Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cheers 6.1: “Home Is the Sailor”

Airdate: 9/24/87

The times they are a-changin’ – it’s now six months later, and no Diane. She had apparently failed in her novel endeavor is now attempting a career at writing for TV (inside joke). Sam has sold the bar, which had too many bad memories for him, to a large TGIF-style corporation, and has spent the time circumnavigating the globe on his sailboat, which just sank. But now the prodigal bartender has returned, and barely recognizes the place. Woody and a pregnant Carla (by hockey goalie Eddie LeBee) are dressed in ugly uniforms, and there’s a whole new patronage: the kind that no longer yells “Norm” when the man himself walks in. Wayne, the new hire, is a humorless pedant whose only qualifying quality is his ability to mix any drink known to man.

Sam wants to work at Cheers again, but there’s one obstacle: the newmanager, Rebecca Howe, a stern ballbuster whose heard all about the former relief pitcher, and wants no part of him. So Sam spills out a sad sack story about the bar, his breakup, etc., and Rebecca offers him a part-time gig out of pity, but when Sam eavesdrops on her call with Mr. Sloane, the corporate VP who thinks the ballplayer whould be a great drawing card full-time, he gets the leverage he needs to wheedle an automatic promotion out of her. Only one stumbling block left: Wayne, but Carla’s got that one in the bag; she bets he can’t make a drink requested by the next patron, or he’ll quit. The patron – Norm – and he requests a Screaming Viking. Wayne is stumped – but Woody’s got it at the ready, for Norm and everyone, including Cliff and Al, much to Rebeccca’s humiliation. She threatens to ax Sam once and for all, but he patches things up by getting her to smile, which she does… finally.

A new era is beginning, and this Charles brothers-penned season opener establishes it quite nicely. In addition to cosmetic changes (including the office makeover), there’s a whole new dynamic with Sam and his leading lady, in this case, Rebecca as played by Kirstie Alley. She has the upper hand, as Sam now works for a woman (a brilliant switch on the part of the writers), and so the romantic chemistry will have a decidedly different tenor.

Most of the jokes here revolve around the changes: Frasier bemoans the loss of his buddies from the old days, Norm can’t get a choral hello, and a Carla, still irascible, loathes her stuffy co-workers. But rest assured, all is righted by episode’s end, and the delayed intro of Cliff at just the perfect moment gets the biggest audience response. Rebecca is set up as an officious martinet, but we’ll definitely see many more facets to her character as well.

Cold open: Frasier pines for the old days, but is comforted by Woody’s simple-mindedness, indicating that some things never change.

Norm’s opener: try as he might, he never gets a “Norm,” so he never delivers an opener.

Interesting note: Ted Danson no longer shares co-starring credit - he alone is top-billed, followed by Alley. This changes the whole opening credit montage a bit, with some added color to some of the sepia-toned stills.

This was also a big shakeup for NBC's coveted "Must-See-TV" Thursday night lineup: starting this season, Cheers regular lead-in Family Ties was moved to Sunday nights, while the Cosby spinoff A Different World took its place. Didn't affect Cheers much - its ratings just got better and better, but Ties took a hit, and would last only a couple more seasons.

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