Friday, 27 April 2012

Roseanne and bowling

"Bowling" was kind of a weird episode of Roseanne. It initially seemed like a redo of season 1's "Lover's Lane," but after the first scene, the bowling storyline was continued only by Dan and Arnie. Meanwhile, Roseanne, Jackie, and Nancy see a friend's show, while Roseanne is jealous of Jackie and Nancy's new friendship. But the episode as a whole felt quite lopsided, with little time given over to any character based storylines like Roseanne's jealousy or Arnie's desire for a baby. Instead, much of the episode is devoted to the bowling tournament, which is as low stakes as these things get: Dan and Arnie's team has to win to stay out of last place... then they do. Dan and Arnie get into a fight in the meantime, but it's resolved just as flippantly. Similarly, the episode promises a trip to the skating rink early on where tensions are sure to flare, but instead Roseanne's conflict gets barely wrapped up at a scene at the bar, then is given a final nod during the episode's tag. The show kinda just... ends. The conflicts are resolved, but not in any meaningful way. If I didn't know better, I'd say this episode was the first part of a very boring two-parter. Even Mark's brother David (Kevin here), someone who will become very important to the show later on, is introduced with a shrug during the tag. And Crystal appears at the concert only to ask if the band is still playing. I know I've had issues with a lot of Roseanne episodes, but at least their failure wasn't for lack of trying. "Bowling" just seems lazy to me. It's filler the likes of which the show hasn't used before.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Roseanne and old habits

It seems like every season of Roseanne since the second has followed the same pattern: start up with a few confident, well-made episodes, fall off around episode five or six with ridiculous stunt episodes/wacky hijinks, then return in the winter with the best episodes the show's done yet, only to fall apart again by season's end. Now, I'm only halfway through season 4, but so far it's fallen into this pattern too. I was gearing up for an entire season of great television, but instead I was treated to another irritating Halloween episode (which I'm sure is a heretical sentiment for a Roseanne fan) and the strained family farce of "Thanksgiving 1991." Maybe I'm being too hard on the show, but when a season starts as strongly as this one did, it's just disappointing to see it fall into old habits again so quickly. It might just be that the things I love most about this show are different from the ones the producers love. And clearly they're crazy about Roseanne heckling Wayne Newton.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Roseanne and reservations

I should've known "Valentine's Day" was just a taste of things to come. I've been having reservations about Roseanne ever since I started watching it, even as it's been consistently surprising me by how good it is. And after I assumed that the ultra-consistent third season would be the high point of the show, already the season 4 premiere, "A Bitter Pill to Swallow," is something even more wonderful. It hit that sweet spot where every single joke works, and I'm laughing at every point the audience is. It's mastered the three-act structure, and ends every scene with a perfect button line. Most interestingly, it's perfected something I've seen hints of in the last season, where instead of being a comic story that culminates in a dramatic scene, jokes and reaction shots are woven into every scene, even when something dramatic is happening. And my god, those reaction shots! There's nothing as effective as a really great reaction shot, and this episode has so many of them. Roseanne (and Roseanne) has turned them into an art form.

It's looking more and more like Roseanne won't return to its season 2 model, of alternating comedic episodes with dramatic ones. But as much as I loved the darker moments in that season, I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's not the best model for the show. Season 2 put in a lot of work deepening the characters, and now that it's done, the show can focus on episodes like this one, which weave together comedy and drama so expertly it looks effortless. Honestly, I don't know why I'm consistently so skeptical of Roseanne. It's addressed every problem I've identified in it, and as a result it's steadily gotten better and better since it started. It made its characters worth caring about in season 2, and perfected its voice in season 3. And now, in season 4, it looks like it has no desire to slow down. I'm very excited about this season.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Roseanne and definition

A quick one: watching "Her Boyfriend's Back" made me realize that even though Roseanne is only defining its guest characters in fits and starts, its main characters are so well-drawn that their reactions to one-dimensional side characters can make an entire episode on their own. Then again, even Becky's anachronistically rebellious boyfriend Mark got a few more personality traits in this episode. But just a few.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Roseanne and being funny

As if season 3 weren't fantastic enough already, "Valentine's Day," the seventeenth episode, is without a doubt the funniest one the show's yet produced. Everything about it, from Darlene's flirting to Dan's meltdown at the lingerie store, was note-perfect. The humour was true to the show's characters and came from a place of honesty. Even Roseanne's comebacks were somehow more relevant than usual, and Tom Arnold's cameo was a perfect use of an often problematic character. Tie the whole thing up in a beautiful bow with Dan's incredible valentine to Roseanne and we have easily the best primarily comedic episode of Roseanne so far. It's also one of the few non-dramatic episodes of the show I've seen where the style of humour (as I mentioned in the last post) was up to the standards of its classics. It was wonderful all around. If I ever have to convince anyone of Roseanne's greatness, this would be the episode to show them.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Roseanne and expectations

Though season 3 of Roseanne is turning out to be better on the whole than season 2, it's taken until its fifteenth episode to really hit the high notes it did the year before. "Becky Doesn't Live Here Anymore" is the first episode this season that's really wowed me to the same level of classics like "No Talking" and "An Officer and a Gentleman." I guess it's no secret now that my favourite sitcom episodes are often their most dramatic ones, but what's so striking about Roseanne's dramatic episodes is just how funny they are. It's almost like there are two versions of the show with different senses of humour battling it out all the time. In one, the show is light and flippant, choosing silliness over any kind of deep insight. In the other, the show explores the deepest, darkest recesses of its characters and finds the humour in them. And in these episodes, the comedy is so on point, feeling true and earned—and most importantly, hilarious—that it's some of the best I've ever seen, which makes the "normal" episodes much more disappointing in comparison. Whenever Tom Arnold appears onscreen, or the show feels the need to lightly bend the fourth wall or indulge in some cartoonish aside, it's like I'm watching a different series entirely. I understand that the show wouldn't be able to sustain 25 devastating kitchen sink dramas a season, but I wish it weren't filling out the numbers with hokey material like "PMS, I Love You" and "Trick or Treat."

To be fair, this season's standard episodes are turning out much better than their equivalents in season 2, but I still feel like the show should be making episodes like "Becky Doesn't Live Here Anymore" more often. The cast is certainly game, with wonderful performances from (again) Sara Gilbert and Lecy Goranson matching the always-perfect ones from John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf. Roseanne herself has turned into a fantastic central hub for all these people, and is no longer just a sassy punchline machine. The writing is able to more often than not achieve a delicate balance between low-key sitcom storytelling and outlandish irreverence. But somehow, except for the occasional "Becky Doesn't Live Here Anymore," the show tends to feel like less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it's an unreasonable expectation, but I want this show to be as wonderful as it could be. And even though it's better than it's ever been at this point, since it hasn't yet figured out how to do it by season 3, I'm starting to think it'll never reach my lofty expectations.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Roseanne and Archer

It might have just been on my mind because the season just finished a couple of weeks ago, but the progress of Roseanne over its first three seasons is actually reminding me a bit of how Archer's been developing. The two shows are about as different as sitcoms get, but seem to be guided by similar goals, both in storytelling and characterization. Season 1 of both shows had good ideas that were often not executed as well as they should've been, and season 2 remedied this by looking deep into each character in order to determine their motivations and personalities. Both shows' second seasons were about equally divided into meaningful, character-based episodes and sillier ensemble-based ones (though still better than the examples of which offered in season 1). Season 3, then, sees both shows getting into a great, confident groove. I would give nods to both second seasons first (though I'm only just under halfway through Roseanne season 3), but there's no denying the sheer consistency of each show's third season. Roseanne has so far delivered ten absolutely hilarious episodes in its third season, and though it's spent less time exploring the relationships between its characters, every other aspect has been tightened considerably, turning the show into a well-oiled sitcom machine. I miss the more dramatic moments of season 2 (just like I've been missing the character-based episodes of Archer this year), but the fact that it's getting better and better at doing "normal" episodes makes the whole show much more enjoyable to watch. When a sitcom has earned a sense of confidence, there's nothing quite like it.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Roseanne and sex

"Sex. She told me it was something people did in Europe."
-Roseanne Conner

Though the show didn't repeat the huge leap forward in quality it did in season 2, Roseanne still changed its attitude a bit coming into season 3. Suddenly more social issues than ever are being addressed, and being put under the show's usual acerbic lens. After seeing the comparatively squeaky clean Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers, it's kind of a shock to hear sitcom characters talking about perverts and homosexuality and boob jobs. Season 2 featured some well-needed deepening of the characters, and absolutely perfected small-scale domestic storylines, but I feel like the broader social conscience introduced in these episodes is what really made Roseanne unique. "Like a Virgin," the third episode, was especially successful at this. It built on the strengths of season 2 by telling a family story where neither side is right or wrong, but this time it concerned sex and birth control. What at first seemed like it might turn into a hacky morality tale (but then I should trust the show more at this point) instead became a very mature take on teenagers and sex, and eventually was turned on its head in that amazing ending when Roseanne's daughters hijack "the talk" she was trying to give them. I still don't think Roseanne has reached the point where every episode will be amazing ("Friends & Relatives," while it ended in a lovely moment between Dan and Jackie, was a bit too jokey for my taste), but I'm glad that after a fantastic second season, the show isn't even considering starting to coast yet. And I know I mentioned it before, but Sara Gilbert and Lecy Goranson have only gotten better in their roles of Darlene and Becky, and they're delivering truly wonderful work here. The last few episodes of season two soured me a little on the show, but I'm glad it's hit the sweet spot again.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Roseanne late season 2

Just a quick update to say that I'm less than thrilled with the two major plot developments of the last third of season 2, Roseanne's new job at the hair salon and Jackie's new boyfriend Gary. The former rubbed me the wrong way due to each of Roseanne's coworkers and customers being one-dimensional stereotypes, as well as leading to a grating story about Dan belittling the job. The latter seems to be doing a little better in terms of creating interesting storylines, but I wish they could've centred it around a less dull character. Hopefully these will be dealt with gracefully in the last few episodes.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Roseanne and different kinds of emotions

"I have to watch myself before I pay you a compliment. You're not used to hearing that from me."
-Dan Conner

Generally, sitcoms work better when their characters like each other. Now, obviously that's not true for every type of sitcom, and conflict is always necessary in stories. But for a mostly positive genre like the sitcom, there has to be some measure of love between the characters. This is why Jackie didn't work for me in season 1 of Roseanne. Her main character trait was being overbearing, as indicated by her awful catchphrase, "You know what your problem is?" Her first episodes positioned her as a villain for Dan, which makes sense with family dynamics, but doesn't suit a regular character. Their altercations quickly grew irritating, and I found myself wondering why she was even on the show (this is no fault of Laurie Metcalf, who played the character very well from the start). I was somewhat relieved, then, when the first half of season 2 basically ignored Dan and Jackie's relationship (and Jackie's catchphrase). It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for that aspect of their relationship to be dropped entirely, but instead, without warning, we got a whole episode devoted to it. And it was, as most episodes have been this season, wonderful.

Roseanne has quickly proven itself surprisingly adept at telling emotional stories this season, but what's surprised me as it's gone on is just how good it is at telling different kinds of emotional stories. As I talked about before, this is what is setting it apart from Cheers and Mary Tyler Moore in my mind. While those shows hit emotional notes expertly, they didn't vary them too often. This season alone, however, Roseanne has addressed a great spread of emotions, from the tense family dynamics in "No Talking," to Darlene's quiet sadness in "Brain-Dead Poets Society," to Roseanne's disarming breakdown in "Guilt By Disassociation." And "An Officer and a Gentleman" is just as interesting in its exploration of two people slowly realizing their true feelings for each other. With Roseanne off to tend to her father, Jackie runs the house instead. Much of the episode is devoted to her and Dan coming to terms with the fact that they like and respect each other much more than they let on. It's handled so deftly, from Dan pretending he doesn't remember where they first met, to Jackie forcing Dan to turn a backhanded compliment into a legitimate one. The story it tells is a fully adult one, but it's delivered just as well as previous episodes did stories about the Conner children. Of course, this is a sitcom, and nothing truly revolutionary happens: as Dan says to Jackie, "I still get on your nerves." But the important thing is that the episode makes it feel like some real progress has been made between these two characters.

And yet, even though this season has hit so many emotional highs, I haven't yet gotten hooked by it as easily as I had Cheers. I'm still at the stage of being surprised by how good each episode I watch is, even though this season's track record is so good. Maybe it's because I was so put off by the first season, but I'm having trouble really giving myself over to the show. I hope that'll pass soon. Because this is really wonderful stuff.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Roseanne revisits straw antagonists

I know the main pull for Roseanne was Roseanne's irreverent attitude, and I imagine it was quite a rare thing when the show was on the air, but I think my least favourite part of the show is whenever Roseanne chews out some minor character on behalf of the audience. So far this season, I've been impressed by how little the show has been using straw antagonists, which made me a bit disheartened when I realized "Chicken Hearts" would be using that character type again. But in another improvement from season 1, the show used this plot a bit more deftly. Brian, Roseanne's boss, was a little more developed compared to previous straw antagonists, having some measure of a personality instead of existing only to be unsympathetic. The show even briefly gets into his motivations for his actions, which deepens him just a little. And though at first the show seemed to be building to some big comeuppance for Brian, Roseanne ended up losing in the end. She got the final sassy word, complete with overly enthusiastic applause from the audience, but she's worse off than she was when the episode started. This episode wasn't as good as the season's best, but I'm glad the show's still trying to better itself from season 1. And though it could be seen as unnecessary, I like that the show is trying to improve everything it's doing, even the stuff that didn't work before. As much as I'd love a season of 24 "No Talking"s, this approach certainly makes things more interesting.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Roseanne's best episode yet

And of course, right after a string of mediocre episodes, Roseanne delivers easily its best yet, "No Talking." It's a shockingly mature take on a mother-daughter disagreement, with both sides treated fairly and realistically. Neither Roseanne nor Becky are turned into stereotypes in their embodiments of the nagging mother and rebellious daughter archetypes, and the show gets into each of their heads to show their motivations for their actions. I haven't mentioned it yet, but season 2 has been very kind so far to Sara Gilbert and Lecy Goranson, who are absolutely wonderful whether they're making silly jokes or dealing with pretty deep material. "No Talking" is essentially my ideal Roseanne episode, using all of the main cast and no guest stars, exploring the Connors' family dynamics in a dramatic way, and being often disarmingly funny, as in that wonderful final shot of Roseanne revealed in her daughter's closet. I understand that they can't all be like this, but I can still dream.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Roseanne's sophomore slump

I was super excited about the first three episodes of Roseanne's second season, but that's been deflated a bit by the next few. "Somebody Stole My Gal" was derailed by a broad guest star, "Five of a Kind" came off extremely dated when it came to gender issues, and "Boo!" was just a bit too gimmicky for me. The worst was "Sweet Dreams," one of those bizarre, awful fantasy episodes I dread in a good sitcom. I was sure Roseanne would be on top for good, but now it looks like I'll have to wait a bit longer for the show to really find itself.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Roseanne and emotions

There's a lot that separates MTM-style comedies (like Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers) from Norman Lear-style comedies (like All in the Family and Roseanne), but one of the most interesting to me isn't their style of humour or how often they address social issues. It's how badly the shows allow their characters to feel. In MTM-style sitcoms, there are serious moments, for sure, but they're often rooted in positivity, as when one character helps another out of a jam to cement how great friends they are. For Lear-style shows, there's a tendency for dramatic moments to come out of a darker place, as in the Roseanne episode I just watched, "Guilt By Disassociation." Roseanne loses a job at the last minute and it leads to a harrowing scene of her fighting with Dan at her own surprise party. She breaks down completely by the end, and though it's obvious to the audience that she'll work through her problems, for a moment it seems as though she might not. Since I started this project with two shows from the MTM school of sitcoms, these scenes aren't something I'm used to seeing, and it's often quite shocking whenever they turn up. Norman Lear, and the shows more influenced by his approach to sitcoms, allowed his characters to get to very dark places, and let them work through them on their own. There's an undercurrent of love to both types of sitcom, but Lear makes the characters have to fight to find it. And it often makes relationships a little more realistic. I've said before that I love the way Roseanne and Dan interact, joking around like a real couple would, but it's the way they handle these dark moments that really cements how well their relationship is portrayed. It's absolutely my favourite thing about the show so far, but I'm happy to say that right now everything else is right there behind it.

Roseanne season 2

Roseanne's season 2 premiere, "Inherit the Wind," feels almost like a different show from the first season. The writing is sharp, the cast is game for anything, and the story is small and realistic. It turns a fart into a plot, then makes it work far better than it ever should. It feels like every aspect of the show has improved, and almost all my problems with the first season have disappeared. I'll have to see if this quality can be sustained from now on, but from the way the show has addressed all of its issues, I have high hopes. And my god was it funny. This one episode might have made me laugh more than the whole first season. Now I'm starting to see what all the fuss is about.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Roseanne and straw antagonists

The back half of season 1 has seen some improvements for Roseanne, but it’s still more hit or miss than I’d like it to be. My main problem with it at this point is dealing in a kind of sitcom trope that I’ll call straw antagonists. A straw antagonist is a frequent element in sitcoms, though maybe a little less so today. Basically, it consists of a character whose only purpose is to annoy the audience and then get defeated (or told off) by one of the show’s protagonists. It’s an easy way to create conflict in a typically low-stakes genre, and it also serves to increase the audience’s sympathy for the protagonists. At its worst, however, it can be seen as transparent wish-fulfillment for writers and viewers, and can throw off the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Think of the scene in Roseanne’s pilot where Roseanne is dealing with Darlene’s history teacher, who is trying to convince her that Darlene’s barking in class is a result of problems at home. Obviously the audience knows that the Conners have no such problems, so the teacher is painted as the villain in this scene, trying to undermine Roseanne’s parenting abilities. The problem here, however, is that the teacher is perfectly in the right to be making such a judgment call, and Roseanne’s “real talk” way of dismissing it just makes her seem like a difficult parent to deal with. The whole scene reeks of shallow wish-fulfillment of teaching these intellectual types a lesson, and sticking it in the pilot episode left a nasty taste in my mouth for the start of the series. And in a show where the audience goes crazy with applause whenever a character does something sassy, this sort of thing gets tiresome quickly.

Straw antagonists are frequently used in lower-stakes environments as well. In “Mall Story,” late in season 1, Dan has to deal with an irritating shoe salesman, and it’s a big victorious moment when he finally snaps and chastises him for his poor service. But in Dan’s insistence on good service to the point where the salesman has to give him all of his attention while he tries on shoes, he’s becoming just as irritating a customer as the salesman. We just give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s a main character and we’re supposed to sympathize with him. Even worse, the salesman’s only characteristic was that he was a difficult person, making his only purpose in the scene getting his comeuppance from Dan.

This sort of thing happens in bad and good shows alike. One of my least favourite episodes of Mary Tyler Moore came late into its run, in season 7’s “The Critic.” Its entire plot is only in service of its critic guest star, whose only characteristic is his unrealistic pompousness. All of the main characters are united in their hatred of him, until they band together to take him down a peg. It almost reads as if the episode’s writer was dealing with a grudge against a critic, turning this episode into therapy. It’s completely out of the ordinary for a show that’s usually as positive as MTM, especially when it so infrequently stooped to this kind of level for laughs. One noteworthy example of a show using straw antagonists to its advantage is Seinfeld, which is one of the few shows to make this character type work. It builds whole plots around it, like “The Movie,” which jumps from one artificially difficult clerk to another, and yet works perfectly. But it too succumbs to its wish-fulfillment aspects occasionally, the most famous example being Jerry’s telemarketer call in “The Pitch.” That’s wish-fulfillment at its most transparent, a sort of “boy, don’t you wish you had the guts to talk to a telemarketer this way?” scene in service of a cheap laugh and easy sympathy for Jerry.

As I said before, Roseanne is the first sitcom I’ve watched for this project that hasn’t gotten me on its side immediately. It’s slowly been shedding elements I haven’t enjoyed as the first season has gone on, but quite a few are still there, including this one. I’m really hoping the show made the right decisions in regard to its less enjoyable elements, because I really do want to love it. I have high hopes for season 2.

Monday, 13 February 2012


Hi there! I'm Paul. I'm a big sitcom fan, but I haven't seen many of the classics. Last summer I decided to work through some of the most important sitcoms. I wrote a bit about my experience watching Mary Tyler Moore, Cheers, and Roseanne on my personal blog already, but I decided that in the interest of making this project more exciting, I should give it its own blog. Any posts before this one are copied exactly from my personal blog, so they sometimes lack a bit of context. I'm now almost done season 1 of Roseanne, and so far it's a show I'm not enjoying as much as MTM and Cheers, but I'm confident I'll come around to it soon.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Roseanne and jokes

Tiny Roseanne update: though the show hasn't yet figured out how to make standard sitcom setup-punchline jokes seem natural, I'm really enjoying how it's getting laughs from scenes where Dan and Roseanne are joking around with each other like a real couple would. They pull impressions, sing songs, and make each other laugh, and there are no stilted punchlines in sight. Hopefully more of the show will be devoted to that sort of thing as it goes along!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Roseanne and "one big laugh"

So far in my big sitcom project, I've figured that if a show can give me one big laugh, one that feels earned and true to its characters, it's worth sticking with for a while. Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers both did it in their pilots, but Roseanne took until the end of its fifth episode to really get to me. I've got a few problems with the show at this stage (mostly regarding Roseanne's acting abilities and the hooting-and-hollering audience), but I think I'll be happy to stick with it.

Friday, 20 January 2012

11 things I love about Cheers

I powered through Cheers in just under a month, so in honour of the show’s eleven seasons, I thought I’d talk about eleven things I love about it.

1. Season one of Cheers is a perfect little bubble of sitcom mastery. It’s not the show’s best season (I’d say about a third of the episodes are either failed experiments or have aged poorly), but it’s definitely my favourite. I think the main reason for this is that the show never leaves the bar the whole season. Every single one of these twenty-two episodes takes place in only three sets: the main bar, the back pool room, and Sam’s office. By doing this, the producers could spend all their time developing both the characters and the setting they’re bound to. And the thing is, they never even had to do that. Cheers emerged fully-formed in its pilot, with every regular character appearing completely realized in their introductory scenes. There’s a certain audacity in the way the show takes its time introducing and developing all of its elements, and yet it’s endlessly watchable: it’s the purest, most focused season in the show’s run, and possibly the funniest. With little outside the bar distracting from the action, the show can just have the characters bounce off each other for entire episodes. And it’s all so well-done that if you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t even notice that the camera never left the bar.

2. Part of the reason for the show’s watchability is its focus on the romance between Sam and Diane. Almost every sitcom these days has an irritating will-they/won’t-they romance tacked on to it, so it’s easy to forget that that type of plot had to actually start somewhere. The surprising thing about Cheers’ central romance is just how well it’s executed. The main reason for this, and something that sets Cheers’ romance apart from similar ones in modern shows, is that Cheers is completely devoted to it. Whole episodes are given over to Sam and Diane’s verbal sparring, and even unrelated ones will stop abruptly halfway through in favour of a long, emotional scene between the two. These scenes are always handled realistically and compellingly, and even though they’re the show’s main focus, they never wear out their welcome. Cheers explored every possible facet of Sam and Diane’s relationship, from attraction and romance, to betrayal and hatred, to unrequited love (from both sides). It was a novel idea at the time for a sitcom to be so concerned with romance, but it’s no wonder that’s commonplace today.

3. Even though the show was overtly focused on Sam and Diane, they weren’t the whole story. Over the first five seasons of the show, all the other characters were slowly developed so they could be major players later on. None of these were more entertaining than Coach, whose actor, Nicholas Colasanto, died at the end of the third season. Coach is probably my favourite character in the whole show, which is a little suspect considering his main personality trait was that he wasn’t very smart. But if it’s possible to be such a thing, Coach is a decidedly non-stereotypical dumb character: he was never given the respite other dumb characters get where they can accidentally say smart things on occasion (something Woody would do later on). In fact, Coach was so impossibly, unrealistically dumb that by all accounts the character shouldn’t have worked at all. But here’s what made him such a great character: he never thought he was smart. Someone like Cliff, who says stupid things but is convinced they’re a genius, can be funny, but can never be a truly great character. Coach knew he was dumb, and his friendly nature meant that he always deferred to others when it came to something he didn’t know. In the pilot alone, he eagerly changes his mind three times when he hears the other characters’ opinions on a piece of football news. It takes a certain amount of skill to write a dumb character like this, and there’s so much intelligence in the way Coach is written (including a lot of wordplay and surprisingly philosophical misunderstandings) that he’s easily one of the best examples of the type.

4. Of course, the other characters aren’t far behind. I said that each character was fully-formed even in the first episode, and while the way they’re written and performed is top notch, the reason for this (and the reason they were so easily able to last eleven years) is just how simple each character is. The more baggage a character carries with them, the more difficult it becomes to write for them over a long period of time. Just look at Community: each character had a long, complex backstory in the first episode that was slowly hacked away at until they all became simpler (and better-written) character types by the second season. Cheers started off with five main characters, and each one was immediately recognizable in their first appearance: the womanizing jock, the pompous academic, the acerbic waitress, the dumb bartender, and the lazy barfly. By the eleventh season, little of this has changed. Sitcoms live or die based on their characters, and to survive that long you need to keep things simple. Even if you’d never seen Mary Tyler Moore before, you could watch any episode and immediately grasp who these people are and what their relationships to each other are like. The same goes for Cheers. It mined endless amounts of humour from characters who were basically archetypes, and though they developed over time, they never lost what made them them.

5. The show’s only real character shakeup occurred when Diane left after season five. It was written into the show because of behind-the-scenes events, but it turned out to be a necessary departure, as Diane’s romance with Sam was already beginning to have run its course by then. In honour of it, I’d like to talk a bit about my favourite actor on the show, Shelley Long. In her hands, a character who was written to be pretentious and unsympathetic turned into one of Cheers’ most compelling. I think that Long understood her character more deeply than anyone else in the cast (behind-the-scenes reports indicate that the two were maybe more similar than they should’ve been), and that depth makes you sympathize with Diane the most frequently. You truly believe she’s falling for this hulking jock against every fibre of her being. Above all, the thing that surprised me most about Long’s performance is just how adept a comic actor she is. There’s a scene in “Sam’s Women,” the second episode of season one, where Diane is teasing Sam by laughing at him whenever his back is turned. While watching him trying to catch her in the act, Long turns her million-dollar smile off and on like a lightswitch, and it’s one of those silly visual gags you wouldn’t think Long would have a flair for. I really wish she’d get back into television, because I’d love to see more of her ample sitcom talents.

6. When Diane left, Cheers responded in a surprising way. Instead of replacing her with a similar character to fill the void, as they did with Woody for Coach, the producers used Diane’s departure as an opportunity to cleave Cheers into two different series. It was impossible to repeat the romance aspect for another few years, so Cheers basically turned into a standard workplace comedy. The supporting characters became more important and the plots gradually got sillier, but the main change the show made between the two seasons was in Sam. He shifted from a romantic lead into an ensemble character just with a few minor tweaks to his personality. It’s actually a little impressive just how little they had to change about him to completely change the show’s tone. They mostly just emphasized three things that were already true about him: his stupidity (originally he was just uncultured), his womanizing (this was handled more realistically initially), and his vanity (which was occasionally mentioned early on, but really took off in season six). By slightly changing the tone of the character, the entire show became different: sillier and more ensemble-based, but just as hilarious.

7. Season seven is one of the sillier seasons of the show, but the quality of the writing is as impressive as ever. In its first few seasons, Cheers trafficked in a somewhat old-fashioned joke writing style, where writers were confident that if they deliberately set up situations over the course of an episode, viewers would wait patiently for their payoffs. It’s what makes the show so watchable even when there aren’t that many punchlines flying around. The show, especially in the early seasons, could have less jokes than a sitcom today, but it eagerly traded in that aspect in favour of a few big belly laughs. By the seventh season, this quality was reigned in a bit, but still showed its face in a few of that season’s more farcical episodes, like “Send in the Crane,” which sets up an extremely dumb joke early on, outright says what the punchline will be at the midpoint, has all the characters realize what’s going on by the end of the episode, then goes ahead with the joke anyway, pulling it off perfectly. Cheers was patient in developing its writing style in its first few seasons, and they earned the confidence and audacity that would characterize it during its later ones.

8. One of my favourite things a sitcom can do is use its seasonal structure to its advantage, and while Cheers never fully achieved that, it did spend some amount of effort in making sure it had distinct seasons. If you watch an episode without knowing when it’s from, you can usually figure it out by watching for clues. Sam and Diane’s relationship went through so many iterations that it’s easy to situate yourself based on that, but even in the Rebecca years, the show used story arcs and character hierarchies to tell you where you were. Even though it mostly dealt in standalone episodes, the show shuffled characters around enough to almost anticipate the long-term storytelling common in sitcoms today. Sam sold and regained the bar, Rebecca fell in and out of love with various suitors, and Frasier and Lilith’s relationship progressed and eventually dissolved. It’s a great show of faith in long-term watchers at a time when most sitcoms tied up every thread at the end of each episode, and it makes the payoffs in the last season that much bigger.

9. One of the most obvious things about the show when you first watch it is just how well it’s directed. James Burrows, who directed almost every episode, makes sure the camera is always moving, following characters around the bar and reacting to their actions. Extras in the background are always chatting or laughing, and a dynamic atmosphere is maintained throughout. At first, this style seemed a bit showy, but eventually I realized that it actually serves as a way to deepen the show’s setting. This started in season one’s “Sam at Eleven,” where a single shot brings you from the back pool room out through the hallway and into the main bar to close the episode. Until that point, I didn’t even realize that the sets were actually physically connected. In season six’s “Home Is the Sailor,” the camera once even faces the opposite direction and reveals an actual fourth wall at the front of the bar. By season nine, in the name of making the setting feel real, the show actually began to film scenes outside the actual Boston bar that the show used for its establishing shots. This started just in the cold opens, but by season eleven an episode’s action might actually progress outside onto the street, even though the sets were at other ends of the country. When you see so much of the bar, it begins to feel more and more like a real place. It’s this attention to the show’s visual aspect, something usually absent from sitcoms, that really sets Cheers apart.

10. Though she’d been appearing occasionally since season four, Lilith only became a starring castmember for the tenth season, and while that season was far too silly and cartoonish, her constant presence kept it from going off the rails completely. After Coach died, she was the character I most enjoyed seeing onscreen. And just like everyone else, she was so simple. Almost all the humour that came from her was based on the idea that it’s funny when an especially serious person acts silly. But Lilith never rang false. She was such an inspired creation, a pre-spinoff attempt to give Frasier a foil that’s like him, but more extreme (the same thing he once was to Diane). In the later seasons, she turned into one of the show’s funniest characters, giving these big ridiculous punchlines that would turn out seeming almost undersold because of her subdued nature. And in season ten, when she became a regular, she began to get whole episodes devoted to her, instead of just to her relationship with Frasier. Bebe Neuwirth always played the character perfectly, and when she finally got to deliver the “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience” announcement in that season, it made me happier than ever.

11. While seasons nine and ten saw the show turning into a slapsticky mess, season eleven made sure Cheers stuck the landing. Even in its first episode, the show seemed more grounded and emotional than it had been for a few years. While it had its share of silly episodes, the season went a long way toward humanizing Sam again, and making characters like Rebecca and Carla sympathetic after a few seasons of them barely acting like people. A few of the show’s minor characters were given proper sendoffs, especially Lilith, whose separation with Frasier turned into one of the more affecting storylines on the show, even though it involved an eco-pod and a crazy man with a gun. It all culminated in the great finale, which wasn’t perfect, but was a wholly satisfying ending for the show. Every main character got a chance to shine, even Diane, who maybe wasn’t completely herself, but who was a welcome presence regardless. I had begun to sour slightly on the show in its later seasons, but the finale left me with only a feeling of warmth for the whole series. And the best thing about it: it barely left the bar. Cheers emerged fully-formed, yes, but that didn’t stop it from growing and changing in all its years on the air. It's easily one of the very best sitcoms I’ve ever seen, and that’s the result of its producers painstakingly making sure every decision made for the show was the right one.