By the time its seventh and eighth seasons aired, Cheers was one of the most well-established sitcoms around, and was well and truly in its comfort zone. After Diane left in season five, it didn’t take long before her replacement, new character Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley), settled in as bar manager of Cheers. Unfortunately, the rapidity with which a new dynamic was established was exceeded only by the rigidity with which the showrunners stuck to it. Seasons seven and eight see very little variation or creativity, and the same stories and tired old jokes are trotted out time after time. Admittedly, this is what happens when people spend every evening at the pub in the same company.
The main axis of Cheers‘ plot by this point is the relationship between Sam and Rebecca. Sam, a notorious philanderer, is determined to seduce Rebecca, his colleague and putative manager, and conducts an unrelenting campaign of sexual harassment which feels pretty disturbing in this day and age. On several occasions Rebecca capitulates and agrees to sleep with Sam, but he’s not happy with her mere passive acquiescence: he won’t rest until he’s secured her active participation in his cult of “Sammy-worship”. It’s a tiresome and distasteful storyline. However, the writers undermine Sam just often enough to stop the show becoming completely unwatchable, and his occasional humiliations make it feel like justice is close to being served. The problem is that Sam is so conceited that no degradation, of him or others, is enough to make him reflect and change his ways. It’s one of many things that make you miss Shelley Long’s Diane, and Cheers is really not the same without her. The occasional lame, bitter jokes at her expense just make it more obvious.
As ever, the better episodes generally focus on Frasier and Lilith, or Woody. But there’s very little character development, and if anything it feels like characters regress, becoming less complex, more extreme, and less convincingly human versions of themselves. After eight seasons, Norm has gone from being a morbidly obese underachievening accountant who loves beer and makes cruel jokes about his neglected wife, to being… the same, except now he’s unemployed. Carla increasingly comes across as a sociopath and her presence kills most scenes dead. The show gives her character a major plot point in season eight and the writers can find nothing whatsoever to do with it. At least her awful family don’t show their faces in Cheers any more – perhaps the writers were convinced to shelve them by the disastrous ratings of the Tortelli spin-off show.
Clifford’s dysfunctional personality at least allows for some entertaining dialogue. As for Rebecca, she becomes increasingly self-absorbed and shallow, and (somehow) strikes up an emotionally damaging relationship with a billionaire. As time goes by, she becomes harder to sympathize with, and by the end of season eight it’s difficult to really care about her or most of the other characters. It feels like the show’s just treading water by this point, but it still does just about enough to keep your attention. Fortunately we only have three more seasons to watch before we can move on to Frasier.
6/10 (both seasons)