In honor of achieving my lifetime bartender win by serving a drink to Ted Danson, I thought I’d share some thoughts I’ve had about watching the epic, childhood-filling sitcom that launched him to stardom.
The show shuttered in 1993, and I clearly remember the frenzy leading up to the final few episodes, but the early years are hazy.
So I started again.
Pilot: Give Me a Ring Sometime.
Here we meet our cast, the bar family. Angular, sleepy-voiced Sam “Mayday” Malone, a former Sox pitcher derailed by alcoholism, now laconically sips coffee behind the bar he bought pre-recovery. Next on stage is the lovable Ernie “Coach” Pantuso, who we soon discover delivers the show’s funniest verbal gags as the guy who’s obviously been hit in the head by too many baseballs. I am a little young to remember the Coach era of Cheers, and man, now I get why people were so torn up when actor Nicholas Colasanto died. Coach is the funniest.
Who could forget Rhea Perlman’s portrayal of diminutive psychopath/cocktail waitress, Carla Tortelli? Not me, but I did remember it wrong. When I was a kid, I loved Carla. She was plucky and tomboyish like myself and didn’t take crap from nobody, no how. Watching her performance now it is clear that Carla is actually suffering from some serious mental illness. She’s kind of the worst. It’s making me rethink my behavior as a youngster.
Then, of course, Diane Chambers. Diane and her professor/mentor/boss cum fiancé Sumner Sloane enter the scene. That’s right: Sumner. Carla sure has a good laugh about that one. Diane is a caricature of academic Boston–a multiple majored graduate student, entranced with learning and lacking the the type of streetwise schtick that would earn the respect of her colleagues. The other side of the cultural tracks. Again, watching this in the 80s I thought of Diane as a uptight and annoying, always trying to get in the way of Sam and the gang’s good times. It is clear now that she is the character I most relate to. Over educated, under employed, geeky, with a record of inappropriate attachment to authority figures. Of course Diane and Sam are going to wind up romantic. Not because the bar is the perfect petri dish for people to unite across class boundaries. Because he is her boss. And she’s into that.
The core cast also includes barflies Norm and Cliff, serving as launchpads for one-liners in this episode. I’ve always had a soft spot for Cliff Clavin, as at least once a week I start to feel I’m talking with his trademark know-it-allness. Sigh. Never the cool characters.
Norm appears right away to have a serious drinking problem. But I guess we go with that for now.
Some random other reflections:
Sam is very forthcoming strangers about his alcoholism. Strangers respond in great pre-90s ways, ie this paraphrase of a scene I can’t find on YouTube.
That’s Sam Mayday Malone, relief pitcher for the Sox
Are you kidding me? He was the BEST pitcher.
If you were so great, why aren’t you still doing it?
I had an elbow problem. I bent it too much.
(mimes lifting a glass to his face)
“YOU WERE A DRUNK?”
Are you kidding me? He was a GREAT drunk.
I guess addiction sensitivity was yet to come to Cambridge. Also: Coach.
But what most interests me as a bar professional is just what everyone was drinking on TV in 1982. The craft cocktail “movement” or “renaissance” or whatever you want to call it–I’ve been one of the worst aggrandizers of this there is, and all the available terms still seem a little overblown–has me turning up my nose at things like vodka-and-soda or (godforbid) a cosmo. I’m interested in cocktails: 3+ ingredients, shaken or stirred, in which you can taste the alcohol and not just sickly sweet corn syrup-based sour mix. I am pleasantly surprised. Within the first few episodes, we hear orders for gimlets, collinses, Manhattans, martinis, Irish coffees, and a weird amount of evening-drank bloody Marys. Which, you know? I can get down with. Most of these are perfectly legit drinks (though I know my purist bosses would give the thumbs-down to the bloody Mary and the Irish coffee, but I’m weak and I love horseradish and whipped cream), though I probably wouldn’t order them at Cheers. I’d stick with Norm and Cliff’s staple: beer. Not any particular kind of beer, just mug after mug of Coach-poured beer. Slainte, Norman.