The ‘Cheers’ Challenge

First, a personal note for context. As a child, I was perhaps unusually unaware of popular culture. We didn’t have a television in the house for a long time, and while that meant I was an absolute beast at reading challenges during Turn Off the TV Week, and I did catch the occasional episode of Sesame Street at a friend’s or babysitter’s house, I had no more than a mild awareness of everything from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to Bart Simpson, to My So-Called Life. And I didn’t really develop the habits of a television watcher until after I graduated from college and had both a television set and cable for the first time. I was a little pokey about popular music, too, though I did emerge from the narcotic haze of my early love of the Beatles and Beach Boys to discover the KISS-FM station in my area and make mix tapes of stuff I recorded off Top 40 countdowns. So a lot of my pop culture blogging, and the reason I’m wide-eyed and excited about a huge number of things, is that I’m seeing them for the first time, or seeing people use tropes for the first time.

Among those things is Cheers, which I just entirely missed through a combination of being born after it started airing and not being a casual television watcher who might have caught it in re-runs. But now it’s on Netflix Instant, so I’m going to try to watch the entire run and blog it this summer. I’m already well into the third season, and while I definitely won’t be blogging every episode, I’ll try to check in periodically.

The thing that’s striking me about the third season of Cheers, and Frasier’s addition to the cast, is how his presence is affecting the way the show deals with class. While in the first couple of seasons, it seemed like there was a cross-class cultural exchange going on, especially as Sam and Diane tried to figure out how to relate to each other and later to impress each other, Frasier’s appearance on the show hasn’t really brought the balance that I thought it might. Instead of expanding that kind of conversation, it’s as if Diane and Fraiser’s relationship sort of forecloses it. That’s sort of the point, of course: after Diane and Sam break up, she’s looking for someone who she isn’t constantly trying to improve or be disappointed by. But as a couple, they feel more like a collective oddity who hang around the bar than actual regulars.

Similarly, it was interesting to see Carla date Fraiser’s mentor, get pregnant with his child, and turn down his marriage proposal. I have mixed feelings about that storyline. I appreciate Carla’s general unapologetic approach to her life and the way the show leavens it with a fairly unsentimental approach to the difficulties she faces as a single, unwed mother. And I appreciated the idea that Carla, despite her lack of education or life experience, has a lot to offer an educated, highly-regarded professional. But would it have been too much to suggest that he had something to offer her as well, to continue that plot for more than one episode? I felt the same way about the Coach’s infatuation, another story of a stupidly quick engagement that ended when the person with more money or advantages (or who got more money in the course of the episode) proved to be not particularly worth-while. It’s not as interesting to tell a story about the rough saintliness of working-class people as it is to look at what working- and middle- or upper-class people get from each other when they interact. The show did that quite well for the first two seasons, and I’m feeling its absence now.