By now, you’ve probably used this time of self-isolation to revisit an old TV favorite. If you’re smart, you’ve picked “Cheers.”
Minnesotans have long been smitten with the Boston bar. The Twin Cities NBC affiliate used to delay the start of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” just so they could air repeats after the late local news.
There’s something special about this ragtag team of characters who seem to have very little of a life outside the no-frills tavern — and don’t mind at all. Self-quarantine never looked so good.
I’ve spent the past two weeks zipping through the first four seasons of the 1982-93 series. (The fifth season, in which Shelley Long’s Diane stalks Ted Danson’s Sam, is way too over the top, and the Kirstie Alley era, which features some terrific physical comedy, never had the same magic.)
Here are six early episodes to check out right away. I dare you not to order more rounds.
“Give Me a Ring Sometime” (1982)
It usually takes a while for a sitcom to find its rhythm, but “Cheers” was firing on all cylinders from this very first episode, cleverly introducing most of the major characters. The barroom debate over the sweatiest movies of all time perfectly captured beer-soaked conversations, and guaranteed that Cliff (John Ratzenberger) and Norm (George Wendt) would become regulars.
“Truce or Consequences” (1982)
Thanks to “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Good Place,” viewers have fallen in love with Danson all over again. It’s about time Long had a comeback of her own. Her gifts as a comic actress are well on display in this episode in which Carla (Rhea Perlman) tricks Diane into thinking Sam fathered one of Carla’s children. Long’s reactions take us on a roller-coaster ride that you never want to see end.
“Showdown, Part 2” (1983)
Watching Sam and Diane bicker can get tedious, especially if you’re watching them for five straight hours. But when the heat gets turned up, they create fireworks just as explosive as Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Their most spectacular display came in this Season 1 finale in which their fight-of-all-fights leads to a long-awaited kiss. Sam: “Are you as turned on as I am?” Diane: “More!” We know what you mean.
“Fortune and Men’s Weight” (1984)
One of the reasons “Cheers” became a classic was its willingness to end certain episodes on a downbeat aimed at the heart rather than the funny bone. For this occasion, Sam and Diane decide to put their future in the hands of a fortunetelling machine. The somber “reading” is just as impressive as the show’s biggest gag lines.
“Cliff’s Rocky Moment” (1984)
All the supporting characters would get their chances to shine, but none took advantage of the spotlight quite like Ratzenberger. In this episode, the sad-sack mailman appears to be running scared from a bully — or is he? The fact that we’re never quite sure until the final seconds is a testimony to great writing and great acting.
“The Heart Is a Lonely Snipe Hunter” (1985)
If you ever wondered why producers made a “Frasier” spinoff, just watch this episode, the first in which Kelsey Grammer proved to be more than just one of Diane’s stuffy suitors. After being pranked during a fishing trip, the psychiatrist turns the tables on the gang with the kind of wit and ingenuity that would serve him well in future years.