Sam “May Day” Malone was a(fictional) relief pitcher for the (real) Red Sox until his alcoholism derailed his promising career. He then became a sober bartender in his (fictional) bar Cheers in (real) Boston. I grew up associating the opening theme of Cheers as the music for bed time. Growing up in the Boston area, I associated any stolen minute of prime time Cheers as a glimpse into the lives of adults.
With the world turning into a shitshow that resembles the satiric bleak news sprinkled throughout RoboCop, I was in the hunt for entertainment from simpler times. Netflix has the entire run of Cheers. Sold. Spoiler alert: Cheers holds up.
First and foremost, it is not in any way realistic depiction of life. It has the pitterpatter cadence of a stage musical. It’s characters are pristinely developed even in the pilot. No one is as clearly defined as a character ambling through Cheers. Even in the pilot, characters have clear motivations that advance the crystal clear plot. Sam a fallen hero who finds worth in seducing women. Diane is an ivory tower ice queen. Coach an eager to please lab. Norm a lovable lab of a drunk. Carla the tough as nails single mother. The cameras fall out of focus. The lighting is off.The writing? Funny and perfect from the word go.
The pilot introduces the Sam and Diane sexual tension that would carry the first few seasons. The bar is saturated with Boston sports. Posters of Bird and Yaz are on the wall. They talk about the Pre Brady, Pre Parcells Pre Rod Rust Patriots. Bobby Orr has a place of honor behind the bar. Later episodes would feature appearances by local sports legends like Kevin McHale further blurring kayfabe for young me.
As an adult, Cheers is not realistic, it’s theatrical, so very fictional. Which is why I can escape watching it. However, it’s very real in the sense that it is very human. It has real pathos among the laughs. It’s a nice respite from the grim reality of our very real election featuring a seemingly fictional candidate.
Every episode ends with an image of the bar as a monolith devoid of humanity. A sad instrumental version of the theme plays. At the end of every evening, as in real life, the bar is empty.