who is crazy and plans to murder Diane. There is even a threat to put her (Marchand) into a crappy nursing home. A strange connection/foreshadowing to Nancy Marchand’s incredible work in The Sopranos.

Episode 14- The Heart is a Lonely Snipehunter. The first of “Frasier tries to fit in” episodes. The intellectual vs. the blue collar is a big part of Cheers and this is a splendid example. When it’s just Diane representing the intellectual side, it sometimes comes across as pretentious and preachy… Frasier is a better representative and takes some of the load off of Diane. A lot of credit goes to Kelsey Grammar… he’s perfect in the role.

Episode 20- If Ever I Would Leave You. I’m kind of meh on Carla episodes, but I really love episodes that have Nick Tortelli, her ex-husband. He works at Cheers for this one and it’s a great visit.

Episode 23- The Bartender’s Tale. The world’s greatest pub-tender replaces Diane and transforms Cheers until her sexy daughter shows up. No Diane, but the show still works. A harbinger of things to come.

 

Season 4-

Episode 1- Birth, Death, Love and Rice. There’s a lot going on in this episode- Diane and Frasier return from Europe, Woody is introduced and Diane ends up in a convent. Very well done episode.

MW-AJ253_cheers_20110315145456_MGThe transition from Coach to Woody would seem to be a treacherous one, but the series handles it perfectly… from Diane’s reaction and Sam’s stoic acceptance to Woody’s introduction, it’s very well crafted. I love Coach, but Woody (both character and player) does a great job right off the bat. It’s bit of TV legend as well, that the character was planned out to be named Woody and it was purely coincidence that Woody Harrelson got the job.

Episode 6- I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday. The standard sitcom trope of one character loaning another money is upended by the wonderful ending. Diane borrows $500 from Sam to buy a signed Hemmingway book. Confused by why any book would cost so much he reads it and falls in love with the novel. They don’t over play the hand, but to me, it’s an important moment for the character.

Episode 11- Don Juan is Hell. After Diane writes a scathing psychological paper on him, Sam faces some ugly truths. This is some high concept comedy masked as a sitcom. The caricature of Sam Malone, swinging 1970s bachelor is confronted by the realization that he is a man of the 80s now. It’s damning stuff and reveals a great deal about both him and the woman that would be in a relationship with him (Diane herself.)

Episode 17- Second Time Around. Jennifer Tilly guests as a “bimbo” that Sam sets Frasier up with. It’s a mirror and compact version of the Sam & Diane dynamic and, again, the acting here is great. The part where Frasier accidentally berates her is almost stunning as it is sad and well played.

Episode 22- Diane Chambers Day. Another round of intellectual vs. blue collar, with the guys taking Diane out to the opera. It’s a nice change of setting and actually quite romantic.

Episode 24 & 25 & 26- Strange Bedfellows. A three-parter! Captain Janeway from Starship Voyager plays a Boston councilwoman who dates Sam. Suddenly Diane is faced a superior version of herself. Does the storyline equal three episodes? Of course it does.. it’s great stuff.

Several episodes center around TV scheduling, with the characters HAVING to be able to watch a particular thing at a particular time. It’s cute. Also, there’s a specific episode where a plot point revolves around Sam buying an answering machine.

 

Season 5-

Episode 4- Abnormal Psychology. The return of a one-off character, Dr. Lilith Sternin. Frasier and Lilith begin their flirting on live TV and the actors and character would continue to interact for twenty years. Great, fun episode and the beginning of the Frasier dominance.

Episode 5- House of Horrors with Formal Dining and Used Brick. Balancing such a growing and aging cast is difficult but this episode delves into the two most unlikely of friends, Cliff and Carla. Again, these one-note characters become deeper and more significant when writers take the time to explore their relationships.

Episode 9- Thanksgiving Orphans. Oh, man this is a classic episode. All the characters wind up at Carla’s house for Thanksgiving and hijinks ensue. There’s a wonderful toast to Coach and a moving-of-the-tv gag that gets me every time.

Episode 20- Dinner at Eight-ish. Sixteen episodes late and Fraiser and Lilith have decided to move in together. Sam & Diane are their first dinner guests. What transpires next is simply lovely, elegant comedy. It’s the four characters and we revel and reveal their past secrets. Though it’s a great episode for newcomers, having watched the past five season we already know their secrets and we wait for them to be revealed.

Episode 25- A House is not a Home. Oh, boy, this one is a tear-jerker. Sam & Diane go house-hunting and we get a nice flash-forward/dream sequence of an elderly, happily married Sam & Diane. We see the fantasy Malones again soon…

Episode 26- I Do, Adieu. Goodbye to Diane Chambers. And it’s her wedding day. of course, wedding hijinks ensue, but ultimately the episode ends the season on a very sad note. Diane leaves and promises to return but Sam knows that she’s gone for good… and we get a flash-“what if” of the fantasy aged Malones dancing in their house. It’s a dream that will never happen and it’s full of regrets. Great, but bittersweet ending.

 

Season 6-

It’s a whole new world as Cheers moves into some interesting territory. Sam has sold the bar to a large corporation and much will be made of this. Cheers_cast_1991Rebecca Howell is the corporate manager of the bar and is the representative of an eighties business-driven woman. Sam, whose identity is a relic of a by-gone era must cope with the changes in his life and Rebecca. I’m not a big fan of Rebecca but her effect on Sam is fascinating… what begins as yet another woman for Sam to conquer (much like Diane) develops into something deeper as the two become platonic friends and colleagues. There was never a “will they or won’t they” with Rebecca & Sam and the show was better for it.

 

Episode 6- Paint Your Office. A great choice by the show… Rebecca becomes friends with Norm and he is the first to see her as a human being.

Episode 16- Yacht of Fools. A fun farce episode as Sam & Rebecca are invited to spend the weekend on board her boss’ yacht. The boss, Evan Drake is the center of Rebecca’s obsession. This lasts for sometime.

Episode 22- Slumber Party Massacred. Carla, upset that she will soon be a grandmother, sinks into a depression. Everyone attempts to cheer her up. Finally, Cliff succeeds where everyone else fails. Another notch in the friendship belt.

Without the romantic frission of Diane the show has to re-focus on to the friendships and onto, oddly enough, Frasier and Lilith as much of this season is about their impending wedding. Also, the producers discover that the character of Rebecca is a bit boring but Kirstie Alley is very funny when she cries/has a breakdown… as a result, the character is put through the wringer again and again.

 

Season 7-

Gender relations in the workplace takes center place this season. There have been instances where, nowadays, we would call it “attempted date rape” occurred and this season depends on what we now know is “sexual harassment.” Rebecca is hit on and even proposed to by her superiors and she feels as if there no other recourse but to acquiesce. There is even an episode where a visiting psychiatrist hits on Rebecca and denies it. This is all played for comedy, but for me, nowadays, it feels weird.

Episode 10- Bar Wars II: The Woodman Strikes Back. The second of the competition with Gary’s Olde Town Tavern, this one concerning the “con” of a Bloody Mary contest. It’s a fun one.

Episode 13- Golden Boyd. Not a great episode but the first appearance of Kelly Gaines, Woody’s romantic interest.

Episode 19- The Gift of the Woodi. “Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly” those are the lyrics to Woody’s birthday present to Kelly Gaines. It’s all he can afford. It’s a sweet episode and continues the grand tradition of class warfare comedy.

 

Season 8-

This season has the series climbing out of the hole that Diane left. While not terrible, I feel that the previous seasons just didn’t hit the heights that the first five hit. With the addition of millionaire Robin Colcorde as a romantic interest for Rebecca, the show gets back on track.

Episode 14- What is.. Cliff Clavin? Cliff gets a chance to test his knowledge on Jeopardy! Fun, silly episode.

Episode 15 & 16- Finally! (Parts 1 and 2) Rebecca and Robin finally consummate their relationship. Sam discovers that Robin is cheating on her and his Guy Code is sorely tested. While in the past he would have overlooked this it’s his growing friendship with Rebecca that causes him to spill the beans. Here is more of Sam’s discovery that women can be people.

Episode 25 & 26- Cry Hard and Cry Harder. 80’s corporate insider trading figures into the action with Robin Colcorde planning shenanigans against the Lillian Company (which employs Rebecca and owns Cheers). There is comedy with a FAX machine. Sam finally buys the bar back.

 

Season 9-

Episode 8- 200th Anniversary Special. 200 shows! This panel discussion, hosted by John McLaughlin, aired on tv. TV! Before the internet, before cable…. amazing.

cheers-2Episode 9- Bad Neighbor Sam. The introduction of a wonderful “villain”, John Allen Hill, the new owner of the upstairs restaurant, Melvilles. He imposes new rules and restrictions and is a great character/idea.

Signs of the Times: This season has an episode dealing the the Home Shopping Network and another episode dealing with a karaoke machine.

Episode 17- I’m Getting My Act Together… I don’t like the main plot of this episode but the side plot of Fraiser improvised a modern, horror version of Dickens is one of my favorite bits from the show.

 

Season 10-

This penultimate season is fascinating to me. The main thrust is that Sam & Rebecca, as friends, decide to have a baby together. This has mixed results. Sam has difficulty having sex for procreation.

Signs of the Times: This season has episodes centering on a installing a satellite dish and another on the “Manhood” movement.

Episode 16- One Hugs, the Other Doesn’t. Emma Thompson guest stars! Emma Thompson! This is a fun, funny episode but it feels like a Frasier episode. It’s all about Frasier, Lilith and their child going to a kids concert.

Episode 25- An Old-Fashioned Wedding (hour long). This is, without a doubt, one of the best episodes of Cheers or any other tv comedy. Woody and Kelly get married and the Cheers crew is hired to run the bar. The action takes place solely in the kitchen of the mansion and is a frantic, funny farce with guests and complications flying in and out of doors, stairwells, and dumb waiters. This is one of my favorite episodes ever.

 

Season 11-

Episode 3- The King of Beers. Norm has his dream job; he is hired as a beer taster. Super fun and funny.

Episode 8- Ill-Gotten Gaines. A reprise of the Thanksgiving Orphans episode, this time taking place at Cheers with the extended families invited. It’s a nice update.

tumblr_n21j398Mcm1s2n8qho1_500Episode 10- Daddy’s Little Middle-Aged Girl. Kelly and Woody fight over money and their different lifestyles reveal deep feelings. Also, Rebecca’s fathers shows up to bring her home (as she is a failure. Predicting the wave of adult children returning home ten years later.)

Episode 19- Bar Wars VII: The Naked Prey. Sam recruits Harry The Hat to get revenge on Gary. I love Harry the Hat.

Episode 21- Woody Gets an Election. With a tip of the hat to the movie “Being There”, Woody runs for City Councillor. Frasier helps the farm kid but ultimately it’s Woody’s sheer niceness that wins the day. Woody and Frasier are a great team.

Episode 22- It’s Lonely at the Top. Carla gets promoted to bartender and drunkenly sleeps with one of the regulars…. but whom?

Episode 25- One For The Road (98 minutes!). the Last one and it’s a doozy. Lots of threads get tidied up here and Diane returns. It’s the last conversation between Norm and Sam that really gets me, though. It’s sweet and ends the series perfectly.

 

And that’s Cheers!

A great series and I can’t believe you made it this far. Thanks for reading. Let’s have a drink sometime. Know a good place?

 

Harold & Jason

 

My Memories of Harold (not proofread or fact checked)

I began taking classes at the ImprovOlympic in 1995. When I registered (over the phone) there were only two levels, named “Charna” and then you had “Del.” That was it. In the middle of level “Charna,” another level (“Two”) was added. From then on there was Level 1, Level 2 and then Del.

I had great fun with my Charna class and I learned scene work and a rudimentary Harold. For Level 2 I had Miles Stroth, and I learned the 5 Del_CloseOpenings and 15 Group Games that were Harold-standard at the time. There was another level added (bringing the classes up to Level 1, 2, 3, DEL) during my Level 2 but Del had subbed into one of my classes and this happened:

Del: I liked that young asian man. He can skip Level 3 and come right into my class.

Charna: Do you mean Joe Yau?

Del: No, I know him.

Charna: Was it Ken Hamada?

Del: No, not him either. I know him.

Charna: Was it Jason Chin?

Del: Must be.

And that’s how I got to take Del for a year. And we had a great time. We experimented with the Harold; different genres, acting styles, philosophies, etc. We had to come to Del ready to go with the ability and skills that make up a good Harold player.

original_harold_descriptionWhile this was going on, I was put on a Harold team at the beginning of Level 2 (which was the norm back then.) It might seem weird, but the numbers made sense. Though there were less students/players, there were also only three nights for shows. And sometimes there wasn’t enough audience to do the show. It was a fascinating time, to be honest. Charna usually gave us notes as she was there for just about every show. The very first team I was on was called “ThroatCulture.” We had to find our own coach and we asked Rich Talarico (who just won a mother-freaking Peabody Award as a writer for Key & Peele!!). He was one of my favorite performers at the time and turned out to be an even better coach. I was on, I think, five different teams within three years as things turned over quite a bit. So, there was ThroatCulture, Mo Green, Bucket, They, and then The Pat Shay Dancers. I have a ton of stories about each and every team, but I’m going to concentrate on the last one for several reasons chief among them is that we lasted just about eight years. eight years!

The Pat Shay Dancers.

During one of our first meetings, Pat Shay said that we should name the team after him since that’s all anyone really cared about (he was joking.) Several “yes, and’s” later, the full team name became “Charna Halpern Presents a Peter Gwinn Production of The Pat Shay Show starring Pat Shay and featuring The Pat Shay Dancers.” Peter was our coach for most of our tenure.

We loved doing the Harold but with our particular philosophies; longer, more patient scenes with more thematic group games. Were we always successful? Of course not, but we kept trying. And trying to learn and grow.

I remember at one point I was talking to Noah (before he was teaching but he was still a respected/feared mentor in the building) and he said that I was lucky to be on such a good team. He told me to keep an eye on my teammate Angela Forfia because “she’s doing the best thematic work in the building.” Once I really turned a critical eye on what she was doing I began to notice the subtle and smart things she was doing for each show.

Even beyond rehearsing and performing once a week, we became a group of friends and colleagues. How could we not? These were, and are, some of the smartest, kindest, most capable people I’ve ever met. I’m going to list us all and I’m going to miss someone and I’ll be the world’s biggest asshole and I already apologize but here we go in no particular order:

Molly Hall, Pat Shay, Claudia Wallace, Rich Sohn, John Mulhern, Dan Sipp, Dina Facklis, Chris Day, Angela Forfia, Ann O’Neill, Bryan Irzyk, Kate Siepert, Rachel Miller.

These are the people I was on a Harold Team with. We should have a tontine.

1658663_10203249683980407_310259606_oAs an improviser, the work I did with The Pat Shay Dancers was my favorite. There was never a time where I thought, “I can’t wait to do something besides The Harold.” I did do other things, of course, but The Dancers did the Harold and I relished it. There was a significant amount of time (two, maybe three years) where we were frequently evenly split gender-wise and that was great fun.

Eventually, as ST:TNG told us “All Good Things…”

Pat Shay himself had already moved to NYC when we were ignominiously taken off the schedule (and really, you’re not an iO performer or team if you don’t have a f’ed-up schedule story; it’s like saying that you’ve never had your heart broken. (I’ll tell you my story if you ask politely in person.)) We had a big night scheduled with one opening team and then our final show. Our coach at the time, Dave Gilley, paid for Pat Shay to fly in for that show and I will always be grateful for that. For some reason I was chosen to say a few words after our show and I teared up and cried like a sap. I think I even said with sincerity “I promised myself I wouldn’t do this…”

Even after our Harold time at iO, we did a run of shows at the Live Bait Theater (which is now the Pub Theater) called “The Seven Deadly Sins.” You can even buy it on iTunes! Check it out here.

That was the last and best Harold team I was on. And we’re reuniting this Saturday for the CIF. I’m oddly not nervous at all.. I’m just looking forward to seeing my friends and playing with them once again. They’re all thinner and more attractive and I seem to have absorbed all their lost weight.

I coached the Harold Team, Deep Schwa for almost fifteen years. I don’t coach them any more.

In some serendipitous timing I have just started coaching a brand new Harold Team (we don’t have a name yet!!) I’m very excited to work with them. I like them very much and if they only achieve half of the joy, half the rewards, half the wonder I did, they will be very lucky, very happy indeed.

The Harold is a wonderful medium for improvised artistic impression. Some might call the Harold I love “old school.” I disagree. It’s Original School. I have these scrolls that I transcribed from my time with Charna, Miles, Del and Peter and it’s these scrolls that I use in class and with teams. The Harold is a collection of ideas, themes, and motifs expressed by collection of comrades, friends, and colleagues.

LONG LIVE THE HAROLD!

 

Here’s the Ching…

Here’s the Thing;

the real story about the March 26th Colbert Report is the Redskins debate. A) It’s ridiculous that in 2014 there is a national football team called the Redskins. C’mon, the word “niggardly” (to be stingy or miserly) has almost faded from human memory, but that’s still allowed? and B) the use of the satirical organization name of “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever” is such an obvious joke name… it’s too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

 

Here’s the Other Thing;

the real shame behind the “asian outrage” about the Colbert piece is that the spotlight moved from the Native American story to this bit of online outrage (the lamest, laziest outrage there is). The point of Colbert piece was the incredibly insensitivity and hypocrisy behind the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation” (actual name).

HT_steven_colbert_report_asian_racist_cancel_sk_140328_16x9_608

Here’s the Truth;

everyone could stand to read more. Yes, the tweet that just quoted the punchline without reference to the 4-minute build-up was poorly chosen, but anyone taking offense at the tweet should look at the source and do a little investigating. Two clicks on your internet-connection box would lead one to the full video and you would see the satirical effort of the quote. We shouldn’t have to recommend this… the internet’s been here for a while now; if something sounds too ridiculous, too out-there, then double-check/doublc-click. Remember Kony?

 

But Here’s The Real Truth;

Asians are easy targets for comedy. Even though statistics prove that Asian-Americans are a growing and powerful demographic we are frequently the butt of jokes that would be insane if a similar/parallel joke was aimed at African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans. I mean, look at the racist caricatures on Dads and Two Broke Girls.. these are on-going sit-coms with racist jokes that seem more at home in the 50’s than in 2014.

The Colbert Report piece on the Washington Redskins (March 26, 2014) was brilliantly written but, to me, off-tone. While, the target was the Washington Redskins, much of the segment was targeted at the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong character joke and while well-done it’s very hard to imagine a piece this long, this deep aimed at any other race.

So, why does this happen to asians in comedy? Well, there are very few asians (or at least less)  in comedy. Also, there’s not much feedback or outcry from the asian community. We have to get better at both these things.

 

I admire Suey Park for leading the charge for #CancelColbert. Do I agree with it? No. The full story of the tweet was not looked in to and was the worst kind of internet knee-jerk reaction. Take the speed of Twitter, the 24-hour news cycle and a slow news weekend, it all added up for a Perfect Twit Storm.

I like that she did it. I admire how she’s been handling this insane coverage and I hope she continues tweeting as an “Angry Asian Woman.” Her call to #CancelColbert had no traction, no hope to ever succeed but it got national coverage as a minority voice protesting. How often does that happen for a 23 year old twitterer?

For daring to create a hashtag about a TV show she has been threatened with murder, rape and worse. It’s sickening and wrong and not in spirit of Twitter, Stephen Colbert or even just plain being a fucking human being.

 

Bottom Line:

The Washington Redskins should change their name. And considering how much money the organization takes in annually, their charitable donation to the “Original American’s” is quite niggardly, indeed.