‘Cheers’ and the human loss of modern television

After I had thrown my dinner together earlier, I brought my bowl to the computer desk and turned on the television, quite unlike myself. I’m not an automatic turn-the-TV-on kinda guy. Even my son turned from his homework to ask what I was doing. I wanted to watch something while I ate and I didn’t want to turn the desktop computer on. I signed on to Netflix and planned on checking which television series were available for streaming. I noticed right away that the old 80’s series, Cheers, is now available on Netflix.

Wow. Cheers brings back many memories. It was the iconic 80s television sitcom for me. Cheers was the 80s. Like clockwork, I sat in front of the television every Thursday night with my mom and brother (my dad is not much for television) and we would laugh at the half-hour comedy centered around a fictional bar in Boston called “Cheers” which is owned and run by Sam Malone, an ex-baseball player whose career was cut short by alcoholism but that is all behind him now as he lives a sober life lording over a bar and a cast of characters and customers, each with his or her own array of parochial squirmy little side stories which seem to linger comically and darkly here in the subterranean bar. Sam, the owner, the dashing ladies man with a dark history; Diane, the supercilious over-read waitress who, though she tries, can never surmount the prole confines of the bar and its patrons; Norm, the regular whose ass is permanently affixed to the same bar stool every day (and who is married to an off-screen mystery wife we never meet); Cliff, the autism spectrum disordered mailman who doesn’t fit into the normality of life, even in the haywire midst of Cheers; the assistant bartenders, Coach, played by an actor who died in real life shortly after the show began, only to be replaced by a younger, light-hearted Woody Harrelson who coincidentally played Woody, a dense hick with the heart of genuine gold.

Tonight I decided to watch the pilot episode of Cheers while I ate dinner. I’m frequently disappointed when I watch old television series. It’s as if I’ve become so jaded that nothing is as funny or enjoyable as I remember it being back then. I’m usually proven right. I was expecting the same thing to unfold when watching Cheers tonight. As I sat through the pilot episode, it occurred to me the show was still as magically human as it was in 1982. The show was never a belly buster. It didn’t make me fall on my back, roaring in laughter. I never split a gut over the jokes. But the show was gentle and human and its quirky demeanor ingratiated itself and I found myself living that show through the entire decade of the 80s and it came to epitomize much of that portion of my life.

They don’t make them like this anymore. Cheers was about people. It was one of the last full shows that predated the New Cyberage. They were people but they were not frail. They were frighteningly human for a television series. I could relate to them and their hidden sources of pain and insecurity.

Everything since that has aired on sitcom television seems jaded and cynical. Television is a put on and casts are unlikable and indecipherable. Who are these people on our wide screens? I don’t know them and I can’t relate to them. They are smug, smarmy and full of it. They are too smart and hip for their own good.

They are no longer vulnerable. Vulnerability in our sitcom characters is so passe. Cheers was the last of the old guard. It makes me feel very old that I can say I witnessed and lived its ancient human lullaby which has given way to a lustful inhuman zeal squarely resting between the Shores of Jersey and the sandy atolls of a Lost island. Nothing is quite like Cheers any longer. We are too wise for our own good. Cheers’ greatest legacy was its ability to boldly proclaim: I am not too wise and the audience is not my foe.

This is the final scene of the pilot episode.