The first time I heard about this tv show set in a Boston bar it was on a news broadcast in 1982. It was news of course, because I lived in the Boston area and it was a cool thing. Every time I see the second episode of Cheers titled “Sam’s Women”, the clip they showed back then comes on and I get that nostalgic feeling again.
For going on thirty six years now (god I’m old), Cheers has been my favorite show and a source of comfort. When things go bad in the real world or I have a long day, I turn to these episodes to get away for awhile. This has happened so often the last few years, I’m surprised the whole bar doesn’t yell out “Chico!” when I turn it on. Ironically though, I go to ‘where everybody knows your name’ to become safely anonymous. Wait…is that really ironic? I mean actual irony or maybe closer to a paradox? What say you, Alanis?
Over its eleven seasons, Cheers has had a great many cameo appearances by a wide range of celebrities. They naturally had athletes show up like Wade Boggs and Kevin McHale. A number of politicians have also appeared on the show, such as Tip O’Neill, Michael Dukakis and Gary Hart. The guest stars over the years ranged from the always witty Dick Cavett to the man with all the questions, Alex Trebek. The common theme for all of these stars was that they were cast as themselves. Well, that and the fact that none of them have ever been in my kitchen.
What I find more interesting though, are the well know faces that appeared using other names. Some of them came on the show already well known, while others gained fame in the years that followed. In either case, I think it’s pretty cool when a familiar face pops up unexpectedly in an obscure episode. To follow are my favorites from Cheers, and please feel free to let me know who I may have missed.
Christopher Lloyd (Season 2, Episodes 21 & 22) – Already a known entity from his time on Taxi, Christopher Lloyd appeared at the end of season two as an eccentric artist named Phillip Semenko. Sam initially hired him to paint a portrait of Diane, but he refused and insulted Sam instead. When he got a look at Diane though, he decided to paint the portrait for free. The resulting tension and conflict caused a rift between Sam and Diane which ultimately broke up the relationship. The following season Sam returned to alcoholism and Diane was off to the “booby hatch” where she met a therapist named Frasier.
The idea that some crazy artist in a Native American ceremonial tunic painting a portrait of Diane could break them up is just silly. There were many more breakups to come, but this one seemed a stretch to me. I might actually change it if I could…now, where did I put that Delorean?
John Cleese (Season 5, Episode 21) – Another well know celebrity at the time of his appearance thanks to Monty Python, was Cleese. He played a marriage counselor and friend of Frasier Crane. Fraiser was kind enough to offer to pay for a session with the great Simon Finch-Royce as a wedding gift to Sam and Diane. The idea was that he would give the thumbs up for their relationship and future as a married couple. This backfired when Simon told them instead, that they should never see each other again.
This had to be one of the best guest stars on any show. John Cleese is hilarious and had so many great lines in this one. My favorite was when he asked a waiter if the soup he brought him was sufficiently hot and the waiter said, “yes, I burned my hand on it”…Simon quips, “excellent!” I’m sure it was just a flesh wound.
Leah Remini (Season 10, Episode 6) – You don’t have to be a scientologist to recognize who played Carla Tortelli’s daughter Serafina. Actually, Remini came back to reprise that role in another episode the following season. In this episode though, Sam and Rebecca are considering having a baby together. In order to test out if they are qualified to deal with family life, they ask to spend the evening taking care of Carla’s kids. I suppose if they could’ve handled that, they could handle just about anything. Obviously, Leah Remini went on to bigger and better things. She even married a King!
Michael Richards (Season 3, Episode 18) – This one was a lot more fun before Richards, aka Cosmo Kramer, went off on his despicable racist rant. Nevertheless, a familiar face from Seinfeld playing an opportunistic Eddie Gordon was pretty cool. Evidently, Sam made a bet with Mr. Gordon back in his drinking days that he would someday meet and marry Jacqueline Bisset. When Eddie came back to the bar to let Sam know he was about to collect, Sam had no idea that he actually signed a contract to that effect. With time about to expire on the deal, it was pointed out that the agreement said nothing about marrying Bisset the movie star. Through an exhaustive search using Cliff’s phone book collection, they were able to find another person named Jacqueline Bisset to help Sam win the bet. The crisis was averted and he didn’t even need to go through with the sham marriage.
Eddie Gordon left the bar with his tail between his legs, but did almost get Norm on his side by promising free chicken wings at happy hour if he ever got to take over the bar. Personally I find Gordon’s only redeeming quality to be his choice of a Manhattan for his drink of choice.
Nancy Marchand (Season 3, Episode 8) – Diane meets Frasier’s mom who is saddled with the unfortunate name of Hester Crane. The Puritan’s might have adorned her with that scarlet jacket for her sins in this episode. Or perhaps for her far more egregious activities as the true head of the Sopranos family?
As for her brief appearance as Mama Crane, she disliked Diane so much that she threatened to kill her if she didn’t leave him. Apparently, she even went so far as to purchase a gun for the occasion. She appears to come to terms with the relationship at one point, but in the end attempts to bribe Sam into dating her again. This sounds nothing like the mother we hear so warmly about later on Frasier.
John Mahoney (Season 11, Episode 5) – And speaking of Frasier, and Frasier Crane and Frasier’s parents…enter Frasier’s dad. Must be that cheesy plaid sport coat which kept him from being recognized by his own son. With a cheesy name to match, Sy Flembeck is hired by Rebecca to come up with an advertising jingle for the bar. This escapade was yet another attempt to keep pace with Olde Towne Tavern, Cheers’ longtime rival bar. I don’t know, Sy always reminded me of old Gil from the Simpsons with his pathetic attempts to succeed.
Harry Connick, Jr. (Season 10, Episode 17) – A much better piano player than Flembeck is Connick, making an appearance as Russell Boyd. He is of course, Woody’s brother from Indiana. Somehow he manages to be an even more naive version of Woodrow. In the episode he becomes completely obsessed with Rebecca. He goes so far as to paint a giant mural of her on his motel room wall.
Interestingly, Rebecca eventually changes her mind and goes running to Russell hoping to kindle a relationship. It’s too late by that point, as Russell has moved on to being obsessed with Carla. That just might be enough to bring Eddie LeBec crawling out of his grave.
Tom Berenger (Season 11, Episodes 24 & 25) – Berenger was already well established as an actor, when he came on for the final two episodes of Cheers. Platoon and Major League were in the rearview mirror and Gettysburg was just around the corner. After searching her whole life for a rich man, Rebecca falls in love with Don. Tom is Don. Don comes to fix the beer tap. Don has a last name, but to me he’s just Don. In the same way that the final few episodes of Cheers are just the final few episodes. Not horrible like the Seinfeld finale and not fantastic like the Newhart conclusion. I did however, like how Sam walks over to straighten the picture dedicated to Coach at the end.
As for Don, two things stand out for me the most. His Boston accent was as bad as any heard in the movie “The Perfect Storm” and every bit as phony as the beard he donned (ha) as General Longstreet in Gettysburg. And secondly, why didn’t Willie Mays Hayes run on the brush back pitch to Taylor at the end of Major League? I mean, did they have a sign that said don’t run on the first pitch, but run on the next one? And if they brushed him back again, what then? And while we’re at it…did you notice that Berenger’s character in Major League and Charlie Sheen’s character in Platoon are both named Taylor? Weird.
Lisa Kudrow (Season 8, Episode 9) – The one when the guys decide to have a beard growing contest…also featured the debut of Lisa Kudrow. Ok, I think she did some TV movies that same year but whatever. Woody manages to obtain the lead role in a play and Lisa appears as his fellow cast mate, Emily. She is lucky enough to play Woody’s love interest in the production. Woody can’t handle the romantic nature of the part, though. He is very much in love with his girlfriend Kelly and feels as if it would be cheating on her to get romantic with another woman. Emily tries to seduce him for real in order to get a better performance, but it only makes it worse. With any luck they’ll work it all out and everyone will end up being friends.