I think it would be impossible to have lived in the 80's without having heard of the sitcom Cheers. The characters were used for everything from a Disneyland birthday special to introducing the Superbowl. Even now, it is a well-known classic of the genre beloved by many people. While I have seen maybe a third of the episodes, I have always enjoyed the show, so I recently decided to start from the beginning with the season 1 DVD set.
The show is set in Cheers, a popular bar in Boston, Massachusetts. It's owned by Sam (Ted Danson), a former relief pitchers and former alcoholic. The staff includes Carla (Rhea Perlman), a short tempered waitress and Ernie "Coach" Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto), Sam's former coach who helps tend the bar and has taken one too many hits with a baseball over the years. The pilot brings a new waitress to the bar in the form of Diana (Shelley Long), a professional student who is dumped by her professor boyfriend at the bar. Her cultural touchstones are very different from her new co-workers and the patrons. Round out the cast are bar regulars, accountant Norm (George Wendt) and mailman Cliff (John Ratzenberger). What's interesting to note is that John Ratzenberger isn't in the main credits this season. He guests stars in every episode, however, and is promoted to regular status in the second season.
There are lots of laughs over the course of the 22 half hour episodes of the first season. Carla's attack on an obnoxious Yankees fan almost costs her the job, Diane takes a stand against female exploitation in the Miss Boston Barmaid contest, until she wins. Coach is upset by his daughter's obnoxious fiancée. On Christmas Eve, a stranger wanders into the bar and claims to be a spy. Norm uses Cheers to host his annual office party - a party with a toga theme. And a buddy from Sam's professional baseball days comes out of the closet at Cheers, causing the regulars to wonder if the clientele of the bar will change.
But the heart of the show, especially during the first year, was Sam and Diane's relationship. Their relationship is nothing new on TV - two people who are complete opposites trying to deny their feelings while impressing each other at the same time. It's familiar ground, but the chemistry between Shelley Long and Ted Danson is amazing. A simple exchange between them leaves you wondering just when they'll realize their attraction. This is the biggest constant, popping up in just about every episode, although it does become the focus of some of them, like the one where they agree to set each other up on blind dates, or the two part finale where Sam's brother comes to town and appears to be sweeping Diane off her feet.
With much of the focus this year being on Sam and Diane, it might be easy for the rest of the cast to get lost in the background, but that never happens. True, the characters are still being defined this year, but that's true with just about any show in its first season. The acting by all the regulars is great. They are making these characters their own right from the start, and it's this group of characters that were the core of the show for its eleven year run. Even so, it takes a little while to fall into the rhythm of the show and truly come to love them.
Some of the staples of the show were in place right from the start, like everyone yelling out "Norm" as he walks in the door or his lines as he goes to his normal stool at the bar. Carla's already complaining about her kids even as she becomes pregnant with another one (since Rhea Perlman was really pregnant with her first kid).
The show famously struggle in its first year. (It's often used as an example of a show being given time to grow since by today's standards it wouldn't have lasted all season.) I noticed while watching this season that the jokes were a bit slower in coming. Maybe that has something to do with it. I'm certainly not saying this season isn't funny; I laughed plenty of times. What I mean is that sometimes the jokes required a bit more set up than just one straight line. I actually like this. It makes the humor seem more real when every other line isn't a joke. In some ways, this is a very intelligent sitcom, which is ironic since it is set in a bar.
Speaking of setting, I'm trying to think of they left the bar once all season. If so, it was very brief. Almost every episode takes place completely in the main bar, the back room, and Sam's office.
Having watched the show randomly in reruns over the years, I was not too familiar with Coach. He's your typical not quite all there sitcom character, but he's very lovable. He gets some of the best lines of the season as his nearly constant confusion is always fresh and funny. You know it's coming, but you never quite know when or how. And underneath it all is a sweetness that makes you truly love this guy.
The 22 episodes from this season are all here on four discs. They are in stereo and full frame. The picture and sound aren't super outstanding, but for a show that is almost 30 years old, they work. I don't remember anything about the quality that really bothered me. Disc four does have a few extras, although most of them are compilations of greatest moments centering on certain characters. We get three of them, one for Sam and Diane and their insults, one for Coach, and one for Norm. Rounding out the extras are a very brief interview with Ted Danson and a trivia game. All of these are filled with clips from the season you've just watched, so there isn't much point to them.
The disappointing extras aside, season 1 of Cheers still brings the laughs. The show is still building this year, but it's already enjoyable.