Somewhere along the line, someone decided that people weren't interesting. At least not on their own. That's why just about every television comedy, from I Love Lucy straight through Three's Company, needed a hook. As much as each of these shows might have worked to flesh out their characters earnestly, there was always that presence of the "The husband runs a nightclub, and the wife always wants to be in the show — wacky high jinks ensues," and "The guy has to pretend he's gay in order to live in an apartment with two girls — crazy misunderstandings ensue."
For decades, all of the best and most successful shows on television operated under this mentality: "A man and a woman get married, but they already have three kids each — wholesome life lessons ensue," (The Brady Bunch), "It's a family in Queens, and the whole thing is a vehicle to attack contemporary prejudices — sociopolitical commentary ensues," (All in the Family), and "A woman moves to Minneapolis and gets a job as a producer at a harebrained television studio, despite almost no experience — 'having it all' ensues," (The Mary Tyler Moore Show). Nobody seemed to think that a show that was simply about people could work. And then... Cheers came along.
And at first, it didn't look like the now-classic bar-set sitcom would last. Cheers premiered on NBC on September 30, 1982 — making the show 30 years old as of Sunday. Cheers boasted a first season that finished dead last in the ratings. Maybe at the time, viewers were looking for more than just day-to-day human interactions, patient character development, and an honest illustration of interpersonal relationships. But they'd come around soon enough. Three seasons later, Cheers would breach the ratings' Top 10 for the first time, and remain there straight through its final year on air in 1993.
More than this, it'd spawn the most successful spin-off series in sitcom history (Frasier), and earn the favor of just about every credible force in comedic television. In May of 2011, New York magazine approached a handful of contemporary showrunners with questions about their favorite programs, and their own inspirations for getting into television. Writers/creators Dan Harmon (Community), Michael Schur (The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Saturday Night Live), Craig Thomas (The Late Show with David Letterman and How I Met Your Mother), Bill Lawrence (Spin City, Scrubs, and Cougar Town) each sang the praises of Cheers, with Thomas spelling out the show's mastery with precision: "It had an intriguing darkness in its DNA," he told New York. "A washed-up relief pitcher and ex-alcoholic (who owns a bar!) surrounded by people who drink all day. And yet we understood and cared about them all."
And that's the real home run of Cheers, and the reason it managed a rare 11-season ride as one of America's favorite series. Cheers was a show about people like television hadn't really seen them before: people who were inherently sad, and because of this, inherently funny. People whose lives existed beyond the 22-minute stories we'd see week by week — from the grand consistencies of Sam's and Diane's irrefutably self-destructive characters to blink-and-you'll miss-'em tidbits like Coach's repeated offhand mentions of an old flame named Rosie McGonagall, it was clear that Cheers wasn't working to build these people solely for their time on screen. Everything going on in their homes, in their pasts, in their heads, that was all there. It's what made these characters so much more than so many of their sitcom predecessors.
It might seem funny to attribute such superlatives regarding the richness of a fictional universe to a show that rarely traveled beyond the limits of a single stage. Nine-and-a-half out of 10 Cheers episodes took place entirely within the titular tavern: Sam behind the bar, Carla serving drinks, Norm cemented atop his stage-left stool. From this lack of variety in setting and stage direction came room for something else: the construction of these people and their relationships. The lack of introduction to the main characters' homes and workplaces allowed for a much greater amount of time availed to finding out who they were. We didn't need to spend time with Cliff on his mail route, to watch Frasier offering therapy to a patient, or even, in the entire run of the series, to ever see Norm's wife (save for one noteworthy pie-covered instance) to have a vivid idea of these people's lives outside the bar. We learned enough about them through simple conversation, the same way you learn about your own friends' lives, jobs, families, and purposefully decaying psyches.
But of course, just as important to these people as their very occupations and families were their lives inside of Cheers. And it didn't take elaborate, event-driven plots to illustrate these characters' significances in one another's lives. Most of the time, viewers were treated to entire episodes — at the very least, entire B-stories — consisting solely of conversation. Carla chiding Diane, Frasier disagreeing with Woody, Norm and Cliff babbling on about any inane piece of subject matter. Full episodes were built around these back-and-forths; they weren't filler, they were the meat. The way these people interacted with one another is what the show was about, not a vehicle to establish some other presence or plotline.
A terrific example of the show's early understanding of its purpose was the Season 1 episode "Truce or Consequences." Diane and Carla, two very dissimilar people whose differences always stood in the way of any semblance of camaraderie, stayed late after work and got drunk together. The entire episode was about these two people who, very simply, didn't get along. This was the conflict. Not because they needed to band together to accomplish some external goal, but simply because how you feel about the people in your life is important on its own.
Cheers knew what it was about from the get go, and never forgot. This is why it succeeded at a task with which so many shows have faced difficulty: new cast members. Two separate instances forced Cheers to bring on new actors to replace old. First, when Coach portrayer Nicholas Colasanto passed away, Cheers brought in Woody Harrelson to fill the void left by Coach's childlike spirit with Boston newcomer Woody Boyd. Second, when Shelley Long left the series, the show hired Kirstie Alley as Rebecca Howe, a new female lead. Superficially, Woody and Rebecca could be called Coach and Diane 2.0, but they were very much their own characters.
The show had this terrific appreciation of how full and authentic every one of its characters needed to be. When Coach was written off the show, they needed a new "slow" character. But Coach and Woody were incredibly different in their internal makeups and in their roles on the show. With Sam Malone as the epicenter of Cheers, Coach represented a tie to the ex-ballplayer's former glory days, as well as his former hell as a tortured alcoholic. On his own, Coach was a merry but weathered old man who graced the world with an attitude of descent. Like Sam, Coach knew that his best days were over. He didn't let it defeat or embitter him, he simply rode out his final years (the character himself did pass away in the reality of the series) trying to make people happy — his best friend and old protegee especially.
Woody could not have been more different. He was a young man with eyes wider than the world around him, hungry for every life experience and unfazed by the multitude of things that he didn't understand. They were both sweet, simple, well-meaning characters, but were two wholly different people. The important fact there, they were both full human beings.
The show even invested this degree of effort into its smaller characters. Dr. Frasier Crane was introduced in the third season premiere of Cheers, meant only to be a short-term character. But thanks to the comic talent of Kelsey Grammer and the immaculate density of his neurotic, arrogant, self-loathing psychiatrist, he not only lasted until the end of Cheers' run, but earned his very own highly successful spin-off series.
Spending inordinate amounts of time between the subterranean Boston tavern's walls, these people found something in one another, and in the bar itself, that they couldn't find elsewhere. To borrow from the unfathomably recognizable theme song, Cheers was a place where, for better or worse, people were all the same. Broken marriages, dead-end careers, oppressive parents, unattained dreams, contentions with alcohol abuse — Cheers wasn't satisfied doling out comical bar chatter (although it excelled at this). The show was rooted in these people and their sadness, their aloneness. Throughout every one of the show's important plot turns — Sam and Diane's toxic relationship, Carla's loss of two husbands (one to divorce, the other to his death) and her challenge with raising eight children by herself, Rebecca's insurmountable self-esteem hurdles, Cliff's curse with alienating everybody he knows — there existed the theme of being alone. There's a reason the Cheers pilot introduced Diane via a broken engagement and a lack of fallback plan, and a reason Sam had plenty of one night stands but nary a steady girlfriend. There's a reason that Carla, Norm, Cliff, Frasier, Rebecca, that just about everybody who stepped down that icy flight of stairs, passed the Tecumseh statue, and entered the bar did so: they needed to be there. They needed to be around people who understood them. That's what Cheers was about: sharing humanity, especially when the world doesn't seem to have any left.
Thirty years after the debut of its pilot and almost 20 after the show's eventual conclusion, Cheers maintains the strength of its original on-air run. That's because there is nothing time sensitive about the issues on the show. People will always need each other. Why it took so long for television to recognize that this — not this with the twist that the wife is a genie or that they're all stuck on an island or that Bill Bixby's a martian — is the most interesting and relatable conceivable idea for a story.
Many shows owe their substance to Cheers. Considering the words of their creators, we can assume that the likes of Community, Parks and Recreation, and How I Met Your Mother would not truly exist without this bar-set predecessor. But beyond these, sitcoms like Seinfeld and Friends, and even hit dramas like Lost, could be considered the aftermath of Cheers' influence on the media. Stories about people who have built a world for themselves when there seemed to be no place else for them to go.
And what better place to find home? A place where nothing outside the rigid walls really matters, because you've got all the people you trust, rely on, understand, and love surrounding you. A place with the people you want to see, because they're the people you get and the people who get you. That's what Cheers was about: a place where you can find people like this. A place where everybody knows your name.
I know, that was super corny. But give me a break, it's my favorite show.
[Photo Credit: NBC]
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The sexy star told casting agents she was 14 in a bid to land a part in Shelley Long film Troop Beverly Hills - the actress was 16 at the time.
Coming clean to pal Chelsea Handler on U.S. chat show Chelsea Lately, Gugino, who recently turned 40, reveals, "Once I shot enough of it that I knew they couldn't actually cut me out, I said to the director, 'I'm actually 16!'
"He was like, 'I would not have cast you if I knew that.'"
Let's face it the world of Hollywood pirating — with its peglegs eyepatches shoulder parrots and bounty of other swashbuckling tropes — is pretty silly. Even a high seas adventure like Pirates of the Caribbean has the ridiculous Jack Sparrow to help it hobble along. Pushing the comedy can only work in pirate movie's favor and Aardman Animation's Pirates! A Band of Misfits goes all out seizing the absurdity with a flare only British sensibilities could conjure. The film is a treasure trove of design and technical wizardry but for those less interested in the intricacies of stop motion animation Pirates!'s simple story packs plenty of low-key laughs that viewers all ages can pick up.
The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is at wit's end. While he's enjoyed his time leading a ragtag group of wannabe pirates including Albino Pirate (Anton Yelchin) Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) and his number two Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman) a lifestyle of eating ham and barely making ends meet is losing its luster. When Pirate Captain shows up to the annual Pirate of the Year submission day he's once again outdone by Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) who rides in on a whale full of gold. Driven by competition Pirate Captain reassembles his crew hits the open waters and begins a new wave of pillaging. It's all for naught until the pirates cross paths with Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who identifies Pirate Captain's "parrot" as an extinct dodo bird. Suddenly the pirates have a new (and lucrative) calling: science.
There's an unexpected intelligence to Pirates!. The movie based on a children's book of the same name centers on Pirate Captain's mid-life crisis delves into the world of 18th century science and pegs Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) as the mastermind bad guy behind the elimination of the pirate occupation. That gives the accompanying adults plenty to chew (and laugh) on but director Peter Lord doesn't stray away from an ol' fashioned slapstick routine. There's a marvelous stray bathtub sequence halfway through the film a wild ride through Charles Darwin's old tudor house that's a true spectacle. But even a simple gag involving baking soda and vinegar exploding sud bubbles is expertly crafted and executed by Lord.
The stop motion technique never feels limited in Pirates! even with a great deal of walking and talking scenes. Gideon Defoe's script is elevated by the vocal performances; Grant is perfectly cast as the faux-burly Pirate Captain while Martin Freeman's perfected "timid skeptic" routine from The Office and Sherlock is once again on full display. The Aardman team continues to have a knack for gesturing their puppets uniquely natural and human. Even with all the enormous pirate ships detailed cityscapes and dazzling action Pirates! is at its best when it focuses on the sillier calmer moments.
The tangibility of Pirates! A Band of Misfits comes through in its physical stop-motion animation techniques but also its genuine heart. There's a rare reality to the storytelling even at its most fantastical. While the film doesn't hit the same emotional chords as some of Pixar or Dreamworks' best you would need an X-marked map to find a Hollywood cartoon as sweet and heartfelt. So don't walk the plank on this one — board with kids in tow immediately.
We live in an age where six-year-olds have iPhones most of our possessions live in a "cloud" and even the refrigerator connects to the Internet. Like it or not technology has infused itself into every aspect of our lives—so it seems appropriate (and terrifying) that even Santa Claus' gift delivery operation would upgrade to the 2.0 world. Arthur Christmas the latest film from Aardman Animation (the Wallace & Gromit films Chicken Run) introduces us to the newfangled operation. These days Santa (Jim Broadbent) is just a figurehead for a full-scale war game run by the militant Steve (Hugh Laurie) and his band of black ops elves who cruise the December skies in their souped up spaceship sleigh. Business is conducted in the most controlled manner with each elf equipped with dog food launchers and back-up tape dispensers in case of any on-ground mishaps. On the sidelines is Arthur (James McAvoy) a bumbling black sheep who outweighs the entire force in Christmas spirit but can barely stand on two feet.
The opening deliver sequence is expertly directed by Sarah Smith whose action is reminiscent of the highly energized Ratatouille injected with the quirky British humor one would expect from Aardman. But the dazzling setup doesn't turn Arthur Christmas into a bombastic holiday riff instead using its lead to dig underneath the 2.0 landscape to find true magic. When one present goes undelivered Arthur stands up against his complacent family members to right the holiday wrongs. The anxiety-ridden younger son teams up with his Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and an eager wrapper elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) hitching up the classic sleigh and venturing into the great unknown all in the name of a young girl who might wake up gift-less.
The trio's adventure takes them around the globe from the busy streets of Toronto to a colorful Mexican town to the planes of an African wildlife preserve. With each wrong turn and each obstacle to overcome (outrunning a pack of lions while wearing reindeer slippers is no easy feat) Arthur's belief in the greatness of Santa and the wonders of the Christmas are tested. For kids it might be a familiar existential crisis but the warmth that accompanies Arthur's triumphant spirit should resonate with those young and old. That's an achievement in a Christmas movie but Smith's delicate balance of sentimentality and over-the-top humor blend and keep the movie moving at lightning speed.
The movie's 3D animation and stereoscopic display are top-notch but the real extra dimension comes from the cast. Aardman has a knack for realizing characters supporting or leads who feel fully developed—and Arthur Christmas is no exception. Smith and writer Peter Baynham (Borat Arthur) know when you trap the Claus family in the result will be brilliance: Steve commanding the floor Grandsanta telling "when I was young" stories Santa falling asleep Mrs. Claus (Imelda Staunton) keeping the peace and Arthur reminding everyone that it's Christmas. That's as real as actual Christmas dinner gets. The elves of the North Pole are equally eclectic and odd—even with hundreds of workers scurrying around the ship each one gets their time to land a joke. Overlaid on the rousing tale his a whimsical score by Harry Gregson-Williams that much like his work on Narnia feels simultaneously fantastical and exhilarating (as any good sleigh ride should).
There are so many Christmas movies in the pantheon of the season that it's almost unimaginable that another could slip in without relying on a gimmick or cynical spin but Arthur Christmas is as warm fuzzy and hilarious as they come. Crafted with authentic joy performed by lively voice actors and subtly imbued with jokes for all ages (no frame goes by without at least one sight or pun gag) those who catch it this year may find themselves returning every season. It's just that nice.
It's not like Andy Stitzer (Carrell) hasn't attempted to lose his virginity. It just never worked out so he stopped trying. It hasn't really bothered him though. He's got a cushy job stamping invoices at an electronics superstore rides a bike has a nice apartment with a proud collection of action figures and comic books--and above all has an upbeat attitude. You know a regular guy except for that one itty-bitty thing. But that's all about to change. Once his co-workers--lovelorn David (Paul Rudd) womanizer Jay (Romany Malco) and horny Cal (Seth Rogan)--get wind of Andy's predicament they take it upon themselves to get the man laid. But nothing seems to work--until that is Andy meets Trish (Catherine Keener) a 40-year-old mother of three and sparks fly. Although Andy and Trish decide to take things very very slowly with a mutual no-sex policy (at least for awhile) the deed may finally be at hand. Or not depending on whether Andy can get over his hang-up with women.
Carrell's star is definitely on the rise--and with just cause. Getting his first real break on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart the Second City alum has basically been stealing scenes from bigger comic stars--such as Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty and Will Ferrell in Anchorman--ever since. Now it's Carrell's turn to take the lead and oddly enough he chooses to play a big old dork. Imagine that. But honestly if anyone can play a sweet lovable if slightly peculiar 40-year-old virgin it's Carrell; he's just got one of those faces. The other great thing about Carrell is how well he plays with others. He's really not at all a showboat and is definitely at home in an ensemble situation especially when the ensemble is just as hilarious as he is. The 40 Year-Old Virgin's eclectic supporting cast holds true to this theory. Rudd has moved away from that pretty-boy persona he perfected in his earlier movies (The Object of My Affection Clueless) and is delightfully twisted as the self-destructive David. Rogan (Donnie Darko) too does a nice spin on Cal's frat-boy qualities. Even Keener gets to hang with the guys and mix in her own eccentricities. Only Malco (Showtime's' Weeds) as the brash Jay seems a little out of place but he holds his own when he has to. As does the string of wacko women Andy is paired up with including Leslie Mann as one of Andy's very drunk prospects and Elizabeth Banks as one who can get her freak on. Which of course scares Andy to death.
Director-writer-producer Judd Apatow creator of the stellar but short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks as well as the producer of several hit comedies such as Anchorman just further enhances the camaraderie on the Virgin set. It really seems like a big boys' club. Apatow and Carrell go way back; Rudd and Carrell worked together on Anchorman; and Rogan starred in Apatow's Freaks and Geeks. In other words these guys know each other pretty well. Maybe that's what keeps us interested while Virgin's sketchy plot plays out. Sure we've seen guy flicks before plenty of them in fact. But not from this particular group. The film is at its best when they are sitting around rifting off a particular subject or razzing each other. Rudd and Rogan's "You know how I know you're gay" one-upmanship is hilarious. But Virgin starts getting a little long in the tooth waiting for our hero to get to pleasure town. It's like we are getting a bird's-eye view on what these boys think about sex--and if truth be told Andy is the one who comes out looking the most normal after all is said and done.