Cheers is Hell


After spending 2020 watching every episode of Frasier, we thought we'd binge watch its predecessor sitcom "Cheers".

It's a tough watch.

It obeys all the familiar tropes of a sitcom - a static location, characters drawn in broad strokes, and whacky banter. On paper, it's great. But on screen...

Look, let's get this out of the way - Cheers is pretty funny! We're only on the first 3 seasons, but each episode has a strong comic plot, plenty of chuckles, and general mayhem. Sure, a few of the jokes don't work in the 2020s (the constant "Oh no! The gays!" is a bit off-putting) - but the majority hold up well.

But all the characters are stuck in hell. Sam and Diane are locked in an abusive relationship. I don't just mean that they are emotionally manipulating each other (they are, and it's bad) but that they frequently become physically violent with each other. Not a sitcom-friendly cuff round the ear - but full on raised fists and biting. It is horrible to watch. They're locked in a doomed relationship which spirals down to the grimmest excesses of human misery.

I'm using "Hell" in the literal sense. Cheers is Hades. Cheers is the underworld. Let's look at the evidence.

Sam, is an alcoholic who is doomed to be surrounded by temptation and forced to indulge the alcoholism of others.

Diane is trapped with a sexual predator who uses and discards her. Despite her breeding and education, she is unable to escape from a dive bar where she is constantly bullied by people who she considers her inferiors.

Similarly, Cliff is condemned to have his failures constantly thrust in his face. His sexual inadequacy and humdrum existence are fodder for the other patrons' amusement.

Poor Norm (Norm!). Shackled with a loveless marriage. A slob confronted by people happier and healthier than he. Like Sisyphus, endlessly rolling himself toward the bar.

And Frasier. He could choose any pub in the city, but he returns again and again to the place where his ex-fiancée flaunts her indifference to him and her infatuation with Sam. Would an eagle pecking out his liver be any less painful?

Carla - presumably eternally punished for the sin of pre-marital intercourse - has to spend the majority of her time either pregnant or looking after an ungrateful brood of brats.

The Coach? His mind has gone. He drifts ghostlike through the lives of the other. He understands nothing and spends his days in befuddlement.

What mortal sins did they each commit to be judged so harshly by a loving god?

Someone once said that there was a pronounced difference between the British and American attitude to sitcoms. In British sitcoms, funny things happen to people. In American sitcoms, people say funny things to each other. I don't think this is any more starkly demonstrated than Cheers. It is rare that there is a funny situation, the humour is mostly the characters being relentlessly obnoxious to each other. They're trapped in hell where the only demons are the other lost souls.

In a British sitcom there's nothing funnier than having two people who hate each other trapped together. That's what Red Dwarf is - polar opposites who cannot escape each other. American sitcoms usually makes their characters be friends (like in Friends) or family (like in Modern Family) where there is an expectation that people will stick together.

But Cheers? It's a bar. The patrons, if they had any sense, would leave after the first time Carla threatened them with a switchblade. Or the first time they saw the owner sexually harass a patron. That they don't, points to one inescapable conclusion; they cannot leave.

Is Cheers "The Bad Place"?


7 thoughts on “Cheers is Hell

  1. says:

    @Edent did you write the last line first?We're slowly working through MASH. There are some big jumps which make it feel like multiple series using the same name, like the Dread Pirate Roberts. And yeek Season 1 is rough.

  2. mike says:

    I've been watching Cheers on All-4 having not seen it since it was first broadcast on Friday nights on Channel 4. The HD remaster looks great, especially as it's been left as 4:3 rather than mangled to 16:9. You're so right what you say about it. I've found myself wondering why Cliff keeps going to a bar where one of the staff constantly insults him. I assume Fraiser initially returns after Diane breaks up with him out of delusional hope his presence will cause her to decide she made a mistake. It's very jarring, even disappointing, to see Norm and Cliff being openly homophobic in the season one episode The Boys in the Bar. It's obvious that the writers were pushing the message that being gay is totally normal and should be accepted, and Norm and Cliff's homophobia is criticised and even mocked, but it still all feels a bit off. I think it's a good example of why sometimes TV shows need to be viewed with consideration of how things were when they were made instead of lazily criticised by today's standards. The Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Artists in the Entertainment Industry gave the episode an award for it's support of gay people https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boys_in_the_Bar

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