WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
I'm a Cheers fan from way back. I was there for its first episode, and I was there for its last. I suppose just admitting that ages me. It was with some shock that I realized more than 20 years have passed since the first episode aired in September 1982. I grew up with Cheers: I started watching before I was driving, and by the time Sam Malone walked out of his bar for the last time, I was all grown up, out of college, and married. So Cheers is more than just a TV show for me. Its characters are forever etched in my memory, more like friends than sitcom characters. Of course, it helps that Cheers is one of the most lovingly written and performed half-hours of television ever produced.
Set in a friendly subterranean Boston bar where "everybody knows your name, and everybody's glad you came," Cheers—from the very start—concerned itself heavily with its characters. There was playboy Sam Malone (Ted Danson), the owner and proprietor of Cheers as well as ex-Boston Red Sox hurler and recovering alcoholic. There was Diane Chambers (Shelly Long), the fussy academic type who proved an unlikely barmaid and even more unlikely object of Sam's affections. There was beefy and reliable Norm (George Wendt), constant stool-dweller, and his mailman cohort, Cliff (John Ratzenberger), dispenser of dubious trivia and "little-known facts." There was Carla (Rhea Perlman), the bitter, wise-cracking waitress who was always Diane's primary adversary and Sam's chief defender. And there was Coach (Nicholas Colasanto), the befuddled barman with the heart of gold. They were an odd assortment of individuals—you might even call them clichés—but the quality of the writing shined above any such quibbles.
Cheers: The Complete First Season contains all 22 episodes from the premiere season. Following is the order of the episodes on the disc, but numbered according to air date. (You'll see that one episode appears out of order.)
1) Give Me a Ring Sometime—All the primary characters are introduced, even Diane, who is left high and dry on a stool by her snobby professor fiancé. Lost, she accepts a waitressing job from Sam, who knows he'll regret the offer.
5) Coach's Daughter—Here's where we really begin to love ol' Coach, who wants more for his daughter than her ass boyfriend is giving her.
2) Sam's Women—Sam wants to show Diane that the women he dates aren't all brainless floosies. Interestingly, Sam's ex-wife Debra is introduced.
3) The Tortelli Tort—After Carla beats up a loathsome New York Yankees fan, Sam finds himself facing a lawsuit.
4) Sam at Eleven—We learn a little more about Sam's history as a Red Sox pitcher when Sam is interviewed by a local sportscaster (Fred Dryer).
6) Any Friend of Diane's—Sam dates Diane's friend (Julia Duffy), and Diane finds herself jealous.
7) Friends, Romans, Accountants—Norm plays matchmaker for his boss and Diane and promptly loses his job. This is the episode in which Cliff becomes a regular.
8) Truce or Consequences—Carla has a secret about the father of her youngest child.
9) Coach Returns to Action—What do you think might happen when Coach and Sam compete for the same woman's affections?
10) Endless Slumper—What happens when Sam loses his lucky bottle cap?
11) One for the Book—Diane jots down bar quotes for a potential book, and a World War 1 veteran awaits a reunion that never happens.
12) The Spy Who Came In for a Cold One—Is that mysterious bar patron a secret agent or an accomplished liar with a purpose?
13) Now Pitching, Sam Malone—A sexy talent agent has an unsavory deal for Sam.
14) Let Me Count the Ways—After Diane's cat dies, she needs some comforting, but the Cheers gang is otherwise occupied.
15) Father Knows Last—Carla tries to trick someone into believing he's impregnated her, but suddenly she develops a conscience.
16) The Boys in the Bar—An old teammate of Sam's turns out to be gay, and the Cheers gang is mortified by the prospect that Cheers might become a gay bar.
17) Diane's Perfect Date—Sam and Diane bet that they can find the perfect date for each other.
18) No Contest—Diane wins the "Miss Boston Barmaid" contest. Tip O'Neill has a cameo.
19) Pick a Con...Any Con—A con man (Harry Anderson) helps out Coach.
20) Someone Single, Someone Blue—Diane must get married in 24 hours or her mother will lose her part of the family estate.
21) Showdown Part 1—Sam's brother asks Diane to fly with him to Paris.
22) Showdown Part 2—Diane must decide between Sam and his brother.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Paramount presents Cheers: The Complete First Season in a terrific full-frame transfer of the show's original television presentation. Remember, these episodes are 20 years old. I was expecting them to appear severely dated. Nope, the quality of this image is a revelation. The colors are vivid and accurate, though somewhat muted because of the generally dark character of the setting. Detail is incredible and had me smiling. Enthusiastic thumbs up.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track faithfully reproduces the original presentation and hasn't lost significant fidelity, so you're left with a mix that is rich and clear and full. At first, I thought the theme song would come across very softly, but once it gets going, it sounds beautiful.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The set offers a few entertaining extras, but only one has any substance, and it's only 8 minutes long. That would be Setting the Bar: A Conversation with Ted Danson, a short but illuminating conversation with the actor. Interspersed with frequent clips from the show, his conversation focuses on working with Shelley Long, Rhea Perlman (the first person cast), George Wendt (whom he calls the show's "gravity"), John Ratzenberger, and Nicholas Colasanto ("the heart of the show"). It's a nice, nostalgic 8 minutes.
Unfortunately, the rest of the extras feel like filler.
Love at First Fight: Opposites Distract is a 4-minute compilation of very funny short scenes between Sam and Diane.
Coach Ernie Pantusso's "Rules of the Game" is another 4-minute compilation of scenes, this time featuring Coach.
I'll Drink to That: Stormin' Norm-isms is another 4 minutes of…you guessed it. This one's cool because it focuses on Norm's many hilarious bar-entrance greetings.
"It's a Little Known Fact…" Cheers Trivia Game is exactly that, a series of 12 questions that lead you to different clips depending on whether you answer correctly or incorrectly.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
The first season of Cheers was sitcom perfection. This set provides exquisite image and sound quality but goes light with the extras. However, the 22 shows are worth the purchase alone.