One time Judge Adam Arseneau went to a place where everybody knew his name...jail. Did I say "jail"? I meant...err...sail...ing. Yeah, sailing...that's it.
Our reviews of Cheers: The Complete First Season (published July 14th, 2003), Cheers: The Complete Second Season (published March 8th, 2004), Cheers: The Complete Third Season (published July 12th, 2004), Cheers: The Complete Fifth Season (published July 6th, 2005), Cheers: The Complete Sixth Season (published October 10th, 2005), Cheers: The Complete Seventh Season (published November 15th, 2005), Cheers: The Complete Eighth Season (published June 21st, 2006), Cheers: The Final Season (published February 12th, 2009), Cheers: The Ninth Season (published April 23rd, 2008), and Fan Favorites: The Best of Cheers (published March 8th, 2012) are also available.
Diane: "Is it possible that occasionally you people might spend an
afternoon doing something that involves intelligent thought?"
Season four of Cheers is here, and if you have been keeping up with the last three DVD sets, you probably think there should be no major surprises this time around. Paramount is exceptionally "talented" at releasing season after season of virtually identical DVD sets, after all…
But wait just a second there! Cheers: The Complete Fourth Season changes things up a bit in terms of DVD presentation, and I kid you not. What has changed and what has stayed the same, you may ask? You'll have to keep reading to find out. Or at the very least, skip directly to the end of the article.
Facts of the Case
Cheers, as a show, really needs no explanation. All twenty-six episodes from the fourth season are presented on this DVD:
• Birth, Death, Love and Rice
• Love Thy Neighbor
• The Triangle
• Fear Is My Co-Pilot
Frasier: "Everyone, I'd like you to meet my date, Dr. Lilith Sternin:
MD, PhD, EDD, APA."
Ah, Season Four! In terms of cast, laughs, and cohesiveness, Cheers was never stronger than during the fourth and fifth seasons. Though Coach's absence is bittersweet, the addition of Woody, the increasing prominence of Frasier and the first appearance of soon-to-be-regular cast member Lilith more than compensate for his loss. To me, these are the best episodes of the show ever made; this two-year period between the death of Coach and the departure of Diane represent the strongest, funniest, most well-developed, and most fully realized episodes the series ever created.
Consider the never-ending Sam vs. Diane dynamic. The first season of Cheers had the characters at odds, the second had them falling in love. Likewise, the third season had them at odds again. This on-again and off-again dichotomy kept the first five seasons rolling with fantastic momentum, the back-and-forth play always keeping the show vibrant. Once Diane left and Rebecca entered the show, it became a never-ending deluge of Sam chasing Rebecca, a completely one-direction affair that soon grew tiring out of sheer repetition. Season Four, simply put, was where it was at.
In these earlier days, before the seasons went into the double-digits, the repetition was a good thing; part of the show's brilliance was harnessing this reiteration to work in its favor. Despite the never-ending recycling, the constant focus on the same subjects, identical locations, and the same corny jokes, episode after episode—despite the fact that the camera hardly ever left the bar at all—the show not only maintained its hilarity, but established a deep sense of personal attachment with its regular viewers. In this strictest sense, Cheers is one of the truest "situation comedies" ever conceived, since the bar itself is as much a part of the show as the characters and storylines.
By Season Four, the cast was well-established and relaxed with one another, they were clearly having a ball and enjoying their rising success, they became exceptionally talented at playing directly to the live audience, and the characters were firmly established in their respective niches. Woody's character not only filled the clueless and naïve hole left by Coach, it expanded the role exponentially into an incredibly sweet and likeable character. Frasier was rapidly growing into a fan-favorite; his integration so seamless it seemed as if he had always been part of the cast. Add to this the fact that the brief introduction of Lilith (only scheduled to be a one-shot character this season) worked so well that they kept bringing her back in later seasons—eventually becoming a regular cast member—and you have a winning season.
The only downside to an otherwise perfect season is the awkward addressing of Coach's mysterious absence. Mentioned off-handedly in a single sentence in the first episode during Woody's introduction, we are informed that Coach's character passed away a few months ago. In actuality, actor Nicholas Colasanto died in real life during the filming of the third season. His absence on the show was never fully explained at the time, and the season simply went on as if he never was. This lazy single-sentence memorial putting to rest a seminal character has never, ever sat well with me—it didn't sit well with me the first time I saw it, and it doesn't sit right with me now. Still, this is but a tiny bit of rust on an otherwise impeccable and golden season.
More noticeably than in previous seasons, the technical quality of each episode varies, often dramatically. While the majority of episodes are bright, colorful, and free from damage, certain episodes (like the series opener, "Birth, Death, Love and Rice") appear dark, blurry, and grainy, as if coming from a completely different source—Betamax home videos, from the looks of it. As with previous seasons, colors are solid earthtones, favoring yellows, browns, and reds. Detail and contrast has improved over the previous season, and a definite progression of quality throughout the seasons can be noticed. However, the inconsistency in reproduction quality is irksome, and loses some points on the presentation side.
Audio is presented by way of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track, which utilizes the rear channels primarily for the chuckle tracks. The surround is a nice touch; the show could have certainly got by with a straight stereo track, since the presentation is so straightforward, but no complaints here. The track sound especially nice during the music cues, and the clarity and volume of the dialogue are without flaw. Nothing bad to say about the audio presentation; Paramount has done a great job on the audio side of Cheers throughout the last four seasons.
The rest of the tech presentation checks out fine. Menus are stripped down and free from fuss, including a handy "play all" feature. Chapter stops are helpfully inserted between commercial breaks—a feature no television show on DVD should ever, ever be without. But now we come to the big, shining flaw, the terrible inconsistency that breaks Cheers: The Complete Fourth Season away from its identical previous seasons and throws it straight into the trash can…no extras. That's right. No extras. You get nothing, people—nothing. Run screaming into the streets; throw some trashcans through some windows. This is the end.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Okay, a lack of extra features on a DVD does not justify a call for anarchy, I admit. But no extras? None at all? Man, that's cheap. Okay, previous seasons had only a small offering of material, tantamount to a few recycled clips and cast interviews, but at least it was something. This time, you actually lose material compared to previous seasons—that is, unless you count the terribly invasive product advertisement stuck at the front of the disc, which is certainly "new." Nothing like product "improvement," eh?
Though I may be overacting, even a slight decrease in the quality level of these DVDs is incredibly distressing. If a show that ran for eleven years is out of special features after three measly seasons, then the future of Cheers on DVD looks particularly grim. At this rate, the last season of Cheers may very well come wrapped in newspaper and duct tape.
Despite the sucking black hole of supplementary content, Cheers: The Complete Fourth Season still has one very important thing going for it: it's Cheers, man.
Without a doubt, Cheers is one of the best shows to own on DVD, a secure and safe comfort that can be instantly summoned with the press of a button. The show is still hands-down better than almost every other piece of crap on television today, and Season Four represents some of the funniest and most heartwarming episodes the show ever produced. The true brilliance of the show is how you can literally tune into any episode, from any season, and immediately fall into place like the comfortable grooves of a well-worn couch, posterior perfectly preserved, forever waiting for your return.
And it feels good, baby.
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